There is probably no country in the world with more to offer to wine-lovers than Italy. At least in terms of variety, Italy has so much to offer that you might get dizzy from the sheer sight of all the options.
No matter where you live in the world, you’ve probably seen some Italian wines at your local supermarket. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In Italy, pretty much every region has a distinct wine-making style, and choosing a bottle from all of that variety can be really hard.
However, once you get the hold of the basics, exploring the Italian world of wine will become fun and you’ll learn to find your way through all of the variety.
This guide is here to help you with that. Will guide you through all the famous grape varieties of Italy, as well as all the regions and their distinct traditions. By the end, you should at least be aware of what you are looking for next time you go searching for the right Italian bottle. Recommendations for beginners are included in the guide too, of course!
Fun Facts About Italian Wine
Italian wines never seize to amaze. Here are a few fun facts you might not know.
1. Italians aren’t known for strictly following rules.
In certain countries, like Portugal, there are geographical areas with strictly defined recommended and permitted grapes and maximum vine yields. Well, Italy has none of that shenanigans. In fact, wine regulations in this country are practically a sham. Many wine varieties grown in Italy can be found in vineyards all over the country. That doesn’t mean that official Italian wine can’t be of great quality. Just the characteristics of a certain variety vary by region. So for instance, the same grape variety grown both in the Alps and Sicily will produce two very different varieties.
2. Typically, Italian wines are not mainstream.
Most Italian wines fly under the radar, but that doesn’t mean they’re exclusive. It’s the unique combination of soil and grape variety that creates some distinct flavours. Trying them out for the first time is like trying out a craft beer. You get overwhelmed by one of a kind note combination and contrasting aromas. What’s more, these esoteric wines don’t cost an arm and a leg. Generally, they don’t cost more than some more common wine varieties.
3. Some wines can be named differently depending on their region of origin.
It’s not uncommon to find one wine variety under different names in Italy. The reason for that is simple. In 1861 Italy became a unified country, but when it comes to wines, each region kept their distinctive characteristics and names for a specific variety. What’s more, there are over 2000 grape varieties in Italy and probably more places that produce wine. Any of these names could be the one that ends up on a label. A Sauvignon produced in Sicily could be labelled as “Sauvignon,” “Sicily,” “Sauvignon Sicily” or something else. The possibilities are endless.
4. The best place outside of Italy to enjoy Italian wines would be the United States.
The United States is the number one importer of Italian wine. As of 2017, over 334 million litres of wine were imported in the US. In other words, that’s 23.5% of Italy’s total wine production. Unsurprisingly, Prosecco rates as the hottest wine trend on the market, way above the sparkling alternative from France, Champagne.
Wine Varieties in Italy
Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape variety in Italy, which is about 10% of all the vineyards in the country. It’s known under several names, including Brunello, Morellino, Montefalco Rosso, Nielluccio and Prugnolo Gentile.
This is the most widespread grape variety in Tuscany, and wine from this region has strong herbal and bitter cherry notes. Sangiovese based wines from other regions usually lean more towards plum and mulberry flavours with hints of vanilla oak and spice.
Sangiovese has decent ageing potential, but most wine varieties are best consumed 3 to 4 years after the harvest date. But if you’re looking for high-quality vintages, go for Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino. Both of these wines can age up to 20 years.
Pinot Grigio is a popular grape variety in northeastern Italy in regions such as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Oltrepo Pavese and Alto Adige. In this country, it’s often harvested early to retain the acidity and decrease some of the overt-fruitiness of the variety, creating a wine that’s neutral in flavour. It’s one of those wines that’s bottled and placed on the market within 4 to 12 weeks of fermentation. This wine is full-bodied, low in acidity but high in alcohol level.
Verdicchio is primarily grown in the Marche region of central Italy. The name comes from the Italian word for “green” and refers to the shade of hue wines made from Verdicchio grapes tend to have. This wine is high in acidity with flavours of lemon and almond. Verdicchio grapes are also used to make sparkling wine and straw wine.
This is a black grape variety grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. In Italian, Dolcetto translates to “the sweet one,” but the name has nothing to do with the sugar level of the grapes. In fact, Dolcetto wines are dry with moderate to low levels of acidity. You might notice the flavours of black cherry and liquorice, with a hint of almonds. They’re supposed to be consumed within a few years from the harvest date.
Nebbiolo is another red wine grape variety that’s mostly grown in the Piedmont region. It produces light-coloured red wine that’s highly tannic with flavours of cherries, tar, violets, tobacco and truffles. Some of the best Nebbiolo vintages need to be aged for over a decade before they become palatable to many wine lovers.
Trebbiano is one of the most planted white grape varieties in the world. It’s used for making both table wine and brandy, thanks to its high acidity. But aside from that, it’s a rather shy wine with a medium body and discreet flavours.
A wine study published in 2008 shows that the Trebbiano wine variety shares a close genetic relationship with Garganega. This is yet to be proved.
