There’s a lot more to Italian wines than just Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Italy is the second largest producer of wines in the world, has the largest world grape production and also grows an enormous amount of its own native grapes.
Pinot Grigio is deliciously clean and crisp and makes a great aperitif. Chianti, on the other hand, is a true gem of a red wine and makes Central Italy’s greatest export. Dark tannic Barolo, made from the black grape Nebbiolo, is among the finest of all Italian wines and can command very high prices.
In the same way that Spain isn’t just about Rioja, there is a lot more to Italian wine than might first be thought. Italy offers a diverse range of wine, not restricted to the varieties we may be familiar with. With over 1000 different varieties grown, many of them native, there is a never-ending range of wines for you to try. It wouldn’t be possible to name them all here, but for starters, look out for Italian grapes including Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Montepulciano and Barbera, and whites including super-fresh Trebbiano, slightly sparkling Moscato, the famous Gavi, made from Cortese, and Verdicchio.
Italy, like other wine growing countries, produces its own sparkling wines. If you like a dry sparkler, look out for Prosecco, while if a sweeter sparkler is more your thing, go for Moscato d’Asti.
Perfect Partner for Italian Food
Italian wine is very much intertwined with Italian cuisine. Wines produced regionally tend to match the types of food eaten in that area. It therefore really is no coincidence that Chianti matches brilliantly with rich pasta and roasted vegetable based dishes, which are the staple of the Tuscan diet, while white wines of the North East such as Soave, taste divine with fish. Some Italian wines may taste a little acidic on their own, but when drunk with the food, such as acidic tomato-based dishes, are delicious.
As well as native grapes, Italy produces a number of International varieties too. These include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Riesling, especially in the Fruili-Venezia region in the North East, where the climate is cooler.
North to South
There are 20 Italian wine producing regions, each having a certain degree of autonomy, and there are thousands of often-tiny vineyards right across the country. Partly because the climate and soil is so varied, and because Italy is so mountainous there are over 1000 grape varieties to be found. Many of these are native to Italy, and some are only found in one specific region, on one patch of one slope!
The general rule though is wines that are produced in the north of Italy are lighter and more elegant due to the cooler climate, while in areas in the South such as Puglia and Sicily you will generally find richer and fuller wines, with more pronounced flavours. There will not generally be a lot of variation between vintages of wines produced in the south, whereas in the North, the taste of a wine may vary a lot from year to year.
Italian Classification System
There are four levels to the Italian Classification system:
- Vino de Tavola (VdT) is the most basic level, literally table wine. Makers don’t have to state what the wines are made from, where they are made or the vintage. VdT’s are declining in number because many have been reclassified as better wines, although you can pick up some excellent VdTs for good prices.
- Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) This is the equivalent to the French Vin de Pays. Wines can be made from grape varieties using techniques not traditional in their area so can’t be classified any higher. Like in France, you can pick up some great Italian wines at this level because they are less subject to restriction from wine legislation and the makers are free to play a little more.
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) This corresponds to the French AOC classification. The maker must use grapes and production methods typical to the area. There are more than 300 areas, which now have DOC status. The word Classico added to Italian wine means that it’s made in a historic, and therefore quality, site.
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) e Garantita. (DOCG) As well as meeting all the conditions of a DOC, these wines must be bottled in the region they were made in, and pass strict taste tests from the Ministry of Agriculture. There are over 30 DOCG wines including some of the most famous Italian wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Gavi and Asti.
So now you’ve read about it, why not stock up on a case? Choose from a selection of wines from Italy here.
- The delicious fortified wine, Marsala is produced in the Sicilian port of the same name and was created by a Liverpudlian wine merchant, John Woodhouse in 1773
- Chianti must contain mostly Sangiovese to be called Chianti, although small amounts of other grapes are allowed as well
- The characteristic black cockerel found on many bottles of Chianti means the maker is a member of the Gallo Nero consortium, which should guarantee quality, as members have to pass strict taste tests.
- If you fancy a sweet dessert wine, try Vin Santo, from Tuscany, traditionally served with Almond biscuits
- Amarone della Valpolicella is made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinaria grapes which have been partially dried out, traditionally on straw mats, to concentrate the flavours. Amarone means “big bitter” and is an intense full flavoured wine.