Italian Wine Guide by Region
One of the many joys of travelling in Italy is visiting a local vineyard or enoteca and discovering a delicious wine.
Italy is a leading wine country — it was the world's biggest producer by volume in 2020, creating the equivalent of more than six billion standard bottles. But Italian wine is not just about quantity; all 20 regions of Italy produce wine, and hundreds of grape varieties are grown in a wide array of climates and terrains, so wherever you go, you can sample something unique.
Here's our guide to some of the best wines you'll find around Italy.
Veneto is Italy’s biggest producer of wine by volume, and there's a good variety thanks to the region's range of environments. It's an important producer of pinot grigio and prosecco, but it is also internationally famous for other wines like bardolino, a fruity dry red from the southeastern shores of Lake Garda, where there's glacial soil and a sunny microclimate. Look out for the more robust bardolino superiore, which contains a minimum of 12% alcohol. You can also visit the nearby Valpolicella wineries, which produce some fine reds in similar conditions to bardolino. Other varieties of Veneto wine include soave (look out locally for soave spumante sparkling wine, too), a dry white made from grapes grown under the influence of the mists of the Po Valley and local limestone soil.
With the wild, rugged Apennine mountains of central Italy running through it and the Adriatic coastline on its eastern edge, Abruzzo might not seem an ideal place for wine production. However, it's among Italy’s top producing regions, and offers some characteristic varieties, particularly if you’re looking for a quality Italian red wine. Abruzzo wines to go for include the montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which is produced throughout the region from the montepulciano grape, and is a dry, aromatic red. It's an ideal accompaniment to food, although oak-barrelled examples of montepulciano d’Abruzzo tend to be more powerful, and are more suitable as a winter warmer on a cold day. There’s also cerasuolo, a rosé produced using the montepulciano grape. Abruzzo is not as well known for its white wines, but if you’re looking for an accompaniment to local seafood, try the crisp, golden trebbiano d’Abruzzo. A majority of wine produced in Abruzzo comes from co-operatives, but some wineries keep hold of their best grapes and produce their own bottles, so these are worth seeking out.
Puglia, at the heel of Italy, is surrounded by the Mediterranean on three sides, and has a warm, dry climate that's ideal for growing grapes that produce fruity, robust red wines. The black-skinned primitivo grape (also known as zinfandel) produces some of the best wines in Italy when it comes to warm-climate reds, helping put Puglia firmly on the Italian wine map. Primitivo wines are known for hints of blueberry, blackberry, liquorice, black pepper, and chocolate, as well as a high alcohol content (at least 14%). Some good examples include primitivo di Manduria and primitivo di Salento. Other varieties of wine from Puglia include those made with negroamaro grapes, which grow almost exclusively in the region. These wines, which tend to have hints of dark fruits and herbs, are good accompaniments to grilled meats, and while you can find wines made from 100% negroamaro, the grape is more often used in blends with other varieties like montepulciano, sangiovese, and primitivo.
This region of northern Italy offers a wide range of wines, thanks to its variety of environments, including vast plains full of alluvial soil, Appennine foothills, and the Adriatic coast. Emilia-Romagna is home to one of the best-known Italian sparkling wines, lambrusco, which is made from several types of the mambrusco grape from the Modena area. This sparkling red wine is mainly sweet and drunk young.
Still red wines from Emilia-Romagna include varieties made from sangiovese grapes, including sangiovese di Romagna, known for its ruby red and violet colour, aroma of berries, and silky tannins. It goes well with game, red meats, and aged cheeses. The region is also home to albana di Romagna, which was the first white wine in Italy to be classified as DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita), and is made locally from the albana grape.
