When it comes to fine wine, it doesn’t get much better than the various Italian wine varieties that are available on the market. There is a wide selection of premium Italian wine options that you can choose from all of which will meet your desired flavor profile and taste regardless of the event of what type of food you may be eating with it.
Italian wine selections vary in taste and flavor profiles significantly due to a variety of reasons the main one being the various different types of grapes used during the fermentation process in addition to the regions in which Italian wine varieties are produced. There are a lot of subtleties that are involved when it comes to Italian wines which are why having an understanding of the different varieties and types is so important.
Before you decide on which Italian wine variety fits your specific taste profile and intended flavors, you’ll need to have an understanding of what Italian wine is and how you should go about choosing the right bottle. With all of the existing wine products out on the market right now, it can be quite difficult trying to find the right Italian wine variety that meets your specific needs and taste profile.
One of the best ways to ensure that you’re selecting the right Italian wine variety is by doing ample amounts of research before deciding on a final bottle to buy.
There is so much information out there about the various Italian wine varieties that you can find in the supermarket and virtually any other liquor store that you may happen to visit so you’re never out of luck when it comes to finding the right resources which will help you select the best Italian wine variety for your specific taste buds or flavor profile. Italian wine varieties come in many of the same types that standard wine options do such as red wine and white wine however there is one major difference.
Italian wine varieties are made using special grapes types that are exclusive to various regions in Italy. These different grape types allow wine producers to infuse different notes and taste of certain ingredients into their bottled wine products without tasting the same as other brands on the market. In this guide, we’re going to give you a detailed breakdown of how you can go about selecting the right Italian wine option and how to go about choosing between the various grapes and regions available.
Fun Facts About Italian Wine
Italian wines are complex but interesting, so let’s take a look at some fun facts you may not already know.
1. Italians aren’t as strict when it comes to rules.
If you’ve read our post on Portuguese wines by variety and region, you know the place very strict guidelines on regions to produce authentic wines that are of the highest quality. Italy is a bit more relaxed. Many of their varieties are grown in several different regions, if not all over the country. It’s still an official Italian wine and can still be of excellent quality, even if it has slightly different characteristics than all the others.
2. Wines from Italy are named esoterically.
Very few Italian wines are known around the world. Esoteric wines are less common, but not necessarily more exclusive. Again, unlike Portuguese wines, Italian wines that you can only find in Italy are often just as affordable as more common varieties. They simply maintain a low profile with unique tastes.
3. Different names for the same wine are marked by distinct regions.
The reason you may find so many different names for one wine throughout Italy is that Italy wasn’t a unified country until 1861. Many of the regions still maintain their own distinct identifying characteristics and insist on calling their form of the same wine by a different name.
4. The United States is the best place outside of Italy to enjoy Italian wines.
The U.S. is Italy’s primary exporter of wines. That makes the U.S. the best place to enjoy your favorite Italian wine outside of traveling to Italy. As of 2017, more than 334 million liters were imported annually, which is 23.5 percent of Italy’s total production.
Wine Varieties in Italy
Introducing the most common grape, grown all over Italy: Sangiovese. It goes by many names, chiefly Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di (or de) Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso, and Morellino di Scansano. Because they grow all over, each variation is different based on climate, harvesting, and production methods.
Sangiovese from Tuscany is earthy with bold tannins and notes of black cherry while Sangiovese from Campania is lighter and tastes of roses and strawberries. Typically, Sangiovese wine will age from four to seven years, but they can last longer.
Because there are so many wine varieties from Italy, we can’t possibly talk about them all, unless you have a few weeks, or months, to spare. However, we can touch on some of the most common varieties so you’ll have a jumping-off point for trying some of the best.
This is the same as the French Pinot Gris and crossed over the border into northern Italy around the turn of the 20th century. It has become much more popular in the past four decades or so and has found a lot of commercial success around the world.
This variety is a light-bodied wine with high acidity. It has some mineral qualities while others taste rather peachy. You’ll find the best wines of this type in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
A significant upgrade from the Trebbiano, the Verdicchio has more flavour and character potential with crisp acidity and sea air and lemon aromas.
This wine is meant to be enjoyed within the first three years and has a deep red color with low acidity and high tannins. It’s easy to drink without aging, making it very common in several regions including Lombardy and Piedmont. You may know this variety by names like Dogliani, Dolcetto d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Ovada, and Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba.
This variety of red Italian wine comes from hotter regions and is tannic, bold, and long-lasting. In some cases, it’s surprisingly tart and delicate with smells like bing cherries and roses. It should be aged for seven to ten years and is much less common than many other varieties.
In fact, there are almost fifty times more Cabernet Sauvignon than there is Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo also goes by the names Barbaresco, Barolo, Valtellina, Roero, Ghemme, Gattinara, and Sforzato.
Italian culture is quite relaxed. They don’t take many things too seriously, and when it comes to wine growing, that’s not necessarily a good thing. While there are plenty of fantastic wines from the land of spectacular tourism, Trebbiano isn’t one of them. That’s not to say it’s not a good wine if you’re looking for something very cheap and crisp. There are also some exceptional Trebbiano wines of great character if the grapes are grown carefully, so it’s still worth a try.
