Talking about Italian wines means, first of all, undertaking a long journey throughout the country’s history and traditions. From the Alps to Sicily in the midst of the green rolling hills of the central regions, it is virtually impossible to find a corner of the country not covered with vineyards.
In Italy, the diversity of the territory and the Mediterranean climate contribute widely to wine production. The vine is virtually present in every region, and each of these has indigenous varieties. No wonder why the ancient Greeks named this country `Enotria` (land of vines).
Most scholars believe the vine was introduced in Italy by the Etruscans although other sources assert its previous presence in the country. Certainly, everyone agrees that we need to thank the Romans for the diffusion of viticulture and wine consumption in the Italian nation, as they exported the vine in all the places they conquered.
Since then, the vine has been always cultivated a bit of everywhere in the country although wine production has developed over the centuries without serious quality standards. Italian wine has always been seen as an essential resource to the survival of the people; therefore, production has historically been oriented to quantity rather than quality.
This stepped-up production of volume over taste quickly led to the decay of the international Italian wine image favoring instead wines from other European countries, such as France.
In addition, a complicated political history that includes the achievement of the country unification as late as in 1861, the fascist regime and the two world wars, has slowed down even more the development of effective quality regulations that were introduced only in 1963.
From an oenological point of view, one of the country’s biggest advantages is, without any doubt, the amazing variety of indigenous grapes. Luckily, the rediscovery of these native varieties is part of a recent trend that includes more-focused attention to the modernization of production techniques.
Although wine is actually produced in all 20 regions of the country, the classification of grape varieties is a bit more complicated. At present, the official wine variety count sits at 350; however, some experts concede that there may be upwards of 1,000+ Italian grape varieties.
There are Piedmont and Tuscany are surely the most popular ones, and both are primarily focused on red wines.
Piemonte is widely known for its sophisticated top quality reds from the local variety Nebbiolo, a grape used for making Barolo. For a red variety that may be enjoyed young, the Dolcetto, sometimes called Dogliani, from this region is another fine choice. For whites, Piedmont is home to Moscato d’Asti as well.
Tuscany or Toscano
Tuscan wines, such as the Sangiovese-based Chianti, Brunello and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, are considered somehow more charming and approachable than Piedmont varieties. In the 1970s Cabernet and Merlot grapes were blended into a new style called the Super Tuscan as a response to the mandate that only Sangiovese be used in Chianti.
Friuli Venezia Guilia
One of the top regions for white wines is Friuli Venezia Giulia. This area produces excellent dry and sweet wines from both local and international varieties including Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
Lombardia or Lombady
Among the other northern regions, Lombardia is well known for its sparkling wines known as Franciacorta. This sparkling wine combines Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes to create the same flavor profile as Champagne. Lombardy produces Nebbiolo red wine, Chiavennasca, light and similar to pinot grapes. This region’s version of Pinot Noir, known as Pinot Nero, is made from grapes around Oltrepo Pavese.
The Venetian region is among the most productive of Italy, although sadly too often oriented towards quantity with a few excellent exceptions, such as the Amarone. This region is widely known as a Valpolicella region where Molinara, Corvina and Rondinella grapes blend to create this rich red elixir. Several Merlots also come from this area. Soave, a rich white chardonnay-type wine, also hails from this region. Valle d’Aosta, Trentino Alto Adige and Liguria produce small quantities of good wines mainly white.
Umbria and Marche
In central Italy, few regions can claim the same quality and success of Tuscan wines, but Umbria and Marche have been showing fantastic potential in the last decades. Sagrantino and Grechetto grape varieties are primarily found in Umbria while Marche focus on aromatic whites made from Verdicchio, Pecorino and Lacrima grapes.
Lazio, Emilia Romagna & Abruzzo
Lazio, Emilia Romagna and Abruzzo are unfortunately still a bit backwards in terms of quality, although much progress in quality has been made recently. Emilia-Romagna offers the sweet and fruity Lambrusco. The region of Abruzzo primarily produces Montepulciano, and Lazio (where Rome is located), produces only in small quantities with Grechetto and Malvasia its primary wines.
The real quality revolution involves the southern Italian regions. And if Molise and Calabria still have some way to go, Sicily, Basilicata, Campania, Puglia and Sardegna are now producing excellent wines widely appreciated by both consumers and experts.
For many wine newbies, their first taste of the wines of Italy comes from the region of Puglia. Fruity reds, such as the Negroamaro and Primitivo, offer amazing value, and many sweet reds also come from this area.
For rich fruit-forward taste, Sicily is the region for red wines such as Nero d’Avola. The warm climate produces reds that are a favorite of collectors worldwide.
As the 2nd most populated area of Italy, Campania is also home to a rich wine culture. The traditional red, Aglianico and the white, Greco, are the predominant varieties favored by locals and visitors.