Italy

The country of Italy is steeped in wine tradition. With over 1,000 indigenous grape varieties, it is no wonder that all regions in the country have a rich tradition with the vine.  It would take a life-time of unflinching study to learn all the deep complexities of viticulture here and we will touch only on some of the most important aspects of Italian viticulture.

As with France, this tradition of winemaking goes back centuries.  Many producers still adhere to the old school way of making wines.  They make wines to be a part of a meal rather than a purely hedonistic endeavor.  In many cases they are making wines in the same ways and styles of their ancestors, who worked the same plots of land.

Italian Wine Regions

Roughly, one could break Italy up into 5 distinct areas that could then be subdivided into the major regions. We have bolded the most important regions and describe them in further detail below.

  1. Northwest Italy
    • Piedmont
    • Lombardy
    • Liguria
    • Vallée de Aosta
  2. Northeast Italy
    • Veneto
    • Alto-Adige
    • Friuli
  3. Western Central Italy
    • Tuscany
    • Umbria
    • Lazio
  4. Eastern Central Italy
    • Emilia-Romagna
    • Abbruzzo
    • Marche
    • Molise
  5. Southern Italy & the Islands
    • Puglia
    • Campania
    • Basilicata
    • Calabria
    • Sardinia
    • Sicily

Tuscany

This is arguably Italy’s most famous wine growing region.  The warm, sun-drenched hills of Tuscany are ideally suited for cultivation of wine grapes and olive orchards.  It’s iconic villas and proximity to Florence make it one of the most visited wine regions of the world.

Tuscany’s most famous produce is Sangiovese, especially those from the Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Brunello di Montalcino regions.  Here is where Sangiovese produces its most complex and deep wines.  They are a long way from the simple cherry red Chiantis served in the straw lined bottles called fiascos!

Piedmont

The northerly region of Piedmont is home to some of the longest lived and most storied wines of Italy.  It is famous for Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Moscato.  Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto grow particularly well in the region of Alba.  Nebbiolo most notably flourishes in the Langhe region, especially in Barolo and Barbaresco.  The foggy mornings and warm afternoons make an ideal climate for this notoriously fickle grape.

The complexity of the climate of Piedmont, which is nestled at the foot of both the Alps and the Appenine mountain chain, creates a wide style of wines.  Not only does the heavily tannic Nebbiolo grape thrive here, but so does Moscato, one of the most delicate wines of Italy.  The famed Moscato d’Asti wines are ethereally light, florally perfumed and slightly sweet.  They are often used as a perfect accompaniment to light desserts, such as sorbet or gelato.

Veneto

The largest zone in the Northeast part of Italy doesn’t have the name cachet of Tuscany or Piedmont, but it is home to some of the most famous wines of the country.  This ancestral home of Romeo & Juliet makes white, red, sparkling, and sweet wines of notoriety from grapes that are seldom used in the rest of the country.

Corvina is the most famous.  It is typically used around Verona and the banks of Lake Garda to make the long lived wines of Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella.  These wines are deep, complex and slightly sweet.

Garganega took the USA by storm in the 1970s in the form of the bottlings from Soave.  It is no surprise given the prettiness of the floral and citrus-driven wines.

Prosecco is arguably the most approachable of these famous three.  It has taken the world by storm with the inexpensive and delicious sparkling wines made from it.

Alto-Adige

Alto-Adige (also known as Südtirol) has an interesting history.  Snuggled up at the foothills of the Tirol mountains, it has lots of influence from Germany and Austria.  The most famous wines from here are the whites.  They are typically varietally labeled and from grapes like Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Kerner, and Gewürztraminer.  There are some red wine made here and they are exceptional, but not very well known. Common red grapes are Lagrein and Schiava.

Campania

The city of Naples and Mount Vesuvius are the two most famous things in the warm region of Campania.  That could change in the coming years, however, as the wines from here continue to garner more and more acclaim.   White wines are varietally labeled and made from the perfumed varietals of Fiano and Falanghina, as well as the austere Greco.  Reds are made from the ancient Hellenic grape Aglianico.  Aglianico makes deeply colored and intensely black fruit flavored wines.  The volcanic soils around Vesuvius were spread by the ancient eruption of Pompeii and give the wines a delightful and lightly earthy edge.

Sicily

Although this largest island of Italy is very famous, its wines have been kept a relative secret until the last few years.  Whether this was a form of Omerta to keep the island’s great wines to the locals is for each to decide on their own.  What is definitely true is that the wines deserve their newly found praise.  Although the island can be quite warm in the summers, it can also be very cool in the winters.  It is very common for the vines of Mount Etna to be covered in snow.

Currently, the red wines made from Nero d’Avola and Nerello Macalese are picking up the most steam.  However, the white grapes of Grillo and Inzolia show a great bit of promise too.