Vernaccia wine has several clonal varieties, but it’s usually associated with Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a wine from Tuscany. This is a crisp wine that’s high in acidity and citrus notes. Sometimes it’s blended with Trebbiano, but more often than not it’s produced as a varietal wine. Unlike most white wines, Vernaccia ages well in oak.
Tocai Friulano comes from the province of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, north-eastern Italy. This wine is known for low acidity, orange and marzipan fruit aromas and high levels of alcohol. Aside from Italy, it’s widely planted in Chile, where the cuttings arrived in the 19th century mislabeled as Sauvignon Blanc. Both leaves and berry clusters of these two varieties look alike, which caused confusion. But the similarities end there. Sauvignon Blanc has more acidity and strong aromatic notes of gooseberries and black currant. Friulano, on the other hand, has much softer, floral aromas.
This is yet another grape variety that comes from the Piedmont region. But for how long Arneis has been growing there is uncertainty. Some wine historians claim Arneis is actually the Ranaysii grape documented in Turin in 1432. Under the current name, this grape variety is first mentioned in an 1877 text as an already well-established crop in Piedmont.
Traditionally, Arneis was used to soften Nebbiolo, but nowadays, you can see it as a varietal wine more often. It’s very flavourful, with aromas of apricots, peaches, pears and melon.
Chardonnay has been grown in Italy since the mid 19th century. But for most of the time, it was confused with Pinot Blanc, even though these two varieties can be visually distinguished one from another. As of 2000, Chardonnay is the fourth most widely planted white grape variety in Italy, with vineyards located throughout the entire country.
Chardonnay’s ability to reflect its geographic background means there’s no distinctive universal style. So for instance, Chardonnay from Napa Valley has strong pineapple notes, while the one from the Chablis regions has green apple flavours.
This wine variety ages well in oak barrels, which emphasises toasty flavours like cinnamon, caramel, cream, smoke, spice, coconut and vanilla.
Cortese has a long history of cultivation in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. This is no surprise given the fact that it’s highly resistant to grape diseases, it produces large crop yields and, most importantly, it creates high-quality wine. Cortese wines are moderate in acidity, medium-bodied with notes of apples and limes.
Unlike most grape varieties in this article, Fiano comes from the southern regions of Sicily and Campania. This variety has been grown here for a very long time. According to some wine historians, this vine was cultivated by ancient Romans.
Fiano has good ageing potential. When young, it’s intensely flavoured with honey aromas. As it ages, it develops more spicy and nutty notes.
Garganega is grown in the Veneto region, notably in the provinces of Verona and Vicenza. It’s the principal grape variety for Soave region white wine blends, with up to 70%. The remaining 30% of the blend can come from Verdicchio or Nestrano.
Garganega grapes tend to ripen late, which results in a wine with tangy acidity and prominent lemon, almond and spicy notes.
It’s believed that the Greco vine was brought to Italy more than 2,500 years ago by ancient Greek settlers. During World War II, it was on the verge of extinction as a result of war-devastated vineyards. But thanks to the mutual effort of family winemakers and winemaking projects, Greco vine managed to remain relevant.
There are both black and white varieties of Greco grapes. Greco Bianco is a dry wine with notes of peaches and herbal foliage. Greco Nero, on the other hand, is high in alcohol and sugar, with characteristic plum, cherry and black fruit flavours.
This red wine blend is made from three grape varieties: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara, all grown in northeast Italy. This blend is light and dry, with aromas of black cherry and cranberry.
Grape varieties in the Malvasia family include Malvasia bianca, Malvasia di Schierano, Malvasia negra, Malvasia nera and a number of others. Historically, these varieties were grown in the Mediterranean, but today they can be found in any part of the world.
Malvasia wines are known for their full body and notes of peaches, apricots and white currants. As they age, they gain nutty aromas and a hint of smoke.
The Muscat family includes over 200 grape varieties, with colours ranging from white and yellow to pink and almost black. One characteristic they all have in common is that they have a rather distinct floral aroma. Aged vintages are known for coffee, raisins and toffee notes.
Pinot Bianco is a variety of white grapes that are pretty much a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir, which is a black grape vine. It’s full-bodied, with a spicy character and moderate acidity. Pinot Bianco should be consumed within 2 years from harvesting. This elegant wine offers a perfect combination of cream and crispness with a dry finish.
The Riesling Renano vine grows on the cool hills of the Rhine Valley. It has strong fruity flavours with hints of peach, apricot and grapefruit. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks for 8 months and stored for another year before it’s ready to be consumed.
Primitivo & Negroamaro
Both of these red wine blends are produced in the Puglia region. They’re medium-bodied, rich in tannins with flavours of raspberry, blackberry and strawberry. On their own, each of these varieties is mild with simple aromas. But when blended together, they bring out the best from one another. Ideally, you should finish a bottle of these wine blends within the first three years of harvest.
