Italy is renowned for producing some of the finest wines around the globe, and with more than 1.5 million acres of vineyards and 350 official varietals, it’s small wonder the Bel Paese fill up to a third of the world’s vast wine stores every year.
The country has a rich wine heritage that dates back 2000+ years and is divided into 20 wine regions that span the width and breadth of the entire Mediterranean peninsula, resulting in singular terroirs that produce exceptional vintages. If you’re a wine lover and plan to follow your nose through Italy some time soon, you should make time to stop for a glass of vino. Here’s where to go and what you need to know about Italy’s wine regions…
Abruzzo is the 5th most productive wine region in Italy. Situated on the Adriatic coast of central Italy, winemaking in Abruzzo date back to the 6th century BC and has enjoyed a renaissance over the past 50 years. The region is renowned for new generation of oenologists, wine experts and entrepreneurs who are the driving force behind the marked improvement in the quality of Abruzzo wines. Try the native red Montepulciano and white Trebbiano.
Situated between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas in the South of Italy, Calabria has seen many viticultural influences over the centuries, starting with the Greeks who were the first to establishes vineyards here. The region is also known for producing citrus and olives. Try the red Gaglioppo and white Greco from a few different wineries – the region’s contrasting temperature and weather result in wildly different flavours from one vineyard to the next.
Situated along the famously fertile northern reaches of Italy, the Emilia-Romagna region has a whopping 55 000+ hectares under vine, making it one of the country’s most prolific winelands. The vines here were originally established by the Etruscans and later adopted by the Romans, who ferried their treasured vintages along the Via Aemilia road for which the area is named. Make a point of trying a Sangiovese and sparkling Lambrusco.
The central-Italian region of Lazio is home to the ancient capital of Rome and renowned for its volcanic soils that are rich in potassium and perfect for growing grapes that benefit from a good balance of acidity. It also benefits from cool sea breezes from the coast, which results in some interesting microclimates along the Apennines. Try a fresh young Trebbiano or Malvasia di Candia alongside some tasty abbacchio or porchetta.
Located at the very heart of northern Italy, Lombardy may be landlocked, but vines have been cultivated along the shores of the region’s grand lakes for centuries. These large bodies of water temper the climates of the various vineyard zones that fall in the Lombardy region. Additionally, its prime location between the Alps and Po Basin has resulted in an impressive array of meso-climates and accompanying small-scale wineries that make up a large portion of the Lombardy’s annual wine output. Try a red Valtellina and sparkling Franciacorta to get a taste of this beautiful area’s oeuvre.
Molise is a bit of a dark horse in the Italian wine world – it only recently gained political independence from its well-known neighbour Abruzzo in the 1960s and has since worked hard to set its wine offering apart. Fortunately, the region has diverse typography and a combination of morainic and calcareous soils that is favourable for the cultivation of exceptional vines. Try a Trebbiano Toscano and a Montepulciano-based blend to get a feel for their unique terroir.
Puglia, also known as ‘Apulia’ to English speakers, is situated along the far south-east corner of the Italian peninsula. Due to its location, the climate and soil conditions vary greatly from north to south, and Puglia is actually divided into three distinct viticultural areas that correspond with the administrative provinces. Drink a toast to this singular region with Impigno (a crossing of Bombino Bianco and Quagliano) or a fresh, salmon-hued rosé made from Ottavianelli.
Better known as ‘Sicily’ to English speakers, this gorgeous island also happens to be the largest in the Mediterranean Sea. The region has enjoyed the reputation of being the epicentre of Mediterranean wine culture for 2500+ years, and it’s easy to see why – consistently bright sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, makes its climate ideally suited to the production of wine grapes. Salute Sicily’s heritage with a fortified Marsala and then sample a nice dry white Terre Siciliane to toast to their viticultural future.
Tuscany is the reigning prom queen of the Italian wine regions. Steeped in the romance of endless rolling hills, picturesque hilltop villages and cobble country roads, it’s undeniably gorgeous and produces some excellent wine to boot! It also happens to be one of the most prolific wine regions throughout not only Italy, but Europe. Toast your Tuscan tour with an iconic Chianti, or push out the boat and splurge on a slightly more expensive Brunello di Montalcino. Top Tip: When exploring Tuscan towns such as Florence, Siena and San Gimignano , it might be best to ask a local!