This is the most common white wine in Italy. It’s grown most prevalently in central regions and has a lot of clones like Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano di Romagna, Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano Giallo, and Procanico. It also provides a base for other white wine blends like Frascati.
Usually, Trebbiano is very dry and acidic, but lately, some producers have achieved sweetness. It takes away somewhat from their crisp, refreshing nature, but can provide a bit of extra flavour for those who prefer it.
There are two different wines in Italy called Vernaccia. They come from Tuscany and Sardinia. To add to the confusion you may already be experiencing, there’s also a red Vernaccia variety from the Marche region.
The Vernaccia from Tuscany is the finest of the three with delightful mineral nuances. Unlike many white wines, it ages well in oak barrels, adding to its depth of character.
Pinot Grigio gets a lot of attention but the Tocai Friulano grape is the most widely planted Friuli variety. It’s a light or medium-bodied wine with a rich, thick texture that’s more flavorful than many of the other Italian whites.
Some ampelographers say that the Tocai is the same as Sauvignon Vert, which is what Chileans use to make Sauvignon Blanc. However, the wines they make are quite different. Unfortunately, there’s much confusion again because of the classic wine zone in Hungary named Tokaji.
This variety is from Piedmont and despite being very old, has gained new popularity recently. It’s very flavorful with soft tannins and notes of flowers, almonds, and melon.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that vintners discovered what they thought was Pinot Blanc was actually Chardonnay. Oops. Chardonnay is popular all over Italy and around the world. Italy producer crisper, leaner Chardonnays than many other parts of the world. They’re not as fruity or oaky because they don’t age in oak barrels well.
The crisp, light-bodied whites have apple and citrus flavours with notes of honey and mineral characters. They grow in Piedmont and a few other places in northern Italy.
This variety is fragrant and flavorful. It’s grown mainly in the southern region of Campania. These wines are medium-bodied and age well for a rich aromatic quality.
This is the main variety of Soave, one of Italy’s most notorious wines. It makes classy, rich wines with unctuous character. For a long time, this variety went unnoticed, but its popularity has been growing.
This variety grows in the south of Italy and makes an aromatic, crisp, floral wine with a lot of character and viscosity.
This wine is a blend of Rondinella, Molinara, and Corvina. It’s the signature blend from Veneto and can be anywhere from simple and tart to deep and intense.
This variety can be found all over Italy and has several subvarieties like Malvasia Istriana, Malvasia di Candia, and Malvasia Toscana. Unfortunately, it is fragile and oxidizes easily. Mixed with Trebbiano, it makes a rich and lovely blend.
The grape used to make Moscato grows all over the country and makes several different subvarieties like Moscato d’Asti and sparkling Asti. It’s perfumed and floral, with some of the best expressions of Moscato than you’ll find anywhere else in the world. It can be golden or red and is sometimes mixed with other varieties to create blends like Zibibbo.
This variety has been growing for over a century. It’s the same as the Pinot Blanc variety in France and crossed the border to northern Italy just like Pinot Grigio. It’s known for its rich character.
Renano means Rhine, and is similar to the Rhines you might find in Germany. Like several other varieties from the northern region of Trentino Alto-Adige, this wine came to Italy when this region was the gateway to Italy from the rest of Europe.
Riesling also tends to be distinctly German and this variety shares the same crispness and light-bodied characteristics as many other Rieslings do.
Primitivo & Negroamaro
Both of these wines are light-bodied and sweety. They grow alongside each other in southern Italy and have raspberry, blackberry, and strawberry flavors with tough leather notes. While Primitivo is punchy, Negroamaro produces darker fruit flavors. They are commonly blended together, which is why we grouped them together to describe them.
They are best enjoyed in the first three years of harvest. Primitivo is known as Zinfandel in other parts of the world and comes from a variety of grape in Croatia named Tribidrag.
It’s common to refer to Sauvignon Blanc with just its first name. This intense herbal wine grows in the Northeast, but other winemakers are attempting to cultivate it in less traditional areas for a more international style.
This crisp, light to medium-bodied wine can make affordable, delightful wines or rich, fine wines. It comes from Tuscany and is perfectly at home with other Super Tuscans and non-traditional varieties.
This wine variety is from Sicily. It has bold fruit flavours and is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. It’s aged from five to seven years but can last longer.
This variety comes from the Piedmont region and is the most produces red wine in the area. It should be drunk young and does not age well after three years. It has a unique liquorice taste and is herbaceous and fruit-forward with black cherry flavours and juicy acidity that make it very tart.
Italian Wine Recommendations
Grand Mori Valdobbiadene Prosecco
The Non-Vintage Grand Mori Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry begins with pleasing aromas of melon, pear, honeysuckle, and a bit of freshly baked bread. The bouquet is a bit subdued but quite nice nevertheless. The wine tastes crisp with plenty of fruit and just the right amount of bubbles. This is crowd-pleasing stuff that balances the sweetness wonderfully. Green apple, pear and orange zest are just a few of the flavours you’ll find when tasting.
