With 1,000 or more different types of grapes grown in Italy (not even the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is sure of the exact number), the varieties and geography of Italian wines pose many questions for beginners. We have provided is a breakdown by region of the most well-known grapes and wines from Italy’s twenty regions. This is by no means a compendium of all of the varieties and types, but will certainly be useful for anyone who wishes to learn more about the remarkable culture of Italian wines.
Valle d’Aosta – On the northwestern border shared with France and Switzerland, this Alpine region unfortunately is not a major exporter of wine. If you visit the region, make sure to enjoy the red wines, which are produced primarily from Nebbiolo and Pinot Nero grapes, as well as the little-known Petit Rouge and Prié Blanc. Other varieties include Fumin, Moscato and Petit Arvine.
Piedmont – Located in northwest Italy, Piedmont sits at the foot of the western Alps. The climate is influenced by both chilly mountains and the balmy Mediterranean. This creates the perfect growing conditions for Nebbiolo, the black grape that produces the region’s most famous wines: Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG. These noble and majestic wines require significant aging due to the level of tannins. Two other red grapes, Barbera and Dolcetto, are also well-known and enjoyed for their more accessible price points and drinkability in the short term. Piedmont white wines are less common, but not to be overlooked are Cortese and Arneis grapes. The former is the sole grape in Gavi DOCG, while the latter thrives in Roero DOCG. Even casual wine fans know the sweet sparkling wine, Moscato d’Asti, made in the Asti DOCG. Other varieties are Brachetto, Freisa, Grignolino, Nascetta, Ruché, Timorasso and Vespolina
Liguria – Along the Mediterranean between France and Tuscany, this small coastal region focuses largely on white wine. The dry whites made from Vermentino and Pigato comprise the bulk of exports to the U.S. The key red is Rossese, found in the fruity, fragrant Dolceacqua DOC. Other varieties are Ciliegiolo, Dolcetto and Sangiovese
Lombardy – Located in north-central Italy, Lombardy is home to some of the country’s most beautiful lakes. The cooling influence of the Alps makes it a sparkling wine haven. Franciacorta DOCG, along Lake Iseo, is one of the premier metodo classico (traditional method) wines from Italy made from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero. For red wines, Nebbiolo is the primary grape in Valtellina Rosso DOC, Valtellina Superiore DOCG and Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG. Two other varieties are Barbera and Croatina.
Trentino-Alto Adige – Home to the spectacular Dolomites, this region has a unique cadre of grapes that ripen in the sunny, high-elevation. For reds, Pinot Nero, Schiava and Lagrein are well known. For whites, Pinot Grigio rules. Chardonnay is also popular, especially as a base for traditional-method sparkling wine from Trento DOC. Other varieties: Gewürztraminer, Kerner, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Teroldego.
Veneto – Rich in history, beauty and wine, Veneto offers a breadth of grapes and styles due to numerous microclimates. Consider its natural contours – it boasts the Alps in the north, Lake Garda in the west and the Adriatic Sea to the southeast. Though Veneto turns out many storied wines, it is the volume of Pinot Grigio and demand for Prosecco that have made it famous. Great versions of the latter come from Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG and Cartizze DOCG. The red wines of Valpolicella DOC and Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG are both based largely on the black grape Corvina, as are the rosé and red wines of Bardolino DOC. East of Verona, Garganega is the main white grape in Soave DOC, while Trebbiano dominates in the white wines of Lugana DOC on the southern shores of Lake Garda. Other varieties include Cabernet Franc, Corvinone, Merlot, Molinara and Rondinella.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia – In the far northeast corner, Italy borders Austria and Slovenia, with a landscape that juxtaposes the Alps against the Adriatic’s coastal flatlands. The unique climate provides optimal conditions for a range of white and red grapes. More than 75% of the production is white wine, focused on Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla and Friulano. Reds, from Merlot, Refosco and Schioppettino are delightful, if less well-known. Other varieties – Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Picolit and Verduzzo.
Emilia-Romagna – Considered the country’s food capital, Emilia-Romagna, is also a noted wine producer. The region is best known for Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine. Trebbiano, a white grape, is the other key player. Other varieties to enjoy are Albana, Malvasia and Sangiovese.