Sauvignon Blanc is grown all over Italy, and some of the best varieties come from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Tuscany and Trentino-Alto Adige regions. The flavour is heavily influenced by the climate vines grow in. In a cooler climate, the grapes produce wines with high acidity and tropical aromas. Grapes grown in warmer climates give wine fruity and floral notes.
Aside from the Piedmont region, Vermentino grapes are grown in Sardinia, Liguria and Corsica to some extent. This wine is light bodied with flavours of limes, grapefruits, almonds and daffodils. There are two Vermentino styles. The first is rich and creamy and the other is light, floral and zesty.
Nero d’Avola is a red grape variety indigenous to Sicily. This wine is dry, slightly acidic with blackberry aromas.
Barbera grapes have been grown in the Piedmont region since the 13th century. Over 50,720 acres of Italian vineyards are covered in this type of vine. Berbera is a medium-bodied fruity wine with plum and spicy notes. This wine doesn’t age well. For that reason, it should be drunk within the three years of harvest.
Italian Wine Recommendations
Here are some of the best wine varieties sold in Italy.
Grand Mori Valdobbiadene Prosecco
The Non-Vintage Grand Mori Valdobbiadene Prosecco is crisp, fruity and with just the right amount of bubbles. It’s moderate in acidity with a hint of green apples, pears and orange zest. Mouthfeel is very lively with flavours that follow the nose. You can expect your tongue to tingle a bit as you sip down this Prosecco. It’s the crowd’s favourite, especially the vintage of 2016. For the price it sells, this complex refreshing wine is quite a steal.
Giretto Pinot Grigio
The 2017 Giretto Pinot Grigio is definitely not your typical Pinot Grigio. It’s light-bodied with the aroma of pear, citrus and melon and a hint of tartness. A hint of vanilla was definitely an unexpected flavour to taste. This Pinot Grigio is a great choice of wine for both a casual workday and a birthday party. It complements well different types of dishes, from seafood to a cheese plate. You can also sip it on its own. For the price this wine is sold at, you’re hardly going to find a better option.
This blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes is a perfect combination of simplicity and style. It was first made in 1964, as a response to the growing Super Tuscan trend. The wine is rich bodied, smooth and velvety with notes of ripe cherries and sweet spices. It’s easy to drink and leaves a grippy finish with a lingering hint of tobacco. It’s slightly acidic with well-rounded tannins. This bottle of wine is very affordable and can be paired with a variety of dishes. So for instance, you can sip it with both red meat and seafood.
Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Rose
Giulio Ferrari wine house was founded in 1902, and over the years it received numerous recognitions and rewards for producing wine. This blend of Pinot Nero and Chardonnay is one of the best sparkling wines produced in Italy. It’s strong-bodied with flavours of vanilla, acacia blossoms, honey and dry hay. This elegant and expensive wine is so refreshing and approachable, it’s worth popping on any kind of occasion. There’s a consistent quality within different vintages, so you can rest assured you won’t go wrong by picking any bottle of this blend.
Superiore di Cartizze
If you’re looking for an elegant Prosecco, Superiore di Cartizze might be just the bottle you’re searching for. The mineral-rich soil the grapes grow in makes the wine strong on the nose with a peach and hazelnut scent. It’s a dry, rich bodied wine with notes of oranges, lemon zest and marigolds. Intense bubbles and a touch of sweetness make this Prosecco really stand out from the crowd. It’s fermented in the bottle, which gives it a creamy finish. This is a high-quality bottle at a very affordable price.
2017 of Terre Alte is a careful blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon packaged in a beautiful bottle. This is a signature white wine of this region. This elegant, complex wine has notes of white melon, yellow peach, apricot with a hint of tropical fruit. The finish is long with the round aftertaste. But while complex, this wine is also approachable. All the notes are balanced and the aromas chase one another. This wine is a perfect choice if you’re just getting into white wines. Don’t serve it chilled, or you might miss out on the explosion of flavours.
2014 is considered to be one of the best ever vintages on the northern slopes of the Etna. This white wine is a good example of it. It’s aged in oak barrels for ten months, which makes it creamy on the palate and gives it moderate acidity. Flavours of apple, melon and apricot linger for a while and are followed by a long, ripe finish. On the nose, it’s fruity with a hint of tartness. This is one of the most complex white wines you’ll ever taste. It pairs exceptionally well with seafood and vegetarian dishes.
Nanni Cope Sabbie di Sopra il Bosco
Made from Pallagrello Nero grapes in the Campania region, this wine is soft on the palate with a moderate finish. This heavily priced bottle of wine is limited edition, but well worth the money. This is especially true for the 2012 vintage. The bold character is accompanied by flavours of balsamico, rose and salvia.
Piano di Montevergine
This deep ruby wine is medium bodied and moderate in tannins. Flavours of black cherry, black raspberry, cranberry and strawberry further enhance the fruity aroma. You might even catch some notes of tobacco, molasses and cured meat. You can pop this bottle open now, or leave it to age. It will be best when it’s 15 to 20 years, but who can wait that long? It’s best served mild, or else you might mute some of its strong, complex flavours.
