Italy is well-known around the world as a food-loving nation. It is almost just as famous, though, for being the producer of some of the finest wines to be found anywhere on Earth.
The country’s long and rich history and tradition of wine-making are after all one of the oldest in Europe, going back to before the Roman Empire. Italian winemakers have therefore had a lot of time and practice to perfect their art, resulting in some truly exceptional wines.
What Are The Different Italian Wine Regions?
Scattered all across the country, the Italian wine regions are generally separated into 21 distinct areas, each with its own variety of grapes, or style of wine-making.
In the north of Italy, the major wine regions include Valle d’Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, and Friuli-Venzia Giulia. In north-central Italy are Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Marche. In central Italy are Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzo, and Molise. Going south are Campania-Naples, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily, and off to the west, is the island of Sardinia.
What Are The Types Of Italian Grapes?
The vineyards of Italy are home to over 2,000 varieties of grapes. Many of these, however, have become increasingly rare over time, and might soon become extinct. Some of the best-known varieties, though, include Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Montepulciano, and Pinot Grigio. The latter is largely considered to be originally a French variety, called Pinot Gris. Though, arguably, its cultivation in Italian soil and climate over thousands of years has made it somewhat different.
These, and many others, can be commonly found across the many various wine regions of Italy. On the other end of the spectrum though, some of the rarest Italian grapes include Centesimino and Dorona. These are found in small amounts in just a few places.
Due to ever-present competition from the major international competitors, an increasing number of foreign varieties of grape have been planted in Italy in recent times. Today, many of Italy’s most expensive fine wines are produced from these foreign varieties. Super Tuscan Sassicaia from Bolgheri, for instance, is largely Cabernet Sauvignon blended with about 15 percent Cabernet Franc.
What Is The Most Popular Wine In Italy?
Italians are great lovers of wine, and with the country’s long history and tradition of producing fine wines, the favourites are many and varied. Ten of the most famous and popular Italian wines enjoyed in Italy include:
Originally from the Piedmont region in northern Italy, Barolo is classed as “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantia”, the highest standard for fine Italian wines. Guaranteeing the utmost quality of production method, it also requires Barolo to be made exclusively with Nebbiolo grapes.
Cannonau di Sardegna
From the island of Sardinia situated to the west of the Italian mainland, Cannonau di Sardegna is a popular Italian wine that is made from the same grapes that give the island its name.
The sparkling wine of Franciacorta comes from the Providence of Brescia in the Lombardy region and is also known as Italian Champagne. This is because wine is made from the same grapes that produce Champagne.
Once known as Nebbiolo di Barbaresco, Barbaresco wine, like Barolo, is a fine Italian wine from the Piedmont region, and made exclusively with Nebbiolo grapes.
From the mountains of Piedmont in northern Italy, comes another of the region’s most famous wines. Like Barolo and Barbaresco, this fine red wine is made from Nebbiolo grapes, from which it also gets its name.
Fiano di Avellino
Originally from the Campania region, Fiano di Avellino is a popular white wine made in the Avellino province of Italy.
Though originally from Tuscany, Chianti Classico wine is now produced in several providences throughout and various other regions of Italy.
Amarone della Valpolicella
Known as one of the most prestigious red wines from Italy’s northeastern Veneto wine region, Amarone Della Valpolicella is made from the passito grape.
Brunello di Montalcino
From the province of Siena, about 80 km south of Florence, the Brunello di Montalcino wine is produced in and around the town of Montalcino. This fine red Italian wine is made with the Sangiovese grape.
What Are The Best Italian Wines?
There is a certain hierarchy of excellence in Italian wines, each tier bound by stricter regulation and quality control. This is usually indicated somewhere on the wine label.
- Vino – the basic entry-level quality table wine. The title simply means “wine”.
- IGT – “Indicazione Geografica Tipica” is the next step up. Contains a broad set of restrictions meant to contain certain wines and their production in the geographical locations that they come from.
- DOC – “Denominazione Origine Controllata” is a certification for high-level quality wines. Wines must follow a strict set of guidelines and restrictions.
- DOCG – “Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita” is reserved for the best of the best. Few wines are eligible for the honour of this certification.
How To Pick A Good Italian Wine
There are two reliable ways of determining the best Italian wine.
Take a look at the results of prestigious wine competitions and catalogues
Examples of reliable sources include:
The Decanter World Wine Awards
Thousands of wines are judged each year in this prestigious international wine competition. The results are usually quite technical, so some research is likely required in order to understand the finer details. However, just going by the winners is often all that is required to find a good Italian wine.
The Merano WineFestival & WineHunter
Held every November at the Merano spa resort in Alto Adige, Italy, the Merano wine festival is famous for dealing exclusively with fine Italian wines. The WineHunter organisation behind the competition publishes a top 100 list after every competition.
Gambero Rosso’s Vini d’Italia
Every year Gambero Rosso publishes the highly respected annual guide, Vini d’Italia. This elite catalogue evaluates and rates tens of thousands of wines from over 2,500 wine producers across Italy, giving awards to only the very best.
Check the best-seller lists
While the expert’s picks can be very helpful, many of the top wines can be rather expensive and out of reach for the average consumer.
Fortunately, it is easy enough to simply look at best-seller lists at bottle stores, wineries, and also online.
Put Italian Wines On Your List
Italy has a great many superb wines which cater to a wide variety of tastes. Whether it’s a sparkling white, or a full-bodied red, that you enjoy, or vice versa, Italy’s huge selection of wine has it all. Finding the best Italian wine can potentially be quite a challenge.
Hopefully, this guide will be of some use along your wine-tasting journey and help you to find the varietals that you love. And when you do, you will likely discover that the effort was well worth it.
Jump To a Section Below
- What Are The Different Italian Wine Regions?
- What Are The Types Of Italian Grapes?
- What Is The Most Popular Wine In Italy?
- What Are The Best Italian Wines?
- How To Pick A Good Italian Wine
- Put Italian Wines On Your List