Tuscany – Centrally positioned along the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west coast, the region stretches inland across a seemingly endless, rolling countryside. For reds, the most famous Sangiovese-based wines are the Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino DOCGs. Many wines are labeled as Toscana IGT because they do not conform to traditional production rules. These wines can be 100% Sangiovese or with blends of international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. For whites, the most famous appellation is Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG. Other varieties to look for are Canaiolo Nero, Trebbiano and Vermentino.
Umbria – This small region in central Italy is due east from Tuscany and is routinely overshadowed by its neighbor. However, this hilly landscape, fringed by the snow-capped Apennines, produces tannic, age worthy reds from Sagrantino de Montefalco DOCG. The companion white, Grechetto, is dry, crisp and ready to be enjoyed while young. Other varieties from this region are Canaiolo, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Trebbiano.
Marche – Situated along the eastern coast in central Italy, Marche is home to Rosso Cònero DOC, based on black grape Montepulciano. Other varieties are Passerina, Pecorino and Trebbiano.
Lazio – Home to the capital city of Rome, Lazio has a rich wine legacy. The region has a reputation for easy-drinking, youthful whites. While great wine is made here, the top exports are dry and crisp styles from Frascati DOC and Orvieto DOC, which straddles the border with Umbria. Other varieties: Cesanese, Merlot and Sangiovese.
Abruzzo – Located next to Lazio on the Adriatic side, Abruzzo is a mountainous region rich in ancient winemaking traditions. Abruzzo is fifth by volume in production, known predominantly for the Montepulciano grape, not to be confused with the Tuscan region that focuses on Sangiovese. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is the region-wide denomination for red wines made from the grape, while Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC is the denomination for the regions rosé wines made from the same variety. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC is the main white grape of the region. Other varieties include Chardonnay, Cococciola, Passerina, Pecorino and Sangiovese.
Molise – Below Abruzzo sits tiny Molise, a mountainous region in south-central Italy. The region is primarily known for Trebbiano and Montepulciano from the Biferno DOC. Other varieties are Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Tintilia.
Campania – Most known for Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Campania’s wines are becoming more well-known in the U.S., especially as volcanic soil wines rise in popularity. For reds, the most famous are Taurasi DOCG and Aglianico del Taburno DOCG, both based on the red grape Aglianico. For whites, Fiano di Avellino DOCG and Greco di Tufo DOCG are best known, based on Fiano and Greco, respectively. Other varieties: Caprettone, Falanghina and Piedirosso.
Basilicata – Located in southern Italy, Basilicata’s wine production is miniscule compared to more famous regions. A mostly landlocked, mountainous region tucked into the arch of the boot, it is flanked by Campania to the west and Puglia to the east. Though it has few DOCs, the most famous one is Aglianico del Vulture, based on the full-bodied Aglianico black grape. Other varieties to sample are Fiano, Greco Bianco, Malvasia Bianca and Moscato.
Puglia – This southern region has grown immensely in popularity for its wines of great value, based on indigenous grapes. The warm Mediterranean climate produces ripe, fruity, robust reds based on Primitivo (Zinfandel) and Negroamaro. Other varieties from this region are Chardonnay, Bombino Bianco, Bombino Nero, Moscato, Nero di Troia and Susumaniello.
Calabria – Situated on the coast of southwestern Italy, Calabria juts out between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, separated from Sicily by the Strait of Messina. The wines reflect the coastal climate. Calabria is home to Cirò DOC, which produces mostly reds based on the tannic Gaglioppo grape. A small amount of white wines are produced from a blend of Greco Bianco and Montonico Bianco. Other varieties are Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese.
Sicily – The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily’s dry, warm climate and copious sunshine are perfect for viticulture. There are fruity, medium-bodied red wines made from Nero d’Avola and juicy, peachy white wines made from Grillo, which are most prolific from the Sicilia DOC. In the south, Nero d’Avola is blended with Frappato for Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG. The red grape Nerello Mascalese and the white grape Carricante produce sought-after wines from the Etna DOC. Marsala DOC is the fortified wine from the west. Other varieties are Catarratto and Inzolia.
Sardinia – This island in the Mediterranean is best known for beaches and Pecorino cheese, but more producers now export more wine to the U.S. than ever before. Wines to look for include impeccable Cannonau, which is the local name for Grenache and Carignano or Carignan. Salty, floral Vermentino comes from the northeast. Another variety from Sardinia is Monica.