Italian Wine Regions
Italy is a country like no other when it comes to eating and drinking. From cheese to olive oil to, of course, wine, each region of Italy has something unique to offer. When it comes to top-tier wines, though, we can say there are three regions that dominate the market . You’ve probably guessed it already – one of them is Tuscany. The other two are Veneto and Piedmont. However, pretty much every region of Italy has something to offer, and we’ll cover them all one by one in this section.
Before we start the journey around Italy, though, there is one thing we wish to clarify. If you’ve ever been shopping for Italian wine (or parmesan cheese, for that matter), you’ve probably seen the letters DOC or DOCG on the bottle. So what do these two mean?
DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata in Italian, which translates to ‘controlled denomination of origin’. What this means is that seeing the letters ‘DOC’ on your bottle of wine should guarantee that the wine does come from the region named and that it was made using traditional methods. This kind of classification was introduced in 1963, but in the 1980s Italans decided to add another level to it: the DOCG mark. DOCG is very similar to DOC, but it’s used to denominate the highest class of wine that undergoes rigorous testing every year.
Should you buy only bottles that say DOCG? Not necessarily. But it’s a good idea to look for those that at least say DOC. DOCG-classified wines tend to be more expensive, but there are some real gems to be found under the DOC label too.
Another acronym you might find on your bottle is IGT. This is another label that confirms the quality of the wine in question. This one means ‘typical geographic indication’ and it’s used for Italian wines made from grape varieties that are not strictly Italian (Chardonnay and Merlot are classic examples).
Now, let’s go through Italy’s regions and their wines one by one. For this list, we’ve sorted the regions roughly according to the popularity of their wines!
Sicily is the southernmost region of Italy and coincidentally the largest island in the Mediterranean. It is the large island standing just in front of the ‘toe’ of the ‘boot’ that Italy resembles when you look at the map. What is Sicily most famous for? Well, some would surely say the mafia. However, its wines are also world-class, which shouldn’t surprise us: the geographical location of the region is perfect for cultivating wine grapes, and the rich cultural history of the island also includes a long tradition of wine production.
Due to the abundance of sunny days, both red and white wines made in Sicily have a rich and fairly swet feel to them.
The most well-known Sicilian varieties are:
- Nero d’Avola – This is a red wine variety which is fairly sweet and full of rich fruity flavours. Expect to taste raspberry and plum but also feel a distinct smokiness in the background.
- Cataratto, Grillo, and Inzolia – These are the three most popular white grape varieties grown in Sicily. You might have heard of Marsala, a fortified wine that Sicily is known for. Marsala is usually made from a blend of those three varieties, but they are also used on their own to create some of the most beautiful full-bodied white wines. Expect very Mediterranean flavours that will inevitably remind you of summer days: sweet apple, mango, tarragon, and sea breeze are some of the notes commonly found in Sicilian whites.
Veneto is located in the northern part of italy? Perhaps known best for Venice, Veneto is also the region where the town in which the story of Romeo and Juliet takes place – Verona. But what about the rest of Veneto? Well, it’s covered with lots of vineyards. With the Adriatic sea in the south and the Alps in the north of the region, the climate is perfect for wine production – ad the tradition is long.
The most well-known varieties in Veneto are:
- Soave – While these days there is a lot of demand for Pinot Grigio produced in Veneto, for example, the region still remains proud of wines made from local varieties like Soave, made from the Garganega grape.
- Amarone della Valpolicella – The subregion Valpolicella, located in the foothills of the Alps, is also known for the local art of winemaking. Although the Amarone della Valpolicella wines are the best known, some other styles are also made there like Recioto della Valpolicella and Valpolicella Ripasso. All of these blends are made from the same local sorts, nevertheless. These are Molinara, Rondinella, Corvina, and corvinone).
Located down in the south of Italy, Puglia is as dreamy as its wines. With over 800 kilometers of coastline, the region of Puglia lines what we could call the back of the heel if you imagine Italy on the map as a boot (and don’t most of us?). The warm Mediterranean climate makes for exquisite grapes of all sorts. Chardonnay from the Puglia region has quite a good reputation, for example.
However, for a true taste of Puglia one needs to try wines made from the indigenous grape varieties:
- Negroamaro – This dark and flavourful grape variety is grown all over Puglia, but the southern part called Salento is the epicentre of the Negroamaro world. Used alone or in blends (with Malvasia Nera for example), Negroamaro makes for a beautiful rich red (which isn’t bitter despite the name).
- Primitivo is the same grape that is known as ZInfandel in california. Bursting with flavour and with a full body, this wine is the perfect companion to hearty meals – like BBQ. The flavour profile is heavy on berries, but you can als feel a touch of leather and smoke in the background. A sweet but serious wine!