Giretto Pinot Grigio
The 2017 Giretto Pinot Grigio begins with a very pleasing aroma of pear, citrus, and melon along with a little stony minerality and a hint of nuttiness. Taking a sip reveals a surprising depth of flavour with tons of green apple, lime and touches of tropical fruit in this tart and tasty wine. And while there’s plenty of sweet-tasting fruit, it’s a fairly dry wine which isn’t always common with Pinot Grigio at this low of a price point.
The 2014 Masi Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese begins with a strong, beautiful aroma featuring black cherry, dried herbs, a little vanilla, and a hint of cinnamon. The wine tastes smooth and easy to drink with great flavor primarily tart and juicy black cherry, cedar, raisin, licorice, and spice. It ends with a long, slightly grippy finish featuring soft tannins and more rich and savory fruit plus lingering spice and tobacco notes. This is a really tasty wine that shows that the original is still going strong!
Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Rose
This wine is one of the best sparkling wines in Italy, with the ability to age more than ten years. It’s produced from Pinot Nero but does have a small amount of Chardonnay. It’s a stunning wine with strawberry, red plum, and currant aromas. The acidity is perfect and makes it delightfully refreshing. It’s a delicious wine with great texture and flavor.
Superiore di Cartizze
This sparkling Prosecco is fermented in the bottle. It features marigold, orange peel, and lemon zest aromas with remarkable complexity. It’s a dry, top-quality wine from Bisol and far surpasses other winemakers of the same area.
This wine from Friuli is a signature white wine. It’s a blend of Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco, and Friulano. It is mouth-filling, rich, and ages wonderfully. It can be enjoyed between twelve and fifteen years.
Sicily boasts the finest Etna Bianco wine in all of Italy. This variety is aged in oak barrels for deep and intense fruit flavors with a powerful aging component when compared with other whites. It drinks well between five and seven years, or perhaps longer.
Nanni Cope Sabbie di Sopra il Bosco
This wine features intensity, power, and great structure. It has a graceful texture and finishes with finesse. It’s made from the Palagrello Nero grape in Campania.
Piano di Montevergine
This wine is as complex as Barolo and as refined as Barbaresco, but it doesn’t get nearly as much notoriety or respect. It should be enjoyed just as much because of its elegance and deep concentration. It ages 15-20 years, making it simply magnificent.
Italian Wine Regions
While Italy’s production of Vermouth, cooking wines, and table wines are high, there are three primary regions that pump out the best drinking wines you can buy. Veneto, Tuscany, and Piedmont are likely regions you’ve heard of, whether you knew they were Italian wine regions or not.
There are several designations we should cover before diving into the wine regions themselves. DOC is a designation for both Italian wine and Italian cheese. It’s a quality assurance label that means “controlled designation of origin.” It ensures that the wine is of the highest quality, and DOCG is an even higher level of quality within the DOC label.
IGT is another way of labeling the quality of Italian wine. It means “typical geographic indication,” and it is reserved for great wines that use non-Italian grapes in production. Chardonnay and Merlot fall into this category, as well as many other Super Tuscan wines.
We’re going to go through our list of Italian wine regions, starting with the regions that produce DOC wines in the highest volumes. We’re not going to count all of the wines made for cooking, low-quality table wines, or vinegar. Keep in mind that, unlike the regions in Portugal, Italy’s regions may produce similar wines in different styles instead of their own distinct varieties that don’t cross the border.
Italy has several different regions in which premium Italian wine is produced which makes the options endless when it comes to choosing the perfect Italian wine for you. Below, you’ll find a complete list of all the various Italian wine regions that exist today.
This region makes up the entire land area of the island at the toe of Italy’s boot. It contains Palermo and Catania. Wines here develop very richly, dark, and fruity because of the warmer climate than in the mountains of northern Italy. Nero d’Avola is a red wine with a noble past.s
- Nero d’Avola (red): A bolder red wine variety with fruity flavors of plum, raspberry sauce, and licorice with fine tannins with a somewhat smoky, spiced finish. Pairs excellently with rich roasted meats and veggies.
- Inzolia, Grillo, and Catarratto (white): Three white wine grapes typically used for Marsala but also make for great, more full-bodied, chardonnay-like whites. Think lemons, yellow apples, mango, notes of tarragon, and a refreshing salty sea breeze.
This region is in the northern part of Italy and includes cities such as Verona and Venice. It’s known for rich white and red wines called Soave. The Veneto region also contains the subregion Valpolicella, which produces Amarone Della Valpolicella wines.
These red blends are made with Rondinella, Molinara, and Corvina, but there are several other IGT wines from this area that are Merlot-based. White wines from here include the white grape Garganega, which makes rich white wines like Soave and Chardonnay.
- Prosecco (sparkling): The most famous sparkling wine from Italy is grown mostly in Veneto around the region of Valdobbiadene. Keep your eyes peeled for wines labeled with the sub-regions of Colli Asolani and Valdobbiadene Conegliano or Prosecco Superiore. Read more about Prosecco and some examples here:
- Garganega (white): A grape found mostly around Soave and Gambellara (and labeled as such). These wines are dry and lean with notes of preserved lemon, honeydew melon, and a touch of green almond on the finish. Learn more about Soave.
