Where does one start when contemplating the ins and outs of a concise guide to Italian wine? I mean there are over 300 grape varieties, over 500 recognised appellations of origin and countless other quirks of tradition and style. So much to say and yet so much that couldn’t possibly.
Well clearly you can’t ignore Barolo, ‘Wine of Kings and King of Wines’, the infamous Piemonte red made from 100% Nebbiolo. Harsh and tannic in youth, but ethereal and seductive with maturity; ‘Tar and Roses’ the phrase often heard to describe the wine’s beguiling perfumes. If you only drink one more wine before transcending this world, make sure it is Barolo.
What about Amarone? In the Northeast’s Veneto region, dried Corvina, Rondinella and Mollinara grapes are pressed into a luxurious and hedonistic red, whose layered dark fruits don’t come without a powerful blast of alcohol. You have been warned.
In Tuscany, amongst the iconic vines, stone farmhouses and cypress trees, the three Tuscan masters compete for attention. Chianti Classico DOCG, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG and of course Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, all Sangiovese based yet radically different.
DOCG? Yes. Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, the Italian concept of regulated origin and in theory a reference to highest classification of Italian wines available. Next in rank is DOC and IGT, a more general indication of origin vaguely in line with the French Vin de Pays system. Don’t be fooled, the good and bad exists in each category.
Huge progress is being made in the south. The elegant white wines of Campania are going from strength to strength, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo. Even Falanghina is worth a punt. There are plenty of indigenous red varieties constantly improving as well. Aglianico del Vulture is perhaps one of the great wines of the South, alongside Puglia’s warm, rich expressions of Primitivo and Negroamaro.
And what about bella Sicilia? A wine-making revolution has taken place in Sicily over the last twenty years, now producing clean, modern juicy reds from Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese, not to mention sunny and ripe takes on Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. Looking to pair something with seafood? Inzolia, Cattarratto, Grillo and Chardonnay combine very well indeed and are integral to any notions of Sicilian cuisine.
Hunt down Vermentino from Sardegna or indeed Cannonao (the local name for Grenache), and be sure not to miss Verddichio from Le Marche, or the great whites of the Veneto – Lugana and Soave.
Prosecco needs no introduction while the fairly unknown but magnificent Franciacorta can rival many Champagnes for classification.
There is certainly enough going on in Italian wine to keep even the most committed wino busy for a long, long time.
Home to some of Italy’s most improved wines, Campania delivers a treasure trove of established growing areas such as Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Taurasi, as well as boasting a dynamic scene of boutique producers from Campi Flegrei, Sannio and Irpinia.
Piedmont stands out as one of the world’s great wine regions. Home to legendary villages such as Barolo and Barbaresco, but also other exciting Nebbiolo based wines from Ghemme and Gattinara. Great whites come from Gavi, while sweet Moscato from Asti is making a comeback.
Puglia is often considered to be the engine room of Italy’s red wine production, producing large quantities of inexpensive wines, particularly Primitivo. Nevertheless Puglia also offers some interesting high quality DOCG wines from fascinating microzones. In recent years there has been renewed interest in the region’s local grape varieties such as Negroamaro, Nero di Troia and Susumaniello.
Sicily is one of the most exciting wine regions in Italy at the moment. A movement of small independent growers seeking to explore low intervention wines as well as the pioneering approach of areas like Etna is making Sicily a respected wine-making territory.