For most people, the word Tuscany is simply an association for vineyards – and there is a lot of truth in that. This beautiful region houses Florence and the leaning tower of PIsa. The long coastline of the region is stunning, the dreamy historical towns are scattered all over, but what really interests us today are the wines. And one is sure to find lots of it in Tuscany.
The Sangiovese wines from the Chianti region (part of Tuscany) have had an epic reputation since the 1970s. Other than Saniovese, plenty of non-indigenous grapes are grown in the region too. There is a notable influence from Bordeaux in the viniculture of Tuscany, which is why there is a lot of Cabernet and Merlot grapes grown there. Now, these wines cannot carry the DOC label because the grape varieties are not considered indigenous – but they are still great wines. So much so that they are known worldwide under their own name – the Super Tuscans.
The most important wine varieties of Tuscany are:
- Sangiovese (red) – Sangiovese is the most widely planted grape in Tuscany and suely the most well-known one. The subregions of Chianti and Montepulciane (both located within Tuscany) are world-famous for their Sangiovese. Some of the wines you must try include Chianti Superiore, Montecucco, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The Sangiovese wine is fairly fruity but also brings flavour notes very characteristic of Italy like roasted tomato and balsamic.
- The Super Tuscans – The Super Tuscan wines typically include French grape varieties grown in Tuscany, namely Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon (often blended with Sangiovese too). Although the name might sound a bit weird, there are some really exquisite vintages in this category.
- Trebbiano (white) – Although Tuscany is primarily known for its reds, there is actually plenty of white wine there too. Trebbiano is the local grape grown all over Tuscany and used to make most of its white wines. Somewhat reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc in its characteristics.
So far we talked about the Veneto region with its Adriatic coast and Tuscany with a large coastline on the western side. But what is in between? Emilia Romagna. A region with a rich history, housing one of the oldest (if not the oldest) universities in the world, Emilia Romagana also has a rich food tradition.
But what about the wine? The most famous local variety is Lambrusco – a delightful sparkling red wine. Sparkling reds are not something we encounter often. Lambrusco is delightfully refreshing, festive, and designed to be drunk young. The flavours are dominantly fruity and reminiscent of the summer with notes of rhubarb, hibiskus, strawberries and blackberries. Lambrusco can be both sweet and dry, depending on the style.
Piedmont is one of the most populous regions in Italy. In essence, every third Italian comes from Piedmont. This region in the northwest of the country is spacious and pleasant. With the river Po flowing through the middle of the region and the Alps in the background, the climate is Mediterranean but not overly warm.
Although the region is mostly known for the Nebbiolo wine, there is actually quite an abundance of wine varieties coming from Piedmont. Here are the most important ones:
- Nebbiolo (red) – As mentioned, Nebbiolo is the most prominent grape variety of Piedmont. Probably the most well known wine of Piedmont is Nebbiolo from the wine region of Barolo, but you can also find Nebbiolo wines under a variety of different names (Roero, Gattinara, Barbaresco). Nebbiolo is full of light fruity and floral notes, but also high in tannins which creates quite a memorable combination.
- Barbera (red) – Fairly acidic but low in tannins, this is a truly refreshing wine. It’s juicy and fruity with subtle floral notes and a touch of herbs like licorice and oregano.
- Dolcetto (red) – Dolcetto is another fruity wine from Piemonte, but this one is less acidic than Barbera. Hence the name Dolcetto which comes from the word dolce, meaning sweet. Fairly sweet but with lots of tannins, this one is a must-try for lovers of sweet wine.
- Cortese (white) – While many of the reds from the Piedmont region are rich and sweet, Cortese is almost completely the opposite. This white wine is dry and refreshing with a distinct minerality and gentle herbal notes. It is mostly produced in the wine region of Gavi.
- Moscato d’Asti (sparkling) – Yes, there is truly something for everyone and every occasion in Piedmont. Moscato d’Asti is a sparkling wine that was just made for festivities. Sweet and floral, with notes reminiscent of orange blossoms and mandarins, this is truly a wine for celebrations.
Abruzzo is a small region adjacent to Emilia-Romagna. It is known for the Montepulcian grapes. If you remember, we mentioned the Montepulciano subregion in Tuscany before and its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Well, don’t look for that in Abruzzo! The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is actually made from the Sangiovese grape characteristic of Tuscany. The local grape variety grown in Abruzzo is also, not without confusion, called Montepulciano.
The wines of Abruzzo:
- Montepulciano (red) – The Montepulciano grape makes for some gentle wines, but not without character. The wine from the Montepulciano grape is typically medium-bodied with darker fruit notes like plum and boysenberry. Subtle spicy notes like black pepper and coffee can also be felt. For top-notch Montepulciano wine, try the local Montepulcian d’Abruzzo.
- Trebbiano (white) – One of the most popular white grapes of Italy, Trebbiano is also a stable in Abruzzo. You’ll find that the white wines from Abruzzo have a full body with bright notes of fruit like citrus and apple.