- Corvina (red): Corvina is the most important of a blend of 3 grapes (Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara) used in Valpolicella and Bardolino. Wines offer tart red cherry, cinnamon, carob, and green peppercorn flavors. A great wine to try is Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso.
Merlot (red): Merlot is planted nearly all over Italy and has a large presence in Veneto where wines offer red cherry fruit in a more elegant style. There are several regions that use Merlot in Veneto (it’s one of the most planted grapes) including Colli Euganei, Colli Berici, Breganze, and Vicenza.
In southern Italy, on the heel of the boot, you’ll find Puglia’s long narrow region, famous for Chardonnay and fruity reds that are both affordable and delicious. These are great ways to immerse yourself in Italian wine because they’re fantastic varieties you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
- Primitivo (red): This red wine explodes with sweet red strawberries, blackberries, leather and a whiff of smoke. It’s the same grape as Zinfandel in the US and will cozy alongside BBQ burgers.
- Negroamaro (red): A deeper, darker red wine from Puglia with more plum and herbal notes of dried sage and oregano. There’s a Negroamaro blend with Malvasia Nera and together they make the perfect balance in a rich red wine called Salice Salentino DOC.
Tuscany is in central Italy and includes the city of Florence. It is one of the most famous regions and also includes the Chianti region most known for producing Sangiovese wines. Sangiovese rose to popularity in Chianti in the 1970s, driving the other Cabernet and Merlot grapes to create their own styles called Super Tuscans.
Trebbiano is the most common white grape in this region and produces many of the white wines you’ll find here. That includes Vermentino, which tastes similar to Sauvignon Blanc.
- Sangiovese (red): The most planted red wine of Tuscany and all of Italy is famous from the regions of Chianti, Montalcino, and Montepulciano in Tuscany. Wines offer raspberry, roasted tomato, and balsamic flavors with an earthy whiff of wet clay. There are many great values to try including Chianti Superiore, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Montecucco.
- Super Tuscan (red): Some wines from Tuscany use made-up names and include Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in a blend referred to as a “super Tuscan.” Wines offer bold black cherry and raspberry flavors with cocoa and subtle notes of leather.
Sandwiched between Tuscany and Veneto is the Emilia-Romagna region with its affordable Lambrusco, which is a sweet and fruity wine. However, there are other fantastic dry Lambruscos to enjoy.
Lambrusco (red sparkling): A grouping of several red grape varieties that make for light-bodied sparkling red wines with notes of strawberries, blackberries, rhubarb, and hibiscus. There are several sweetness levels available from Secco (dry) to Dolce (sweet).
Piedmont is in northwestern Italy, featuring one-third of the entire population of Italy. It’s a popular destination for locals in the Po River Valley, which runs all the way through the region. It’s a lush, beautiful land with a breathtaking view of the Alps in the background.
This region is known for its Nebbiolo with high tannins and crisp acidity. However, Moscato d’Asti also hails from this region as well as the less common Dolcetto.
- Barbera (red): A juicy red wine with dominant flavors of tart cherry and licorice with a subtle dried herbal note (like oregano) on the finish. Wines have low tannin and plenty of quenching acidity. Seek out Barbara d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba.
- Dolcetto (red): A juicy red wine with lower acidity that bursts with flavors of black plum, boysenberry, violet and sometimes mocha flavors. Wines often have bolder, crunchy tannins. Look out for Dolcetto d’Alba and Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore.
- Moscato d’Asti (sparkling): A delicately floral sweet wine that explodes with aromas of mandarin orange, honeysuckle, orange blossom, and pear.
- Nebbiolo (red): The grape of Piedmont’s most famous wine region called Barolo, but the wine is also known by several other regional names (Langhe Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Roero, etc). This wine offers red cherry fruit and floral strawberry notes with a frame of bolder gripping tannings.
- Cortese (white): A lean, dry white wine that’s most known labeled as the region Gavi. Wines have intense graphite-like minerality, with herbs, citrus, a viscous body, and often a note of grapefruit pith on the finish.
Abruzzo is south of Emilia-Romagna with Montepulciano grapes that produce Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Don’t confuse this with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is from Tuscany and made with Sangiovese. The Montepulciano grapes are dark and rich with high tannins and herbaceous flavors.t
- Montepulciano (red): Not to be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a Sangiovese wine from Tuscany, Montepulciano is a wine grape that makes medium-bodied red wines with plum, boysenberry and coffee flavors with subtle notes of herbs and crushed black pepper. Most notably look for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Rosso Conero (from Marche).
- Trebbiano (white): One of Italy’s most planted, but least talked about, white grapes that produce medium to full-bodied white wines with citrus, apple, and tropical fruit flavors in a similar style to Chardonnay.
Campania is in southern Italy and contains the city of Naples. It produces rustic red wines with high tannins like Aglianico. This wine is rugged and meaty and typically needs to age for about ten years before it’s drinkable. Other wines from this region have these same qualities.
However, lately, vintners have discovered how to tone down these characteristics, giving rise to its recent popularity. Even still, a ten-year-old Taurasi is also a great choice, as is a refreshing white Greco.
