Beginner's guide to Italian wine - how to read an Italian wine label, navigate a wine list in Italy, and how to know which wines to drink
Italy is a bucket-list country for many and begs to be seen. We all know that the boot is an amazing beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage and fantastic cuisine.
Italy has 20 regions, each as distinctive and unique as the country’s boot-like shape. Snow-capped mountains, tranquil lakes, glistening seas, gentle rolling hills, verdant plains, active and dormant volcanoes, and jagged coastlines fill the landscape.
From tip to toe, the geography is as diverse as the climate and traditions. It is this very diversity - the richness in soil types, the macro and micro climates, the biodiversity in grapes - that makes Italy an incredible region for grape-growing and wine production.
One can (and should!) marvel at the biodiversity in grape types alone. Italy produces wine from over 350 native grape varieties and new vines, once considered lost, are regularly being rediscovered in the most hidden or forgotten areas.
If we think about Italy and visualize the shape of the country geographically, we can divide the boot into three main parts - North, Central, and South. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia are sometimes considered South but they are really two worlds of their own!
Italy is crowned in the North by the Alps and is dotted with peaceful lakes, Lake Como and Lake Garda being the most famous. The acclaimed regions for wine are Piemonte, the land of Barolo and Barbaresco, two world-famous wines produced with the regal Nebbiolo grape; Veneto, home of the bubbly and festive Prosecco and big, bold Amarone; And Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, produces some of Italy’s most crisp, lively white wines.
In Trentino - Alto Adige there are no DOCG.
In Liguria there are no DOCG
In Aosta Valle there are no DOCG
The most renowned region in Central Italy is Tuscany, home to Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, with Brunelleschi’s dome soaring above and where the vast majority of Italy’s masterpieces are found.
Sangiovese vines grow along cypress trees and within the soft green undulating hills. This red grape variety is king and produces food-friendly Chianti wines and elegant, age-worthy Brunello. Of course central Italy is also home to the seat of the ancient Roman empire and today’s bustling capital, Rome. Easy-drinking, youthful wines are produced in its surrounding hills.
As we move towards the toe and heel, it seems as though the sun grows bigger and brighter. Life slows down a bit - we are definitely in the South.
The Amalfi Coast, Capri, Naples are top tourist destinations but the region of Campania is also one of the hottest regions for wine. Volcanic soils give way to mineral-rich whites like Greco di Tufo, Fiano and fragrant Falanghina. Taurasi, a bold, age-worthy red wine deemed the “Barolo of the South” is produced from the native grape variety, Aglianico.
Moving to the heel, the secret seems to be out about Puglia, a region where Italians love to spend their languid August vacations and home to the red grape variety, Primitivo. This grape, a distant cousin to Zinfandel, produces fruit-forward, robust red wines.
Sicily has a varied history marked by invasions from various peoples and tribes throughout the centuries, lending richness and depth to its traditions. Etna’s rugged landscape and black volcanic soils make it a wine lover's paradise. Of course Italy is so much more! Wine is weaved tightly into the fabric of Italian culture. It pours from every nook and corner of the country, bringing family and friends together in convivial moments.
In Calabria are not present DOCG
In Molise there are no DOCGs