If you haven’t heard about Campania, you must have heard about Naples. The wines made from the local grapes of Campania have a very distinct style. They are often very high in tannins and typically aged for long periods of time (at least 10 years). Traditionally, the wines of Campania are very strong and unique, and not for everyone’s taste. In the recent years, though, winemakers have started greeting more gentle versions of the traditional wines, making them more accessible to the international audience.
He most important wines of Campania are:
- Aglianico (red) – Aglianico is a wine that is really bold. It’s full-bodied, it’s full of tannins, and it’s quite acidic. At the same time, Aglianco brings forth some flavour notes that are very deep. With a generally smoky feel, Aglianico is reminiscent of smoked meat and spices like white pepper, enriched with a subtle fruitiness of plum and black cherry.
- Falanghina (white) – Falanghina is a white grape from Campania, reminiscent of Chardonnay in a lot of ways. It offers rich but gentle notes of flowers and fruit. At the same time, it is a full-bodied wine which results in a very luxurious overall feeling.
We are slowly covering the whole northern part of Italy, and now we are coming to the region of Lombardy. It’s located directly in the centre of the northern part of Italy. It’s the region where the fashionable city of Milan is located. Milano is known for a variety of wines each in its own style. Some local grape varieties are used, but Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc are also prominently used.
Some of the must-tries form Lombarrdy:
- Bonarda (red) – Bonarda is a delicious sweet grape that is often made into a gently sparkling wine. The wine is rich and fruity, with some bright spicy notes in the background (think peppercorn). Also sometimes called Croatina, Bonarda is the pride of the Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda region. On a side note: the Bonarda from Lombardy is not the same wine as Bonarda from argentina.
- Pinot Nero (red) – More commonly known as the Pinot Noir, the Pinot Nero grape is the basis of one of the most famous reds. It is grown in Lombardy in abundance, and made into red, osé, and even sparkling blends.
- Chiavennasca (red) – Chiavennasca is the local name for the same grape that’s allied Nebbiolo in Piedmont. However, Chiavennasca also has a distinct character and it’s notably more gentle than the version from Piedmont.
- Grasevina (white) – Grasevina is a delightful lightweight white wine. It’s also known as Welschriesling or Riesling Italico.
- Franciacorta (white) – Franciacorta is a very characteristic Lombardian blend made with Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is the region with some of the most stunning landscapes of Italy. The region touches both the Adriatic Sea and the Dolomites. A lot of French grape varieties are grown here, including Sauvignon, Merlot, and notably Pinot Grigio.
The best wines from Friuli-Venezia Giulia are:
- Merlot (red) – It’s often easy to recognize wines grown in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and this is certainly true of Merlot. It is a style of Merlot that’s especially earthy, often bringing the notes of leather and clove to the forefront.
- Refosco (red) – Quite acidic, often even described as tart or even spicey, Refosco is a delightfully pointed wine.
- Sauvignon (white) – In Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sauvignon is often a blend of Sauvigon Blanc and a fairly rare variety known as Sauvignonasse. Sauvignonasse is also often called Friulano, after the name of the region where it grows the most. In France it is known as Sauvignon Vert.
- Pinot Grigio (white) – Friuli-Venezia Giulia is among the top producers of Pinot Grigio in Italy. As one would expect from Pinot Grigio, the wine is dry, with a distinct minerality and notes of citrus.
Sardinia is the second largest Island of Italy and of the whole Mediterranean. The largest one is, of course, Sicily, in the far south of Italy, while Sardinia is located on the westernmost point of the country. With pretty much the perfect climate, winemaking is a long tradition in Sardinia. Infact, we believe that Saridnian wines are some of the most underappreciated in the world of wine. Highly aromatic and lively, these are the true summer wines that reflect the cultural attitude of the region.
The prominent wines of Sardinia are:
- Cannonau (red) – Probably the most well-known wine from Sardinia. It was actually discovered that the Cannonau variety is the same as Grenache, but that doesn’t diminish the qualities of Sardinian Cannonau in the least. Cannonau wines are full-bodied but with medium tannin contents, resulting in a smooth sipping experience.
- Carignano (red) – Carignano wine is somewhat similar in style to the Cannonau, but takes the same principle even farther. This wine is quite low in tannins, but still brings some rustic notes like leather or balsamic. Still, the notes of berries dominate resulting in a wine that feels sweet without being overly sugary.
- Vermentino (white) – In contrast with the sweet and powerful reds, the main variety of white wine in Sardinia, Vermentino, is decidedly dry. This medium-bodied wine is rich in light floral notes with hints of tropical fruit.
Perhaps for many the first association to the world Lazio is the football club, but the region is also home to the ancient capital of Rome. Considering that the region of Lazio is not very large, and that it is home to more than 5 million people, there is not too much room left for vineyards. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, of course, and there are a few interesting wines from Lazio you might want to try.
