Today in Italy there are almost 350 indigenous vine varietals and in the last 20 years there have been improvements in producing quality and diverse wines, especially in the regions of Piedmont, Puglia and Sicily.
Piedmont has 58 DOC and DOCG zones and a climate influenced by the Alps and Apennines, hence the name Piedmont “foot of the mountain” where autumn fog (nebbia) is common.
The DOCGs of Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Ghemme and Roero all represent the Nebbiolo (from Nebbia), these wines are complex with extraordinary depth and great ageing potential. Barolo is made in the Langhe hills.
In terms of volume, the Barbera grape is the most produced, followed by Dolcetto. The Brachetto grape is used for the sweet and bubbly Brachetto d’Acqui. While reds and rosés are made from Grignolino and Freisa.
The most popular Piedmontese wine is Asti. The best still white wine from the region is Gavi, made with Cortese grapes. The crisp and floral Arneis is an emerging white in Roero. Indigenous grapes like Erbaluce di Caluso are used to make dry still, sparkling and dessert wines.
The Sangiovese grape is the region’s star for DOCG wines in Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano. Yet the “Super Tuscan” wines, some of Italy’s most refined are mainly classified as Toscana IGT.
Chianti is made in eight zones around the Classico area. Much of the wine produced is still, light and fresh. The producers in the Chianti Classico use a black rooster symbol on the neck of the bottle to distinguish their quality.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG around Siena is made from a clone of Sangiovese like Rosso di Montalcino but is less rigid. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made with a clone of Sangiovese called Prugnolo Gentile. The DOC Rosso di Montepulciano is a more approachable alternative. Carmignano is a blend of Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon.
There are other appellations in Tuscany, such as Morellino di Scansano DOCG where Sangiovese is important. Vin Santo has DOC status in many parts of the region and is made with Malvasia and Trebbiano.
Veneto has 26 DOC and 13 DOCG, Soave is made with Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave grapes grown in the hills west of Verona. It is popular for its fresh, clean and crisp taste. Soave Superiore DOCG indicates a slightly stronger and aged wine while Soave Classico indicates that the grapes used to make it come from selected vineyards. The sweet Recioto di Soave has also been promoted to DOCG.
Another popular wine in Veneto is the Valpolicella a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara which are the same grapes used to make Amarone della Valpolicella, a deep dark wine made from partly dried grapes. The sweet Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG is a very sexy dessert wine. The region is also famous for the ripasso method used in Valpolicella, where the wine is refermented with the Amarone’s grapes pomace (the remains of the grapes that have been already pressed). Bardolino is made from the same 3 grapes (Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella) and is known for its delightful cherry scent. Bianco di Custoza, made with Garganega, Trebbiano di Toscana and Friuliano is a white wine DOC made along Lake Garda. The dessert wines of Torcolato are the hardest to find.
In the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene near Treviso, takes place the Prosecco production using the Charmat Method where the second fermentation happens in large tanks. In 2009 Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene gained DOCG status.
FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA
Friuli is kissed by the Adriatic on the east coast and by the Alps in the north making it famous for white wines. The dessert wines of Ramandolo, a little known sweet white made with Verduzzo grapes and Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit, made from the aromatic Picolit grape, are among the most prized in Italy.
Some excellent reds are also made from Refosco, Cabernet and Pinot Nero in the areas of Collio Goriziano, or simply “Collio“, and Friuli Colli Orientali. The region’s Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla and Verduzzo are elegant expressions of Friuli’s whites, whereas Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco tend to be more refined then in the rest of Italy.
TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE
In Trentino the terrain is mountainous, with the Dolomites and the Alps surrounding the area making viticulture very hard and steep.
Chardonnay is an important variety along with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc. The Nosiola grape makes crisp dry whites and excellent dessert wines. The red Marzemino makes fresh easy-drinking reds. The most exciting native red is the Teroldego with a lively acidity and unique character.
In Alto Adige red grapes of Schiava are used to make the classic red known as St Magdalener, but the most important red grape is Lagrein, that achieves greatness in this gravelly soils along the Adige river.
Aromatic whites such as Sylvaner, Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau and others are elegant but more attention is payed to Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc. The rose-petal scented native Gewürztraminer thrives here – in fact the name derives from the village of Tramin and “würz” meaning “spicy“.
Lombardy is famous for its “Franciacorta” made in the Oltrepò Pavese using the Metodo Classico known as Method Champenoise in France with Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco grapes. Valtellina and its Superiore wines which must contain 90% Chiavennasca grapes (Nebbiolo) is divided in four sub-districts: Grumello, Inferno, Sassella and Valgella, here is where is produced the Sforzato di Valtellina or Sfursat made with Nebbiolo grapes using the passito method of semi-drying the grapes on straw mats for extra concentration (same method used to make Amarone).
The best known Ligurian wine is from the Cinque Terre region (five-lands), named after the five fishing villages along the coast cliffs. The two main wines are made with Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes into a dry white known as Cinque Terre and a sweet Schiaccetrà. Most part of Liguria’s red wine production is uses Rossese di Dolceacqua grapes (Dolcetto).