- Aglianico (red): A full-bodied red wine with deep savory notes of white pepper, smoke, and cured meats that give way to subtle notes of black cherry and spiced plum. Aglianico has high tannins and acidity that make it so the wine improves after a decade of aging. From Campania seek out Aglianico del Taburno.
- Falanghina (white): A fuller-bodied white (similar to Chardonnay) with peach, lemon, and pear flavors with subtle notes of honey and sweet-smelling flowers.
Lombardy is in north-central Italy and contains the city of Milan and Lake Como. This fashion capital of the world also produces stylish wines like the red wine Nebbiolo. However, this version of Nebbiolo is also called Chiavennasca and is lighter than the one from Piedmont.
You may also enjoy the Pinot Noir from Lombardy, also called Pinot Nero, or the sparkling Franciacorta that’s made with Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir. It shares a similar style to Champagne and is delightfully bubbly.
- Bonarda (red): aka Croatina and not the same Bonarda from Argentina (it’s confusing), this grape is commonly made in a barely sparkling style with juicy black fruit flavors and supporting notes of black and green peppercorn. The region most known for this style is labeled Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda.
- Pinot Nero (red): Classic Burgundy-styled Pinot Noir wines grow all over Oltrepò Pavese and are made into red, rosé, and sparkling (blanc de noirs) wines.
- Grasevina (white): aka Riesling Italico or Welschriesling A light-bodied dry white wine with apple and citrus flavors that have tropical undertones of pineapple and mango.
This region is in the northeastern part of Italy, containing the Dolomite Mountains. It shares a border with Austria and also touches the Adriatic Sea. It produces mostly white wines like Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio. In fact, there are several types of very intensely flavored Pinot Grigio here, but you may enjoy their own savory version of Merlot.
- Pinot Grigio (white): One of two top regions making the best Pinot Grigio in Italy. Wines are dry, lean and minerally with subtle notes of white peach, lemon-lime, and subtle salinity.
- Merlot (red): An earthy style of Merlot wine with notes of leather and clove with juicy cherry flavors.
- Sauvignon (white): Usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignonasse with green, zesty flavors of gooseberry, lime, honeydew melon,, and pea shoots.
- Refosco (red): A spicy tart red wine with notes of tart cherries and blackberries enveloped in peppery, flinty notes and lower tannin.
Sardinia, or Sardegna, is located on the western-most island of Italy in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea. If you try any wine from Sardinia, it should be Cannonau. It was discovered somewhere along the way that this grape variety is actually the same as Grenache, but the wines produced in Sardinia are drier and more rustic. They’re highly aromatic and affordable, too.
- Cannonau (red): aka Grenache. In Sardinia, wines have a distinctly leather and strawberry-like note with a juicy full-bodied style and medium tannins.
- Vermentino (white): A dry, medium-bodied white wine with flavors of grapefruit, lime, mango and apple flavors with flowery daffodil-like aromas. Wine to Find: Vermentino di Sardegna and Vermentino di Gallura
Carignano (red): aka Carignan. Wine bursting with red berry fruit, balsamic and leather-like flavors with a smoother, supple low tannin finish. Wine to find: Carignano del Sulcis
Wine production here is small because of the high tourist traffic and industrialization of Rome, one of the biggest cities in Italy. This capital city has over 3 million people, but you can find the same Grechetto found in Umbria as well as the rich, sweet Malvasia.
- Frascati (white): A blend of white grapes that primarily include Malvasia and Trebbiano but may also include Chardonnay and others. Wines are usually relatively light alcohol with flavors of lemon and flinty-like notes (due to the region’s volcanic soils).
- Merlot and Sangiovese (red blend): Blended wines feature primarily Merlot and/or Sangiovese and offer blackberry, chocolate, mint and tobacco-like flavors. This is essentially a “Super Lazio.”
- Cesanese (red):
An ancient bold rustic red wine with savory notes of roasted meats, wild berries, and scorched earth.
Located in the center of the country along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Marche is home to very aromatic white wines including the most popular variety, Verdicchio. You may also find Pecorino wine, not cheese, and Lacrima, which is similar to Syrah.
- Sangiovese (red): Typically, a more herbaceous style of Sangiovese with ripe plum and berry flavors, bold tannins and dried herbs on the finish. Look for Colli Pesaresi Sangiovese.
- Montepulciano (red): Smoky tobacco, mocha and wild berry flavors that range from supple and smooth to chewy on the finish. Look for Rosso Conero.
- Verdicchio (white): A lean, dry white wine with pear skin and preserved lemon flavors supported with a creamy oily palate. A great wine for pairing with fish. Look for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.
Northeastern Italy is home to this region with spectacular views of the Alps and fantastic white wines including Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Muller-Thurgau. These trellised hills are nestled up closely to Austria and used to be a gateway to the rest of Europe before plane travel was popular.
There are two primary languages here: Italian and German, which is why you’ll also find the Germanic wine Gewurztraminer. In the village of Trento, they make a sparkling variety with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to compete with even the best Champagnes.
- Trento (Sparkling): Using Chardonnay grapes, Trento makes a Blanc de Blancs style of sparkling wine. Wines have aromas of yellow apple, lemon peel, honeycomb, and creamy bubble finesse.
