Our family is planning a trip to Italy in the spring. Not knowing anything about the wine regions in Italy, I decided to delve into learning about the diversity of the different wine regions, its terroir, varietals and styles.
Italian wine is one of the most widely exported wines in the world with the U.S. being one of its largest importers.
Italy’s terrains, from lengthy coastlines to hilly slopes provide ideal vine-growing conditions. The abundant sunshine, sea breezes and cool mountain air all make for favorable growing conditions for the many vineyards. Italy is known for its more than 2,000 varietals of wines, making their wine’s flavors and aromas incomparable. Additionally, each zone’s climate results in many unique styles of wine.
Italy has 20 wine growing regions. With more than 1 million vineyards under cultivation, Italy produces more than 1.5 billion gallons of wine per year. Traveling from North to South below I’ve listed seven of the twenty regions of Italy and their unique characteristics.
1. Veneto – Smaller than Tuscany, Piedmont, Lombardy and Sicily (Italy’s largest wine regions) