More than four thousand years of winemaking history have been preserved in Italy, the country that is the birthplace of such renowned wines as Chianti, Barolo, Prosecco, Valpolicella, Soave, Orvieto, and Etna. Italy is a major wine producer not just due to the vast variety of grapes and wine styles it offers, but also because of the sheer volume it generates annually: 5.6 billion litres (about 1.5 billion US gallons) in 2018, from a total of 1.7 million acres (695,000 ha) of vines.
In today’s cutthroat wine industry, it’s no simple feat to manage and promote such a massive wine collection. There are roughly 500 different DOCG, DOC/DOP, and IGT titles in the Italian government’s wine classification and labelling system. For examples of Italian wine labels, look here.
As you can see on the right, Italy is broken up into 20 different areas, all of which are wine-producing regions. When considering both quality and quantity, Tuscany, Piedmont, and Veneto emerge as the most important.
Climate & Geography
On a world map, Italy’s distinctive boot form stands out immediately. The Apennine Mountains form a strong, steep spine that spans NW-SE across the country for 1,100 kilometres (700 miles), making Italy effectively one large peninsula protruding into the Mediterranean. Its two island regions, Sicily and Sardinia, are located in the Tyrrhenian Sea on the western side of the peninsula.
Trying to generalise about the weather in a country as long and varied in terrain as the United States is fruitless. The mountainous Aosta Valley is home to vineyards at an elevation of roughly 1,300 metres (4,200 feet), while the sea level vineyards of eastern Emilia-Romagna produce some of the best wines in the country. Another important aspect is latitude; the northern Alto Adige region is 1,100 kilometres (680 miles) farther from the equator than Pantelleria, which is located at 47°N.
Italian Wine Regions
The best wines in the world come from different regions. Some are well-known due to their widespread availability and big production numbers; others have earned their reputation for quality.
The Northern Italian Wine Regions
In a similar vein, the fact that Veneto produces one of the world’s richest, finest wines—Amarone della Valpolicella—does little to promote its reputation as a good wine area despite its massive output (the region made over one billion litres of wine in 2021).
Friuli, in the far northeast of Italy, not only serves as a hazy border between Italy and Slovenia and Austria, but it also boasts a high-quality, sometimes varietally-labeled wine business and a more cultish, minimal intervention wine scene in places like Collio Goriziano, which borders Slovenia.
Similar cultural and winemaking influences from Austria and Switzerland may be found in the Alpine Trentino and Valle d’Aosta (although wine production in the Aosta Valley is a paltry 2.1 million litres yearly – the smallest region in the country).
It’s likely that you’re already familiar with the wines of Piedmont (the scenic home of Barolo, Barbaresco, and Moscato d’Asti, among others), while sparkling wines from Lombardy have gained widespread renown thanks to the success of Champagne-influenced Franciacorta around the world.
Liguria seems to have it all: unique grape varietals (particularly Vermentino found throughout the Mediterranean coast into France), a stunning and extremely evocative coastal backdrop, and small-scale production, but it is rarely noticed outside of its native market. But despite producing a variety of wines deserving of more attention, Emilia-Romagna has yet to repeat the fortunes of the once-favored Lambrusco sparkling wines (although the sparkling red wine style is making somewhat of a return in some circles).
Central Italy’s vineyards
Tuscany represents all of Italy. Typical of Tuscany with its undulating landscape, terracotta roofs, cypress-lined roads, and, of course, Chianti. Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Chianti Classico are more highly regarded among serious wine drinkers.
This is just the beginning. Besides the seaside Maremma and Bolgheri, inland Tuscany is known for its savoury whites from Vernaccia di San Gimignano and its nutty, oxidative, sweet Vin Santos. Even the region-wide Toscana IGT label has become synonymous with wines of exceptional quality made from “international” grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (sometimes combined with the traditional Sangiovese).
Orvieto and Frascati, two once-common white wines, come from the southern regions of Umbria and Lazio (respectively). Both, however, have a great deal more to offer the inquisitive, especially the DOC/DOP title Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone, with its magical name.
