ITALIAN WINE GROWING REGIONS
This renowned region produces more prize-winning wines than any other region in Italy. Home to 46 DOC and four DOCG growing areas, Piedmont has consistently produced some of the most highly regarded varietal wines vintage after vintage.
Certain varietals, such as Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera are used to make strong red wines that pair flawlessly with the hearty, rich cuisine that is famous throughout the region. Another point of pride for Piedmont is their Asti Spumante; a Champagne-style sparkling wine made form the Moscato grape.
Most of the vineyards in this landlocked, mountainous region are family estates that take up relatively small amounts of land, giving the wines of Piedmont a certain hand-crafted element that has become a distinctive trademark of the region.
With 25 styles of DOC wines made in the region, the Aosta Valley has made the best of its characteristic, semi-fertile soil, made up mostly of gritty rock. The grapes of the Aosta Valley are grown at 800 meters above sea-level, adding to their already distinctive flavors, and giving them a certain ruggedness that makes Aosta varietal wines perfect for local blends.
The wines of the Aosta Valley are about 90% red, with a strong concentration of wines that have a resemblance to Nebbiolo and Barolo, both classic Italian wines. Also, the Aosta Valley is the home of Moscato Bianco, and Pinot Grigio, wines that are enticingly fruity, and can be made in either a sweet or dry style.
Though Lombardy is not famous for its grape growing, the area is still a respectable wine-making region, relying mostly on six noble grape-varietal zones to produce wines that are mostly sold in local taverns along the Po and Ticino rivers.
Of the six established grape-varietal zones, three stand on their own as noteworthy producers of Italian wines; Oltrepo Pavese, Valtellina, and the province of Brescia.
The Valtellina region is known primarily for making wine from the Chiavannesca grape, which is the local version of Italy’s famous Nebbiolo grape. The province of Brescia on the other hand, is known for successfully producing red, white, and sparkling wines that have garnered a reputation of quality and distinction outside of the nation’s borders.
Trentino – Alto Adige
Italy’s northern most wine region is split into two different sub-regions with two different philosophies when it comes to wine production. In Alto Adige, the wines are produced on small plots of family-farmed land and sold locally with very limited exports to neighboring Austria and Germany. In contrast, the wines that are produced in Trentino are a collective effort of many growers who combine their grapes and wine making facilities resulting in wines with consistent taste and aroma characteristics vintage after vintage. These Trentino wines are popular amongst locals but they have also developed a strong fan base abroad. Interestingly, the wines produced in the Trentino-Alto Adige region amount to about 1% of the total wine produced in Italy.
This region is home to three native grapes; the white grape, Nosiola, and two red grapes—Teroldego Rotaliano and Marzemino. Along with these native grapes, other well-known varietals are grown throughout the region including Chardonnay, Cabernet, Moscato, Merlot, and Pinot Grigio. Trentino-Alto Adige is also one of the few climates suitable to grow the Müller-Thurgau grape.
Friuli – Venezia Giulia
Slightly larger than neighboring Trentino-Alto Adige, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region represents about two percent of Italy’s wine production, though the quality of Friuli wines are amongst the nation’s best. Often compared in quality to Italy’s famed Tuscan wines, Fruili wines proudly stand apart with one major difference; its wines are mostly white.
Famous for blending a remarkable number of varietals into their local blends, wine makers in Friuli proudly produce exceptional wines time and time again.
The most notable white of the region is Tocai Friulano, which is currently undergoing a much disputed name change due to confusion with Hungary’s Tokaj grape, and the French grape Tokay. Other white grapes of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region include: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italiaco, Riesling Renano, Sauvignon Blanc, and Malvasia Istriana.
A few red wines that deserve recognition in this white-wine region are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Collio, Merlot, Terrano and Schioppettino.
Veneto is one of Italy’s most renowned wine-producing regions, recognized for producing a large quantity of wines that are famously known for their superb quality. With more than 20 DOC growing zones and a large number of sub-growing zones, the wines of Veneto are appreciated and enjoyed world-wide.
Three of the most notable DOCs are Valpolicella, Bardolino, and Soave. Also famous in Veneto, is the sparkling wine, Prosecco.
Grape quality aside, winemakers from the Veneto region are known for their dedication to craft, helping create Italy’s first school for oenology and vine growing in 1885. Also, Veneto was the first wine region to introduce a “wine road” or strada del vino. This road became Italy’s first wine touring road featuring road signs with information about local vines and grapes and the wines that they are used to make.
One of the region’s provinces, Verona, is thought to have been used to grow grapes since the Bronze Age.
The wines of Emilia-Romagna, with their strongly assertive and individual characteristics are hands down the most eccentric in all of Italy.