- Pinot Grigio (white): One of the 2 top regions for Pinot Grigio in Italy. Look for Pinot Grigio labeled from either Alto Adige or Trentino.
- Teroldego (red): A bold-but-juicy red wine with notes of blackberries, sweet anise, orange peel, and sweet tobacco smoke.
- Lagrein (red): A rustic, earthy red with black cherry and plums wrapped in espresso, graphite, and fine-grained tannins.
- Schiava/Vernatsch (red): A light-bodied, dry, fruity and floral red wine with aromas of sweet cherry, strawberry, violet and sometimes cotton candy-like flavors. Read up on Schiavo
Landlocked Umbria is right in the middle of the country and produces Sagrantino, one of the most popular wines in the area. You can also find Sangiovese in this region that’s very strawberry like. As far as white wines go, you’ll get zesty Grechetto grapes similar to Pinot Grigio with an unusual green almond flavor.
- Sangiovese (red): A full-bodied style of Sangiovese with raspberry, plum and tobacco flavors supported with ample acidity and bold chewy tannins. Great examples to try include Montefalco Rossoand Torgiano
- Grechetto (white): A lean, dry white wine with melon and starfruit flavors that lead into a minerally, zesty finish. Most notably you’ll find the wines of Orvietto, which include a blend of Grechetto and other varieties as well as wines labeled Grechetto from Umbria and its sub-regions.
- Sagrantino (red): Quite possibly the world’s most high tannin red wine. It exudes deep, lush plum, blackberry, black cherry and subtle notes of violet, sage, and bergamot. Tannins build with bitter green flavors on the palate.
This gorgeous region is on the Adriatic Sea and features the Apennines Mountains with fantastic trails and wildlife observation. It’s part of a national park and is a great place for the outdoorsy. Their architecture is rich in ancient castles, theatres, and churches.
Wine here is mostly red and very interesting. Just like the land from where it comes, it’s earthy, oaky, and smoky, with other natural herbaceous flavors.
- Montepulciano (red): A dry, full-bodied, moderately tannic red wine with flavors of sweet wild berries, prunes, smoke, and cocoa dust. Montepulciano del Molise has a special Riserva bottling that has extended the aging time and is usually exceptional for the value. There’s also Biferno Rosso, which is a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico.
- Tintilia Del Molise (red): A very rare full-bodied wine with blackberry, black plum, violet, and cocoa dust aromas. It can have bolder tannin and is said to be able to age a long time.
This region in the toe of Italy’s boot is most famous for Greco white wine production. This region features rugged mountains and sun-baked landscapes. The cool blue-green waters are home to many lovely beaches and it’s a popular tourist destination.
- Gaglioppo (red): Spiced cedar, dusty leather, and herbs reveal crushed cherry and dried cranberry flavors.
The rich, fertile, volcanic soil produces intense and intimidating Aglianico wines. They’re not plentiful, but they make up for lack of quantity in incredible quality. This region lies in the southern part of Italy, with lush landscapes and incredible cliff dwellings.
Aglianico (red): A full-bodied red wine with deep savory notes of white pepper, smoke and cured meats that give way to subtle notes of black cherry and spiced plum. Aglianico has high tannins and acidity and improves with a decade of aging. From Basilicata seek out Aglianico del Vulture. Read more about Aglianico.
This small region in northern Italy is not known for wine. Instead, they’re known for beautiful scenery, salty sea air, and excellent seafood. Coincidentally, the wine produced here makes a fantastic seafood white wine. In addition, you won’t want to miss out on the producer of a sparkling white wine that they age at the bottom of the sea.
Vermentino (white): In some areas, the wines are called Pigato which is a unique biotype of Vermentino that tends to have slightly higher aromatics and a rich, waxy texture. Wines offer aromas of aromatic green herbs, citrus zest, and spice. One of the more intriguing whites of Liguria is a blend of primarily Vermentino, Albarola and Bosco called Cinque Terre from around La Spezia.
Val d’ Aosta
This is the smallest wine region producing less wine than any other. It’s located in the Alps at the northern part of Italy and produces unique rose Pinot Noir with regional grapes Petite Arvine and Petit Rouge.
- Petit Rouge (red): A light red wine with aromas of cranberry, wild huckleberry, rose, dill, and wet leaves. The DOCs of Enfer d’Arvier, Torrette, and Chambaveall have high percentages of Petit Rouge in the blend.
- Petite Arvine (white): A light-bodied white wine that’s popular in Switzerland (in the Valais region) as well as Aosta valley. Wines taste of Grapefruit and Honeydew melons with high acidity and a little bit of salinity.
Italian Wine Classifications
Italian wine comes in four main product categories which will tell you about the taste and flavor profile before you even open the bottle. Those four main wine classifications are as follows:
DOC or Denominazione di Origine Controllata is the main tier of classification for Italian wine and covers most types of traditional wine of Italy. All in all, there are about 330 DOC titles, each of which has its own set of laws leading its viticulture zone, wine style, as well as grape varieties.
IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica was first distributed to the public in the year 1992. The main purpose of this wine is to give freedom to local winemakers to produce wine. Before 1992, a lot of wines were unable to qualify for DOCG or DOC status – not for the reason that they were poor quality, but for the reason that they were produced using the type of grapes that are not authorized under DOC or DOCG laws. This classification focuses on where the wine came from, instead of the type of grape or the style of wine.
DOCG or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, this type of wine is the best type of Italian wine. Wines with this label denote controlled production methods controllata) and guaranteed top quality wine (granita). Strict rules applied in the production of this type of wines, most clearly the used grape varieties, yield limitations, ripeness of grapes, the process of winemaking, and maturation of barrel.
All wines in this category would go through an official tasting process. In order to prevent counterfeiting, you will find unique government seal numbers on each bottleneck.
VDT or Vino da Tavola, which literally translated to ’table wine’ in English, this label represents the most basic level of wine in Italy. This category held a certain status in the year 1970s and 1980s, on account of experimental winemakers who created high-quality wines under the category.
This situation has slowly reduced, however, since the production of IGT category started as it is more flexible, and this category has steadily gone back to its original status as the lowest quality of Italian wine.
Italian Wine Grape Types
Below, you’ll find a complete list of Italian wine varieties from A-Z so that you can make an educated decision about which bottle to buy next.
- Abboccato – slightly sweet
- Acerbo – tart, “green”
- Acescenza – volatile wine
- Aceto – vinegar, usually made with a wine base
- Aglianico – the ancient red grape is grown in the Campania region of Italy (south of Naples)
- Alcohol – alcohol
- Amabile – off-dry (semi-sweet)
- Amaro – bitter
- Annata – a vintage year
- Appassimento – the practice of drying grapes before pressing them, in order to concentrate sugar and extract for the “Passito” style of wines such as Vin Santo
- Asciutto – bone dry
- Azienda – (Agricola,, and vitivinicola)- all terms used to describe a vineyard or estate that grows all or most of its grapes to be bottled under its own labels (not sold off in bulk)
- Barbera – semi-classic grape commonly grown in the Piedmont region and most of northern Italy
- Barolo – top Piedmont red wine, made with the Nebbiolo grape
- Barrique – the Bordeaux term for a 225-liter wine barrel used to age wines
- Bianco – white (wine)
- Botte – wine Cask or Large Barrel. Usually made of oak, also sometimes made of Chestnut wood Slovenian oak is quite common in Italy, particularly in Tuscany
- Botticella – small wine cask
- Bottiglia – bottle
- Brunello di Montalcino – top Tuscan red wine, made with a clone of Sangiovese
- Brut – dry (used for sparkling wines such as Franciacorta DOCG)
- Cantina – cellar, winery
- Cantina Sociale – co-operative winery
- Caraffa di Decantazione – decanter
- Carato – a synonym of barrique, it refers to a small wine barrel (usually the 225-liter barriques)
- Casa Vinicola – wine house or merchant (“commerciante)” who bottle wines made with other cellar’s wines
- Cascina – farmhouse, wine estate
- Castello – castle
- Cerasuolo – cherry colored rosè wine from Sicily
- Chiaretto – rosè wine from Garda
- Classico – the historic core of a DOC demarcated zone (such as Chianti Classico)
- Consorzio – consortium of producers that sets standards and promotes wines of a certain appellation or region.
- Cortese – Cortese is the white grape used to make Gavi in Piemonte
- Corvina – a red grape that is used with two other grapes, Rondinella and Molinara, to create the light red regional blends known as “Bardolino” and “Valpolicella” wines in northeast Italy. Also called “Corvina Veronese”
- Cru – French term, used internationally, to mean the wine estate’s best vineyards
- DOC – acronym for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” (controlled place of origin), indicating details about where the wine comes from, the grapes used and how it was produced (down to the viticultural techniques).
- DOCG – an acronym for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita” (controlled and guaranteed place name), which entails the same as DOC, but with stricter rules
- Dolce – sweet
- Dolcetto – dry wine red grape, predominately grown in northern Italy (Piedmont especially)
- Enoteca – Wine shop or Bar
- Enologo – enologist (winemaker)
- Enotecnico – winemaking technician
- Ettaro – hectare (2.471 acres)
- Ettolitro – hectolitre (100 liters), the technical standard used to measure wine volume
- Etichetta – wine label
- Fattoria – farm and/or estate. Usually suggests a number of small wine/olive oil estates, and working farms (called “poderi”)
- Fiasco – the classic Chianti bottles from the ’70s, covered in straw and symbol for low quality!
- Frascati – a light white wine that comes from Lazio Region
- Freisa – medium-bodied red grape used to make still, sweet and frizzante wines in Piemonte
- Frizzante/ Frizzantino – slightly sparkling. Not fully sparkling or “spumante”.
