Over the past few decades, Italian food has become a much-loved staple in the British kitchen. We all love our balsamic and our extra virgin, but when it comes to marsala and soave, we’re much less familiar.
And that’s why I think Italian wine deserves championing. So to help you know your stuff, here are the key details for each region, north to south:
This Alpine area produces wonderfully aromatic and fresh white wines. Many of the wineries are family-owned, so you can find some interesting grape varieties both native and international, like gewürztraminer for example.
However if you’re looking for a classic Italian pinot grigio, which is fresh with lots of ripe stone fruit flavours, you’re in the right place.
This land-locked north-western region produces mainly hearty reds like Barolo and Barbaresco – they’re both made from the nebbiolo grape, and they’re both delicious. But there are some popular whites you should also look out for, such as Gavi di Gavi. They tend to be floral and full-flavoured.
Humid and relatively flat, this is by no means the largest of Italy’s wine regions but it produces the highest volume in North East Italy.
It’s mostly known for fantastic Valpolicella (a red) which is fragrant, tangy and usually medium-bodied – and also produces a refreshingly dry soave. However Prosecco is the new super star of Veneto, with fresh peach flavours and a fruity off-dry finish proving extremely popular over the last few years.
It’s also interesting to note that the first Italian school for viticulture (growing and harvesting) and oenology (wine-making) opened here in 1885.
With fertile soil, hilly terrain and a temperate climate, this mid-western region is so perfect for vine-growing it was covered in wild grapes before viticulture started. A range of soil types means lots of different grapes are grown here.
Chianti wine is probably the most famous Italian wine in the world, and the region stretches from Florence to Siena. The style tends to be fruity with a floral, cinnamon-spiced finish, and you might notice notes of tobacco and leather as it ages.
There are also more full-bodied wines from Brunello di Montalcino, a famous DOCG (like the French appellations, it means ‘controlled designation of origin’) which produces bold and serious styles from the Sangiovese grape variety.
We’re in the heel of Italy’s boot now, and as you travel from north to south, the terrain becomes less hilly until it’s almost entirely flat.
Negroamaro is the main grape here, which is used to produce robust reds and fragrant rosés – especially in the southern tip.
Moving west, this is the shin of the boot where a harsh, hot landscape creates strong and powerful wines.
Lots of the grapes grown here are relatively unheard of elswhere, but thrive to produce a wide variety of reds, whites and rosés. In terms of heritage, these wines have been produced and enjoyed locally for hundreds of years, and viticulture here goes back to at least the 13th century.
There are some real gems in Campania, and it’s really worth exploring and taking the plunge with some unusual grape varieties. In particular, the fantastic and distinctive Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Fiano. These are refreshing yet full-bodied, with tropical fruit flavours and a long elegant dry finish. They’re unlike any other whites you’ll have tried.
There are several high quality reds and whites grown in this hot, volcanic region, but the most famous wine is the fortified variety from Marsala.
Similar to port or madeira, it has a deep, rich sweetness. Serve it chilled as an apéritif, or at room temperature as a dessert wine.
I really hope that, now you have the basics, you’ll feel confident to explore Italian wine and come to love it as much as I do.
Here’s to your next bottle,