Major Regions of Italian Wine
In more ways than one, Italy became a gigantic nursery and a commercial hub fortuitously positioned at the heart of the Mediterranean for what would become western civilization’s first “globally” traded product: wine.
The Italian Alps butt against the long expanses of the Po River plains leaving tiny pockets and microclimates along the foot of the mountains that are each linked to their own special wine. Starting in northwestern Piedmont, Nebbiolo grapes form two tall pillars of Italy’s wine legacy: Barolo and Barbaresco, named in the French tradition after the hilltop hamlets where the wines were born. Like in Burgundy, the exclusivity of these wines has a lot to do with winemakers’ battle against nature and the wine’s extraordinary ability to age. Rare vintages like the stellar 1985 or 1990 Barolos are the darlings of serious wine collectors.
Further east, in the Veneto region, vintners follow an ancient formula in which wine is made from raisins dried on straw mats. With its higher concentration and alcohol, silky Amarone is Italy’s most distinctive wine and can command record prices for new-releases. The Veneto, Trentino, Alto Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia are celebrated for their white wines—such as the phenomenally successful Pinot Grigio. Italy’s best sparkling wine is made in Trentino and the Franciacorta area of Lombardy (known as the “Champagne of Italy”) under strict regulation with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
With its cypress-crested hills and beautiful stone farmhouses, Tuscany is the pin-up queen of Italian enology. The region’s iconic dreamscape has helped promote the image of Italian wine abroad unlike no other. Within Tuscany’s borders is a treasure-trove of excellent wines: Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, San Gimignano whites, Bolgheri and Maremma reds. Italy’s wine revolution started here when storied producers like Piero Antinori worked outside appellation regulations to make wines blended with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are known as SuperTuscans and are considered par with the top crus of Bordeaux and California.
Central Italy delivers many more exciting wines such as Sagrantino from the Umbrian town of Montefalco, dense and dark Montepulciano from Abruzzo, and white Verdicchio from Le Marche.
South and Islands
The regions of southern Italy, and the island of Sicily in particular, are regarded as Italy’s enological frontier: Relaxed regulation and increased experimentation promise a bright future for vintners and investors alike. In many ways, Italy’s south is a “new world” wine region locked within the confines of an “old world” wine reality. This unique duality has many betting on its enological promise.
Campania boasts wonderful whites such as Fiano and Greco di Tufo that embody crisp, mineral characteristics from volcanic soils. Its red is Taurasi (“the Barolo of the south”) made from Aglianico. That same grape makes Basilicata’s much-hyped Aglianico del Vulture. Puglia, the “heel” of the boot of Italy, was mostly a producer of bulk wine, but holds it own today among nascent wine regions with its powerhouse Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes.
Sicily has shown keen marketing savvy in bringing media attention to its native grapes like Nero d’Avola (red) and Grillo (a white once used in the production of fortified wine Marsala) and has done a great job of promoting the Italian south in general. Some of Europe’s most sensuous dessert wines come from Sicily’s satellite islands, like the honey-rich Passito di Pantelleria. The Mediterranean’s other big island, Sardinia, is steadily working on its Cannonau and Vermentino grapes to raise the bar on quality there.
As you taste through various regions of Italy you will come to understand the Italian wine dictionary and what makes each region and indigenous grape variety, so special.
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Sourced: Wine Mag 2014