- Merlot and Sangiovese (red) – Blends of Merlot and Sangiovese are commonly found in the Lazio region. Nicknamed a “Super Lazio” the Sangiovese Merlot blend creates a comforting, full-flavoured wine with hints of blackberry and chocolate.
- Cesanese (red) – Cesanese is an old-school red wine with a very rustic flavour profile. Quite smokey and somewhat tart, it is reminiscent of wild berries and scorched earth.
- Frascati (white) – Frascati is an easy-drinking blend. It usually consists of Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, but some other varieties are also sometimes included, like Chardonnay.
Perhaps not the most well-known part of Italy, the Marche region actually has a lot to offer – from rich history to beautiful nature to, of course, wine. The region is located on the Adriatic Sea, approximately in the middle of the Italian Adriatic coast. Wines made in Marche are of strong character, with powerful aromas and a distinct style.
The wines typically found in the Marche region are:
- Sangiovese (red) – You’ve probably noticed thus far that the Sangiovese grape is common in a multitude of regions across Italy. However, it is a characteristic of this grape variety that the flavour notes do change with the climate. For this reason, trying out Sangiovese from different regions can be really fun. The Sangiovese wines from Marche are known to have more strongly emphasized herbal notes.
- Montepulciano (red) – Smooth but bold, Montepulciano from Marche is simply a wine you must taste in order to understand it. Rosso Conero DOC is a highly praised Montepulciano wine.
- Lacrima (red) – Lacrima (meaning “tear” in Italian) is an indigenous grape variety from Marche.I If you want to taste the character of a region – Lacrima should be your choice. Somewhat reminiscent of Syrah, Lacrima wines are high in tannins, full-bodied and full of flavour. It does usually taste somewhat fresher than Syrah, with heavy notes of berries and flowers. These days, the Lacrima grape is almost exclusively used to make the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC wines. Hint: they are amazing. Definitely worth trying.
- Verdicchio (white) – Verdichio is a dry white wine that’s very common in the region of Marche. It is the go-to wine to sip alongside a seafood dinner. And there are good reasons for that: little citrusy with a subtle creaminess, this wine really performs amazing in sucha food pairing.
- Pecorino (white) – Yes, you’ve heard it right. This wine variety is called Pecorino. And no, it is not cheese – but the name does refer to sheep. Why? Nobody is sure, although there are some legends circling around. In any case, the Pecorino grape is luscious and sweet, and it makes for a delightful white wine. The growing of Pecorino is not limited to Marche – it’s quite common in the Abruzzo region, and in lower amounts also in Umbria, Liguria, and Tuscany. However, the Pecorino from Marche does have a distinct character and you should definitely try it at least once in your life.
Trentino-Alto Adige is located in Northeastern Italy, close to the border with Austria. Besides the amazing views of the Alps, this region is also rich in vineyards. Before flying was common this little province was the most frequented passage from the north of Italy to Austria and the rest of the world. This contributed to the rich history of the region, with mixed cultures and traditions – and that holds true for winemaking too.
For example, there are two official languages in Trentino-Alto Adige: Italian and German, and you are likely to find both Italian and German grape varieties around here, and even some wines with double names which can lead to a bit of confusion.
The most notable wines of Trentino-Alto Adige are:
- Teroldego (red) – Teroldego is perhaps the best reflection of the region of Trentino. It’s a wine that’s somehow crisp and juicy at the same time. Sweet notes of oranges, blackberries, and tobacco dominate the flavour profile.
- Lagrein (red) – Compared to Teroldego, Lagrein is more earthy and spicy, some would describe it as rustic too. Expect the classic notes of cherry and plum with subtle tannins that bring forth gentle spicy notes.
- Schiava / Vernatsch (red) – This is one of those wines with names in both German and Italian. This is a delightfully light wine. It’s dry and light-bodied, but with a sweet scent reminiscent of strawberries, violets, and sometimes even candy.
- Pinot Grigio (white) – Trentino-Alto Adige is among the top producers of Pinot Grigio in Italy.
- Trento (sparkling) – Trento is a distinct style of wine made from Chardonnay grapes.
Umbria is one of the few Italian regions that doesn’t have access to the sea. Still, located right in the middle of the lower part of Italy, it has a very gentle climate and a rich tradition of winemaking. The region has its own idigenous grape variety (Sagrantino), but is also known for producing a distinct style of Sangiovese wine.
The wines from Umbria you should try are:
- Sagrantino (red) – Sagrantino has been grown in Umbria for a very long time. The earliest records date back to the 16th century, but the variety might have been there already for a couple of centuries. Sagrantino is known as one of the wines with the highest tannin contents. Perhaps in the world, but surely in Italy. The wines made from Sagrantino grapes are deep purple in colour, sometimes appearing almost black. The tannins give it a slightly tart feeling, but the wine is also rich in warm notes of blackberry and plum.
- Sangiovese (red) – As we already mentioned, Sangiovese is grown in multiple regions of Italy, but each region has its own distinct style. The Sangiovese from Umbria is bold and fairly acidic.