- Frutti di Bosco – “forest fruits”, referring to wine flavors such as blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
- Grappa – Italian digestive made from the pomace of grapes. Can be aromatic and flavored
- Grechetto – the white grape Grechetto is the main grape used to make Orvieto in Umbria
- Governo – Tuscan practice (called “Governo all’uso Toscano) of drying late harvested grapes to add to the fermented wine, setting off a secondary fermentation to enrich body, color and flavor
- IGT – acronym for “Indicazione Geografica Tipica” (typical place name), referring to wines that can come from a large variety of grapes from one geographic area. Popular with emerging wine producers, especially experimental ones
- Imbottigliato – bottled (“all’origine” implies estate bottled)
- Invecchiato – aged
- Liquoroso – fortified wine
- Madre – the “mother”, or “matrix”, which is residue from earlier vintages, left in barrels to guide the transformation of musts into wine (such as “Vin Santo”)
- Malvasia – an ancient grape, cultivated in Europe for 2 millennia! There is a white Malvasia and a red Malvasia. Malvasia Nera is grown in Puglia, in Southern Italy. Malvasia is one of the 2 white varietals allowed in DOC Chianti. Malvasia is also a main ingredient in the Roman Frascati.
- Marchio – brand name
- Maso – a vineyard holding in Trentino
- Metodo Classico – champagne method, where the 2nd fermentation takes place in the Bottle and wines rest in “pupitres” until their “degorgement”
- Millesimè/ Millesimato – can be used for sparkling and also still wines, indicating the year of vintage.
- Muffa Nobile – noble rot (Botrytis cinerea)
- Nebbiolo – the black grape used to produce rich Barolo and Barbaresco wines in Piemonte
- Nero – black
- Passito / Passita – used to refer to partially dried grapes and also the sweet unctuous wines are made from them. Tuscan Vin Santo is an example of a Passito.
- Podere – small farm or estate- in Tuscany a Podere is usually part of a larger “Fattoria”
- Produttore – producer
- Recioto – wine made from partly dried grapes in the passito style. Usually sweet and strong.
- Rosato – rosé wine
- Rosso – red wine
- Sangiovese – the main red grape varietal used in Tuscany
- Sans année – (abbreviated as S.A.) – French phrase used in Italian winemaking to mean “non-vintage”
- Scelto – means “selected”, referring to certain DOC wines
- Secco – dry
- Semisecco – off-dry, medium sweet. Used when referring to sparkling wines mainly
- Soave – white wine from the Veneto
- Solaio – refers to the loft where the grapes drying to make Passito wines are kept. In Tuscany, it is also referred to as a “Vinsolaio”.
- Spumante – literally means “foaming”, referring to sparkling wine
- Superiore – classification term that denotes a DOC or DOCG wine that meets standards above the norm (longer aging, special single vineyard, etc)
- Super Tuscan – a term coined by English speaking wine journalists to refer to the new high-quality styles of wine that emerged in Tuscany in the ’70s, which were using amounts of international varietals (Cab sauv, Merlot, etc) thus initially denying them quality wine status for breaking local laws
- Tenuta – Farm or wine estate
- Terroir – a French term that defines the harmonic relationship between vineyard site, soil, climate and grape variety
- Tonneau – Bordeaux term for 900-liter barrels In Italy it also means 550-liter barrels
- Uva – grape
- Vecchio – “old”, used to describe some DOC wines (“invecchiato” means “aged” and “stravecchio” means very old.)
- Vernaccia – white grape varietal, used in San Gimignano
- Vinacce – grape skins, seeds, and pulp left after the must or fermented wine has been pressed. This is the base used to make grappa.
- Vigna/ Vigneto – vineyard
- Vignaiolo/ Viticoltore – grape grower who cultivates grapes for wine production
- Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – – top red wine from Tuscany, made with a clone of Sangioves, called Prugnolo Gentile
- Vino Novello – “new” wine, meaning young wine- to be drunk within a year of bottling and produced using carbonic maceration
- Vin Santo – “holy wine”, this delicious wine is made from grapes dried after the harvest and kept in small barrels in “Vinsantaia” (aging rooms) where seasonal heat and cold are essential to the extended fermentation process
- Vite – vine
- Vitigno – vine or grape variety
- Vivace – “lively”, used to refer to the slight sparkle in some wines
- Zuccheri Residui – residual sugar
See some Italian wines comparisons here:
FAQs About Italian Wines
Yes, Italian wine is really good and it’s all thanks to the low alcoholic levels these wine have and the higher acidity and mix of different fruits that make Italian wine special and truly unique, especially when they are enjoyed without any social pressure.
No, not all Italian wines are sulfites free, but most of them don’t include it in their labels because it’s completely normal for the country’s laws, whereas in the US it’s mandatory that in the label is stated when wines contain sulfites.
The best way to avoid tomorrow’s headache is by staying hydrated, consume wine with food and drink lighter reds which contain lower tannin levels.
Cooking with wine is an old tradition which makes meals jucier, and full of different flavors depending on the wine chosen, so some of the best sorts to cook with are Pinot Grigio for chicken or seafood, Sauvignon Blanc with pasta and sauces and Merlot for meats and sauces.
Despite their relaxed attitude towards wine, Italy produces some fantastic varieties that can be enjoyed by everyone. The wine culture can be confusing, but it’s fascinating and exciting.
Wines range from light and fruity to dark and bold, with many variations of the same wine found in distinct regions. Instead of dwelling on the complexity and trying to understand everything about it, the best way to begin is to dive into a glass and find your favorite.