Emilia Romagna’s best-known wine is Lambrusco, here mainly enjoyed dry. There are three DOC zones for Lambrusco – Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce. The red wines are largely based on the red Sangiovese grape while white wines are made using Albana and Trebbiano grapes. Albana di Romagna is best known for being Italy’s first DOCG for white wine.
Latium reminds us of Frascati and it’s famous white wine Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone. The region is focus mainly on white wine production, as grapes like Malvasia and Trebbiano thrive here. Modern versions of Abboccato “semi-dry” wines are also found.
Umbria’s most famous white is Orvieto, an appellation where the golden, off-dry abboccato and amabile styles have been rediscovered producing also dessert wines. The local Procanico dominates the blend with the addiction of various grapes such as Malvasia and Grechetto. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also gaining success.
Some fine reds from Sagrantino grown on the hills around Montefalco make both dry and sweet wines of great character and finesse. Another important wine is the Torgiano Riserva, a rich Sangiovese-based wine. The noble Vin Santo, made from Grechetto or Malvasia grapes is a prized local dessert wine.
Marche is well known for the quality of its crisp, fresh Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi made west of Ancona in the mountainous terrain of Verdicchio di Matelica. Verdicchio is among Italy’s finest whites with some good sparkling examples produced using both the Champagne Method and the Tank Method of fermentation (Charmat).
Sangiovese and Montepulciano are important red varieties, both in blends as well as single varietals.
Campania is home to four DOCG appellations: Taurasi, Fiano di Avellino, Falerno del Massico and Greco di Tufo. Taurasi made with Aglianico grape is known as “The Barolo of the South“.
Whites from Fiano and Greco are perfumed with a mineral character. The production of the white Falanghina with its delicate minerality is also gaining ground. Many of the vines are planted on their own rootstocks as they can survive the phylloxera disease.
Well known for its red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo should not be confused with the Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Trebbiano is known for dry, light and easy drinking wines with subtle citrus flavours, thought to be related to Bombino Bianco from Puglia.
Valle d’Aosta has its own DOC with the whites of Morgex and La Salle, and dessert wines of Chambave Moscato and Nus Malvoisie. In the region are also grown varietals like Barbera, Moscato the French Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Muller-Thurgau. The Picotendro grape is a local version of Nebbiolo. Blanc de Valdigne is the white grape used to make Blanc de Morgex and La Salle, with vineyards thought to be the highest in Europe.
The mountainous region of Calabria is dominated by two grape varieties, the red Gaglioppo and the white Greco. Cirò is Calabria’s best known DOC wine grown along the Ionian coast making fresh, deeply aromatic wines. The most important sweet wine is the rare Greco di Bianco.
Basilicata has 4 DOC appellations, among them the famous Aglianico del Vulture, also known for its contribution to Campania’s Taurasi and lately promoted to DOCG.
Molise has three DOCs in Biferno, Pentro di Isernia and Tintilia Molise, as well as the Molise DOC, Biferno and Pentro di Isernia are for red, white and rosé, both areas produce reds from Montepulciano and whites from Trebbiano.
In Puglia’s temperate, undulating north and hot south, grape varieties such as the red Bombino Nero, Montepulciano and Sangiovese and the white Verdeca are cultivated. The DOC of Castel del Monte is well known for its fine rosé and well-structured reds.
In the south, Salento indicates deeply coloured fleshy reds influenced by the hot climate, and Primitivo di Manduria reds are less concentrated and more aromatic.
The Salice Salentino with its deep, dark reds, made from Negroamaro grape have a distinct rustic character.
Sicilian wine begun to emerge with Cerasuolo di Vittoria promotion to DOCG. This powerful red from a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes is known as Classico around Vittoria. The DOC of Bianco d’Alcamo is made from 80% Catarratto grapes. Etna and Faro DOCs produces delicious wines from the red Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and the white Carricante grapes.
Sweet Moscato from Marsala is well known, the best being the dry Vergine and Superiore Riserva. The less known Moscato di Pantelleria is becoming more popular, this rich, complex, nectar-like Moscato Naturale and Passito Extra are made on the island of Pantelleria. The Malvasia grape, in the Ionian Islands is used for the production of the sumptuous Malvasia delle Lipari.
Vermentino is now widely planted in Sardinia making clean, fresh wines, such as the dry Vermentino di Gallura.
Probably Sardinia’s most unique wine is the Vernaccia di Oristano, made near the Tirso river in a method similar to Fino Sherry. The wine is aged in barrels in which a yeast flor forms on its surface that flavours the wine richly. Sardinia’s red wines shows Spanish influence, Cannonau is a grape related to the Spainish Garnacha. Also the Carignano grape performs well, with some excellent wines emerging from the DOC of Carignano del Sulcis. Cannonau makes concentrated dry reds under the appellation of Cannonau di Sardegna DOC.