- Grechetto (white) – In contrast with the bold reds of Umbria, Grechetto is a crisp dry white wine. It offers gentle notes of melon and tropical fruit with a zesty twist. Try pure Grechetto wines from all over Umbrie, or Orvieto DOC wines which feature Grechetto blended with other white varieties like Trebbiano.
The region of Molise is perhaps best known for the Apennines, the highest mountains in this part of the world. The region is heavenly for people who love the outdoors: trails, hiking, forests, wildlife… it’s all there. And the wines of Molise? They are really reminiscent of the character of the region: expect to taste notes of oak, earth, herbs, and smoke – almost like being in a forest.
The most distinguished wines of molise are:
- Montepulciano (red) – Montepulciano wines are typically full-bodied and full of character. In Molise, one can find the Montepulciano del Molise Riserva which is aged for long periods of time. This wine is also fairly cheap for the quality. In Molise, the Montepulciano grape is also often used in a blend with Aglianico to make a wine called Biferno Rosso.
- Tintilia Del Molise (red) – This is a true Molise wine, and one that’s very rare at that. It’s high in tannins and often aged for a long time. Expect a rich flavour profile with notes of dark fruit like plum and blackberry, but also hints of cocoa.
If we imagine Italy as a boot, Calabria is its toe. With an immense shoreline and a warm climate, this region has a huge potential for winemaking which is unfortunately not put to work. Calabria is known better as a producer of olive oil, citrus fruit, and vegetables. However, that doesn’t mean there is no wine in Calabria: the Greco white grape variety is commonly grown, for example, as well Gaglioppo, and idigenous red variety.
Wines from Calabria to try are:
- Cirò (red) – Cirò DOC refers to wines made in the wine region of Cirò. The wine is usually a blend of the local Gaglippo (up to 95%) and around 5% of the white Greco. Fruity, tannic, and full-bodied, this is a wine that will surely leave an impression.
Located next to Calabria, the region of Basilicata is a prime agricultural region. Its rich soil makes for some amazing grape vintage. The most commonly grown grape variety is Aglianico.
Must-try from Basilicata:
- Aglianico (red) – Aglianico is a strong wine with intense flavour. Full-bodied, acidic, and high in tannins, Aglianco might surprise you with strong spicy notes and hints of smoke. Although not grown in Basilicata exclusively, the Aglianico from this region is known for its character.
Liguria is a region that’s not typically known for its wines. However, there are still some exquisite vintages to be found there. What we have in mind is actually Vermentino, a white grape variety that has reached a peculiar expression in the Ligurian climate. The Ligurian Vermentino is so distinctive that it is sometimes called by a different name – Pigato. The wines made with Liguria Vermentino are aromatic and rich.
Located in the mountains and nestled between France, Switzerland, and Italy, this tiny region does not produce a lot of wine. However, with its small territory, the region still manages to produce some world-acclaimed wines. Besides the characteristic local blends, Val d’Aosta is also known for making a beautiful Rose from Pinot Noir.
- Petite Rouge (red) – Petite Rouge is a local grape of Val d’Aosta that makes for a delightfully light red wine. It’s often used in blends like d’Arvier, Torrette, and Chambaveall
- Petite Arvine (white) – The white sister of Petite Rouge, this grape creates a light-bodied white wine. It’s quite popular in Val d’Aosta and in Switzerland too. Highly acidic but with some warm fruity notes, it is a very tasty wine too.
Italian Wine Classification
As we have mentioned before, Italian wines usually come with certain specific labels. Understanding what they mean can help you choose the right wine, especially if you are in Italy. The 4 main labels are: DOC, DOCG, IGT, and VDT. Here is what each of them means:
- DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or controlled denomination of origin. This is the main classification of Italian wines and covers traditional wines of Italy. There are about 330 wines in Italy that hold the DOC title. To be labeled as DOC, winemakers need to follow certain regulations regarding grape varieties, the region of origin as well as the style of making the wine.
- DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and it’s basically one level up from DOC. Now, we don’t mean that DOC is necessarily worse than DOCG – there are some really amazing wines labeled as DOC. However, the DOCG rules are stricter and guarantee the highest quality of wine.
- IGT stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica and is the newest of the three classification we mentioned so far, introduced in 1992. This classification basically covers the wines that are high quality, but were not able to receive the DOC certification because they do not use the indigenous grape varieties.
- VDT stands for Vino da Tavola, or, quite simply, table wine. What this will tell you is simply that the wine is drinkable. Wines labeled VDT are typically cheaper. While there are some gems that carry the VDT label, buying these wines can really be hit or miss.
Italy might be confusing with its wine classifications and the variety of wines that are often similar – but not the same. Or sometimes they are the same but called differently in different regions. However, one thing is undeniable – Italy does make some of the best wines in the world. From crisp and dry whites to rich and fruity reds and everything in between (including some amazing sparkling wines), Italy really does have something to offer to everyone.