The best example of an eccentric, yet joyous wine from Emilia-Romagna would be Lambrusco; a sparkling red wind made from grapes that are grown on trellised vines, high above the ground. Traditional Lambrusco is meant to be enjoyed within the year it was produced making it difficult to export. Consequently, most wine-drinkers in the United States have never had an opportunity to enjoy a Lambrusco in its traditional, dry, style.
In the south of Emilia-Romagna, at the foothills of the Apennines Mountains, traditional Italian white wines such as, Malvasia and Trebbiano are made. This region, in the shadows of the Apennines is also known for producing more intriguing wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot, Cabernet, Merlot, and Barbera grapes.
In Romagna specifically, more classical Italian wines are produced from the area’s native Trebbiano, Albana, and Sangiovese grapes. Sangiovese is without-a-doubt the region’s powerhouse—robust and hefty, with great depth and a wonderful bouquet. Romagna’s Sangiovese is intensely flavorful and has the potential to age with elegance.
Liguria, with its steep and rocky slopes does not appear to be a region ripe for grape growing but despite its natural inhospitality, Liguria is home to nearly one hundred different grape varietals, all grown along a small section of mountain riddled landscape squeezed between Piedmont and the Mediterranean Sea. To the north of Liguria is France, and to the south, Tuscany.
In western Liguria, most of the wines are produced by using a single varietal, much like the wines produced in neighboring Piedmont. In eastern Liguria, the wines are made by blending several varietals, similar to the traditional Tuscan approach to wine making. In other words, wine making in Liguria is greatly influence by the famed regions that surround it.
In contrast to the full-bodied red wines that Tuscany and Piedmont are known for, Liguria is known for making fresh, zesty white wines that pair perfectly with local dishes. The cuisine of the region is based around fresh seafood, aromatic herbs, walnuts, pasta, and mushrooms.
Unlike the rocky slopes of Liguria, the lush, rolling hills of Tuscany exist as a supreme example of an Italian wine making region. For centuries, wine makers have flourished in the sun-kissed vineyards of Tuscany. A coastal breeze from the Tyrrhenian Sea cools the noble grapes, creating an ideal growing environment, with picture perfect vineyards and truly world class wines.
The most prolifically grown grape in Tuscany is Sangiovese. Wines made from Sangiovese are enjoyable and memorable, but they lag in popularity behind Italy’s famous Chianti wines; arguably the most famous Italian wines. Chianti and Chianti Classico wines are known and appreciated world wide.
The region is also home to famed blends called “Super Tuscan” which are a twist on traditional Chianti wines. Super Tuscans do not fall into the defined Italian DOC or DOCG standards because they are made by blending Chianti grapes with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot grapes; though untraditional, these wines have become immensely popular because of the softness the French grapes bring to the wonderfully intense Italian wines.
With more than thirty DOC and six DOCG wines, Tuscany remains to this day, one of the foremost wine making regions in the world. Famous for its traditional Italian red wines, the region is also recognized as the home of several white wines of distinction. Also from Tuscany, is the notable dessert wine, Vin Santo or “Holy Wine.” This Italian delicacy is normally made from the Trebbiano grape, after having been left out to dry until the start of Holy Week, at which point it is made into wine.
The wines produced in Umbria, though limited in quantity, are exceptional in quality; appreciated and envied throughout the world. The most popular of these outstanding Italian wines would be the wines made in the Orvieto DOC. Orvieto wines are some of the best known Italian whites in the world. Made from a blend of four or five grapes, these traditionally dry wines can be found throughout Italy and the rest of the wine world, though they all are born from an area around the city of the same name, making Umbria a grape-growing region of much significance and acclaim.
Other notable wines from the Umbria region also include the Colli Amerini, Colli Martani, Lago di Corbara, and Rosso Orvietano.
This wine region, though not well known outside Italy, produces excellent red and white wines. The regional white that has garnered a great reputation in the wine community is the characteristically dry Verdicchio. Grown in several DOC regions in Marches, Verdicchio is the perfect complement to two of the region’s most popular dishes; the Brodetto di Pesce, a seafood stew that is reflective of all the Adriatic Sea has to offer, and the Lumache alle Nove Erbe, a classic dish of snails cooked with nine different aromatic herbs.
Aside from the wonderfully flavored whites of the region, Marches is known for creating fantastic red wines from the Montepulciano grape. With limestone-rich soil, and a cool, maritime climate, the Montepulciano grape takes on characteristics that are not found elsewhere in Italy, making the resulting wines exquisite in quality, while maintaining flavors and aromas that are completely unique to the region.