The Marche and Abruzzo, which lie on the other side of the Appenines and overlook the Adriatic Sea, feature landscape that is as bit as beautiful as that of Tuscany. The flowery and nutty whites of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi are the Marche’s most famous wines, while Abruzzo’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has as many fans as it does constant reminders not to be mistaken with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
The southern Italian vineyards
Molise, a small and hilly province just south of Abruzzo, is a beautiful place to visit (and its flagship Biferno wines made in the hills inland from the coast). After that, you’ll reach the heel of Italy, where the sunny regions of Puglia await.
From the Aglianicos of Basilicata and Campania to the Gaglioppos of Calabria and the Negroamaro and Primitivo of Puglia, the deep, tannic, fragrant, and savoury red wines of the south have a lot to thank the old trans-Adriatic connections to Greece and the Balkans for.
Nero d’Avola, a dark-skinned red grape variety with a strong scent and flavour, has become a sensation all the way on Sicily from mainland Italy, despite the Strait of Messina separating the two (despite the island boasting a host of fascinating red and white varieties including Frappato, Grillo, Nerello Mascalese and Zibibbo). The chic and high-altitude area on Etna’s northern slopes is another island highlight.
Last but not least, the island of Sardinia, located in the western Mediterranean, is a melting pot of cultures that has embraced the Grenache grape (locally known as Cannonau). Although the white Vermentino probably came to the island from Corsica, the red Carignano (Carignan) is said to be a historic import from Spain (or direct-ish from Liguria).
Italy’s vineyards are home to more than 2,000 grape varieties, many of which are on the brink of extinction. The safest and best-known Italian grapes are Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Pinot Grigio (although technically the latter is more French than Italian).
These varieties cover many thousands of acres of vineyard and can be found in various regions. At the other end of the scale are such little-known rarities as Centesimino and Dorona, which are found in tiny numbers in just one or two places.
All of Italy’s grape varieties, famous or not, face serious competition from better-known French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These internationally popular grapes are being planted in ever-increasing numbers all over Italy, and with high success rates.
Some of Italy’s finest and most expensive wines are made from these “foreign” varieties. An obvious example is the Super Tuscan Sassicaia from Bolgheri, which is predominantly made from Cabernet Sauvignon with around 15 percent Cabernet Franc.
Famous Italian Wines
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino, Barolo Riserva DOCG, Italy
Piedmont’s Barolo Riserva DOCG produces Giacomo Conterno Monfortino red wine. Giacomo Conterno, a renowned Barolo winery, makes it. Monfortino is a top Barolo Riserva created from 100% Nebbiolo grapes from the Conterno estate.
Barolo Riserva DOCG wine is made from grapes harvested in Piedmont’s Barolo region and follows strict production criteria. Monfortino develops its depth and complexity after ageing for several years.
The wine has strong red fruit, spice, and leather flavours, solid tannins, and a lengthy aftertaste. It is powerful, refined, and typical Barolo. Monfortino is Giacomo Conterno’s flagship wine.
Masseto Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy
Tuscany produces Masseto Toscana IGT red wine. Masseto, a Tuscan winery, makes it. Merlot dominates the wine’s rich, full-bodied richness, powerful aromas, and silky tannins.
Toscana IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) is a category of origin that denotes the wine is from Tuscany but does not have the same production limitations as Chianti Classico DOCG. This allows more grape types and winemaking inventiveness.
Collectors and aficionados of Tuscan Merlot prize Masseto Toscana IGT. Before release, the wine is matured in oak barrels for years, adding richness and character. Masseto Toscana IGT is a rich, beautiful wine with a long, silky aftertaste.
Gaja Sori San Lorenzo Langhe-Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy
Gaja Sori San Lorenzo is a red wine from Piedmont’s Langhe-Barbaresco area made by Gaja. It is one of the best Piedmont Nebbiolo wines.
Italy’s most prominent wine-growing region, Langhe-Barbaresco, produces high-quality, age-worthy red wines. This region’s principal grape, Nebbiolo, produces strong, tannic, complex wines with great age potential.
The Gaja winery’s flagship wine, Gaja Sori San Lorenzo, is named after its vineyard. The wine has a robust body, powerful red fruit, spice, and leather flavours, firm tannins, and a lingering finish. It is elegant, forceful, and Piedmont-style. Gaja Sori San Lorenzo is a prized Langhe-Barbaresco.