Valle d’Aosta, also known as the Aosta Valley to English speakers, is situated in the mountainous reaches of Italy’s northwest, where it borders France and Switzerland. Due to its location, a large part of the area available for viticulture is subject to diurnal temperature variation (very warm during the day, very cold at night). As such, you will notice various techniques employed by local vignerons to counter the effect thereof, including training their vines into pergolas to distribute ground residual ground heat at night. Try Picotendro, a local form of Nebbiolo, and a nice taut Pinot Grigio.f
The southern Italian region of Basilicata has the distinction of bearing a Greek viticultural heritage, rather than Etruscan or Roman, as is the case throughout the rest of Italy. It was seafaring Greeks that settled the first vineyards here and today the region still enjoys the cool Balkan breezes and abundance of sunshine that inspired the first vignerons to settle their vines here. Try a Aglianico (the region’s ‘celebrity’ varietal) and a nice Malvasia, which also thrives in this area.
Located on the ‘shin’ of the Italian boot and tethered by the capital, Naples, Campania’s name was derived from a latin phrase that means ‘happy land’. And what a happy land it is! The area is renowned for growing some of the most sought-after Italian varietals, including a whole bunch that don’t grow anywhere else on earth. Fill your glass with Falerno (one of the most ancient wines in Italy) or drink a toast with crisp white Fiano or Greco.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s reputation as a high quality wine region stems from the hard work of a select group of quality-conscious, small-scale winemakers that are doing wonders with the mosaic of local grape varietals. Unlike most of their Italian counterparts, they experiment widely with international varietals like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and have also began to produce some exceptional sparkling wines made in the Charmat method. Try a nice Prosecco and a crisp, lively Verduzzo.
Known as the Italian Riviera, Linguria is a stunning coastal region that runs along the Mediterranean coast, flanked by Tuscany and the French border. It’s not easy growing grapes here – most vineyards are cultivated by artisanal producers who grow their vines on terraces that were carved from the rocky slopes. In fact, some can only be reached by boat and are fully cultivated by hand! Liguria is known for its white wines made from Vermentino that carry the landscape’s aromas of sea salt and cedar wood. Keen on red? Go for a subtle, spicy Rossese.
Marche’s winemaking heritage spans thousands of years and has been influenced, among others, by the Etruscans, Romans and Lombards. The presence of these various cultures goes a long way to explaining the breadth of vinicultural tradition and wine styles in the region. Situated along the eastern side of central Italy, this covers 25 000+ hectares and produces almost 2 million hectolitres of wine each year. Try a nice cold Verdicchio alongside a rich seafood stew, or a Sangiovese with a tasty cheese platter.
Piedmont, in the far north-west of Italy, enjoys an unrivaled seat among the world’s very finest wine regions. Although famous for its austere, tannic red wines made from Nebbiolo, Piedmont’s greatest success story in the past decade has been sweet, white, sparkling Moscato d’Asti.
The second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia has been the seat of various empires and kingdoms throughout the centuries, a fact that is reflecting in everything from its place names and architecture to its singular wine grape portfolio. The region’s overall wine style is often likened to that of Spain, a fact that is reflected by the main varieties that flourish here. Try a typically Mediterranean Moscato Bianco and refreshing Cannonau (as Grenache is known here).
Although once dominated by the local Lagrein and Schiava varieties throughout the previous century, Trentino-Alto Adige wines are now increasingly made from well-known international varieties such as Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Wines produced here bear all the hallmarks of region that has a cultural and political past quite as dramatic and complex as its varied topography. Modern wine-making trends are prevalent throughout the area and Trentino-Alto Adige is also the only Italian wine region that has increased its planted area over the last 25 years.
Located at the very heart of the Italian Peninsula, Umbria is flanked by Tuscany, Marche and Lazio. Less prolific than its neighbours in terms of yield, the region is nevertheless renowned for high quality wines produced from international varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Keen to try something uniquely Umbrian? Go for barrel-fermented Chardonnay blended with Grechetto – tasty AND affordable.
Veneto is a vast and increasingly notable wine region in the north-eastern reaches of Italy. With fruity red Valpolicella complementing its intense Amarone and sweet Recioto counterparts, Veneto is armed with a formidable portfolio of red wines to complement its refreshing whites such as Soave and sparkling Prosecco. In short – there is a lot of great quality wines to choose from. Bottoms up!
Get know Italian wines up close and personal on one of our regional tours to Italy. Salute!