The trembling notes of the accordion. The smell of fresh fruits. The vision of endless vine filled countryside. You must be dreaming of Italian wine regions.
You’re not? Then maybe you are dreaming of sipping Italian wine and are just curious to know where this ambrosia came from.
Perhaps you just love Italian food and want to know which wine goes best with your favorite dish.
Then this guide to Italian wine will give you a place to start.
How many Italian wine regions are there?
Italy can be broken down into 20 regions. In addition, there are 350 official Italian grape varietals grown here.
No wonder Italy has become the top wine producer in the world, even topping France!
So let’s get started learning about each region!
But first, let’s start with how wine is classified in Italy.
What are the main wine classifications in Italy?
Italian wines are often labeled by region, not by grape variety. Italy consists of different climates and different terroirs which transfer to the tastes of the grapes grown here. Therefore wines are produced and labeled according to region.
If you know you like a wine from a certain region, you will most likely enjoy others from that same area. To define the quality of Italian wines, you need to know a few terms.
- VdT- Vino de Tavola, which translates to table wine. This will be your everyday wine similar to the house wine in a restaurant. However, in Italy, table wine is still exceptional.
- IGP- Indicazione Geografica Protetta links the reputation of the wine based on the region where it is produced. This standard guarantee’s that the product, whether food or wine, is authentic with no additives from somewhere else.
- DOC- Denominazione d’Origine Controllata means that the product was produced, processed, and packaged, in a specific region according to tradition. They regulate the quality at each phase of production.
- DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e garantita. These wines adhere to the same high standards of DOC wines. In addition the government subjects them to a blind taste test to assure quality.
What are the best Italian wine regions?
Northwest wine regions in Italy
Cool climate means the grapes take longer to ripen. According to Wine Enthusiast this limits the amount of sugar in the grapes, creating aromatic, earthy reds rather than fruity flavors. This also causes whites to have higher acidity.
- Piedmont – This popular Italian wine region produces red wines plus Moscato d’Asti. Nebbiolo contains high tannins and acidity. Piedmont is responsible for 11% of the DOC production.
- Lombardy – Here they grow Pinot Nero grapes, also known as Pinot Noir, depending on what language you speak. They also produce sparkling wines, such as Franciacorta, also made from Pinot Nero grapes. In addition you will find Chiavennasca, made from Niobiolo grapes which produce a lighter wine.
- Liguria – Located on the Italian Riviera, this region makes DOC wines from cliff side vineyards in the fishing villages of Cinque Terre. These wines have a light body, making them refreshing for a summer day.
- Aosta Valley – While this region grows native Italian grapes, it also grows Swiss and French varieties. This makes sense when you realize the proximity to the Alps. The area is known for its white wines, but also makes tasty reds.
Northeast wine regions in Italy
While the northeast has a cool climate like the northwest, the Adriatic Sea also influences the terroir. Red wines have a fruity flavor. These hills create some of the best whites. This is also known as the Prosecco region of Italy. This sparkling white, similar to Champagne, is produced in Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
- Veneto – This region produces a rich white wine called Soave, similar to a Chardonnay. Veneto also makes Amarone della Valpolicella, a rich dry red with the DOCG label. In addition they develop wonderful IGT Merlot. The Veneto wine region produces 18% of DOC wines.
- Emilia Romagna – You’ve heard of Lambrusco? This region has traditionally been known for cheap, sweet, fruity wine. However, now they have started making semidry and dry wines as well. The Emilia Romagna wine region also produces orange wines.
- Trentino Alto Adige – Located near the alps where the air is cool and crisp, this area produces white wines. You will find refreshing Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanco made here. In addition, you will notice the German influence with sweeter wines such as Gewurztranier and Muller Thurgo.
- Friuli Venezia Giulia – Here you will find white Sauvignon grapes and Pinot Grigio as well as savory Merlot.
How do I pair these wines?
Italy is full of small local vineyards producing wines from native grapes. The best rule of thumb when pairing wines from a region is to eat seasonal foods from the same region.
Central wine regions in Italy
The Mediterranean climate has low temperature variations between summer and winter. According to Palate Club, this creates fuller bodied wines with low acidity and higher alcohol. The warmer weather adds to the fruity flavors and rich tannins.
- Tuscany – Known as the Chianti region of Italy, Tuscany grows Sangiovese grapes. It also produces a sweet red known as Vin Santo. In addition, other noble grapes lead to the production of Cabernet and Merlot. Not only that, but they produce white wines such as Vermentino, similar to a Sauvignon Blanc. Plus they grow the Trebbiano varietal which is the most produced white grape. Wines made here account for 17% of DOC wines.
- Umbria – Umbria grows Sangiovese and Grechetto grape varieties. The Grechetto grapes create Orvieto, a white wine. These grapes have a mineral quality similar to the soil that creates Pinot Grigio. You may even recognize a slight almond taste.
- Abruzzo – Abruzzo produces the red Montepulciano which is high in tannins, similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Marche – Vineyards grow grapes that become the refreshing aromatic Verdicchio White.
- Lazio – Popular grape varieties grown here include Trebbiano and Malvasia. This region’s mainly known for tourism since it is home to the capital, Rome.
Did you know….
Matera, in the Basilicata region, houses a city of cave settlements which have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This location was also used in the filming of The Passion of Christ with Mel Gibson.
Southern Italian wine regions and the islands
Hot climates grow grapes filled with sweetness. The extra sugar leads to wines with higher alcohol content. Reds contain ripe fruit flavors and whites have fuller bodies rather than a crisp taste.
- Sicily – While Sicily has always produced wines for local consumption, now they have started exporting their wines. Rich volcanic soil creates red wines which are dark, rich, and fruity such as Nero d’Avola.
- Sardinia – Here you can find a Grenache with rustic dried fruit flavors. While some popular Italian wines come with a hefty price tag, this is a good value.
- Campania – This region grows grapes such as Aglianico, Falanghina, Fiano, and Greco that you won’t find in many places around the world. These grapes produce some of the most well respected wines worldwide. The volcanic soil helps keep devastating insects at bay. Many of these varietals have grown here for thousands of years.
- Calabria – If you like deep, intense, full bodied reds, high in alcohol content, you will enjoy wines from this region. These wines have aromas of cherry and spice. Plus they have a higher level of tannins and acidity.
- Puglia – The negromaro grape produces primitive fruit forward reds as well as sweet reds. You will also find a good Chardonnay value here.
- Molise – Visitors often overlook this tiny region. However, they offer numerous tastings at small family owned vineyards. This regions produces wines similar to its neighbors Abruzzo, Lazio, Campania, and Puglia.
- Basilicata – One of the smallest regions, Basilicata grows mainly red grapes, the majority Aglianico.
With this introduction to Italian wine regions you have gained enough knowledge to further explore areas which fit your tastes. To add to your wine knowledge make sure you subscribe to my newsletter so you are guaranteed to get the latest wine info delivered right to your inbox.
Donna Emperador is a creative blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and wine. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time traveling and making wine culture easier to understand for readers.