This region, situated in eastern Italy on the Adriatic Sea has one DOCG area and three DOC areas. Wine makers in the region are having commercial success though many of the wines produced in Abruzzo were once misjudged as generic, cheap, supermarket-style wines. Recent years have brought an important change to the wineries of southern Italy; the emphasis is no longer on producing bulk quantities but rather smaller amount of higher quality, “boutique” wines.
Despite the changes that are being made in Italy’s southern wine regions, a tendency still remains for wine critics to look down on wines made in Abruzzo, even though for decades, many of the wines produced here have been shipped north because they are superior in terms of wines used for blending.
Home to Rome, and all of the history inside of it, Latium has been a famous grape growing region since Imperial Times. Boasting 25 DOC wines, Latium is undoubtedly a white-wine region, with 20 DOCs producing exquisite examples of Italian whites, while the remaining 5 dabble in the reds.
The highest quality whites produced in Latium are made mostly from Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes. Also grown in the region, though not as highly regarded are Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Chardonnay grapes. The reds that are grown in the phosphorous-rich, volcanic soil are the classically French grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot, as well as the quintessential Italian grapes Sangiovese and Montepulciano.
The reemergence of quality wines to southern Italy mentioned earlier seems to have missed the Latium region as it is clear that the huge market for low-cost wine in Rome has managed to keep the quality of Latium’s wines from reaching their full-potential.
Wine making has been practiced in this historic region since the 13th century B.C., but unfortunately for Campania, it is its reputation for low-quality wines made famous in the 1990’s that has put the region on the map. Wine writer Burton Anderson made his claim painfully clear when he wrote that the regions’ noteworthy winemakers could be “counted on one’s fingers.” Though this claim may have been true for a period, the winemakers of the region have been working hard to make certain a comment like that is never again made about the wines of Campania. In fact, the number of DOC denominations has more than doubled since 1975, bringing the total to 19. One DOCG region of Campania that stands out for producing distinctively notable wines is Taurasi; home of at least two “boutique” red wines that have gained national respect and notoriety.
Although there is only one DOC wine in all of Basilicata, it if of such exquisite quality that it sits atop the list of the most appreciated Italian red wines. The grape Aglianico, of which the famed wine of the region is made from, was brought to Basilicata by the Greeks before the Romans took control of the area. The result is that Aglianico has been used for making wine hundreds of years before many of the famed northern region grapes were first planted, giving Aglianico a famed history, second only to its quality.
Accounting for around 17% of the nation’s total wine production, Apulia produces more wine than any other region in Italy. The area is also known for producing some of the finest grapes in Europe, often used for making Vermouth, and sometimes shipped north to France to give structure-less French wines a little backbone.
Apulia is home to more than 25 DOC wines, including Primitivo di Manduria; a red wine proven to have the same DNA as the famous California Zinfandel. Besides producing the area’s best Primitivo wines, Apulia also produces a powerful red wine called Salice Salentino, known world wide for its eye-catching ratio of quality/price.
This ancient wine making region, once known by the Greeks as The Land of Wine, produced the highest quality wines in the ancient world, used to toast the victorious athletes of some of the first Olympic games.
The wine Ciro, a DOC wine from Calabria is thought to be the oldest wine still produced in the world, though it is difficult to prove. Ancient archeological findings suggest that there was a “vinoduct” or wine pipeline that brought the red, white, and rose wines from the production area to the dwellings of the townspeople.
The grape most often used in the region is Greco, and it can be found in nine different white DOC wines. The grape is in an ever-present fashion in both Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia Bianca wines.
This region is second to Apulia for producing the most wine in Italy, though they are in first place when it comes to the actual number of vineyards in the region. Interestingly, Sicilians drink less wine than other Italians, per capita.
Grapes grown in Sicily play a large part in creating sweet and flavorful dessert wines. World wide, it is through these concentrated, small portioned dessert wines that Sicily has garnered its fame and recognition.
90% of the total DOC wines made in Sicily are dessert wines, but this is not to disregard the superb red and white wines produced on the Island.
Recently, wine makers in the island region of Sardinia have drastically cut the volume of production and reduced the number of vineyards resulting in a vast improvement of wine quality.
White wine production outnumbers red wine by nearly two to one in the rolling hills of the island’s main vineyard area, Campidano. The fertile soil is perfect for growing Moscato, Monica, and Malvasia grapes. Moscato from the area can be either sparkling or still but it is always considered sweet while the most famed dry white is undoubtedly Malvasia, which flourishes on the west side of the island.
One of the important red wines from Sardinia is Cannonau; a close relative of Spain’s Granacha. Typically, these Spanish-style grapes are used to produce wines with mammoth-sized strength and flavor, but when produced in Sardinia, they are toned down to much more enjoyable proportions.