Lazio, the region that encompasses Rome, is best known for its white wines. These include frascati, which comes from vineyards that grow on volcanic soil and contains a minimum of 70% malvasia grapes. There’s also the curiously named Est! Est!! Est!!!, a wine region based around Montefiascone. The story goes that in the 12th century, a German bishop heading for a meeting with the Pope sent a colleague ahead to look for the best wines along his route. The colleague wrote “Est” (Latin for “there is”) on the door of inns that served good wine. However, he was so enamoured with the wine in one particular Montefiascone establishment that he wrote “Est! Est!! Est!!!” on the door. The wine has apple notes and high acidity. Lazio does produce reds, including those made with cesanese grape, which grows almost exclusively in the region; wines made with cesanese d’Affile are considered the best quality variety.
The vineyards of Lombardy, in northern Italy, are influenced to a great extent by the cooling effects of the Alps. The region is known for its sparkling wines, which are often produced using natural fermentation in the bottle (a method called metodo classico). Perhaps the most famous is franciacorta, which is made in the area between Brescia and Lake Iseo, where the soils are rich in minerals. Franciacorta wines, which are often called Italian champagne, must contain 85% chardonnay grapes, blended with small amounts of pinot bianco and pinot nero. Another area of Lombardy producing sparkling wine is Oltrepò Pavese, which is south of the River Po. The area produces a variety consisting primarily of pinot nero grapes (at least 70%), which is blended with chardonnay, pinot bianco, and pinot grigio. There’s also a sparkling rosé wine from Oltrepò Pavese known as cruase.
With the Alps in the north, the Po Valley in its centre, and the Appennines in the south, Piedmont offers many grape growing environments. It's well known for its reds, including nebbiolo, with its flavours of cherries, raspberries, and prunes. The grape grows best in the Tanaro River valley, near Alba, south of Turin. Look out for older vintages, which tend to be lower in tannin. Another famous Piedmont wine that also comes from the Alba area is barolo, which grows on south-facing Appennine slopes. Barolo has a pale brick red colour, a discernible tannin taste, and an alcohol content of at least 13%. The better barolos are more than 10 years old. Piedmont is also known for its sparkling wines made from the moscato bianco grape. These include the sweet asti spumante and the even sweeter, but much less bubbly, moscato d’asti — widely considered one of the best Italian dessert wines. Piedmont is not so well known for its white wines, although it does produce gavi, a dry white containing the sole grape cortese.
With its dry, warm climate and plenty of sunshine, Sicily is an ideal place for winemaking. There are wineries all over the island, producing wine from several predominant grape varieties. They include nero d’avola, which along with some frappato goes into making cerasuolo di Vittoria, from the southern Ragusa province. Another popular Sicilian red wine comes from the volcanic soils of Mount Etna: nerello mascalese, which is often blended with nerello cappuccio grapes. The slopes of Etna also produce white varieties, including carricante, which is dry and medium-bodied. Another white grape grown around the island is Grillo, which produces a medium-bodied, dry wine with peach flavours. Grillo is also used in one of Sicily’s most famous alcoholic drinks, the fortified wine marsala, which also contains inzolia, catarratto, and damaschino grapes. Marsala contains about 15-20% alcohol and is popular as an aperitif.
Tuscany's wine industry consists predominantly of smallholders rather than cooperatives, so it's easy to travel between individual producers and discover unique wines. Chianti, one of the most famous Italian wines, originally comes from the area between Florence and Siena, although it's now produced in a larger part of the region. Chianti must contain at least 75% sangiovese grapes, and has medium-high acidity and medium tannins. Look out for chianti superiore, which is produced under even stricter rules governing which grapes can be blended with sangiovese.
Other wines from Tuscany includes brunello di Montalcino, from wineries surrounding the town of Montalcino in the province of Siena. Made from 100% sangiovese grape, it has a garnet colour and flavours of wood, berries, vanilla, and jam, and must spend at least two years aging in wooden barrels. More than 80% of Tuscan wine is red, however you can find some excellent whites, too. They include the dry vernaccia di San Gimignano, made from the vernaccia grape in the area around San Gimignano.
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Nick Elvin contributed to this post.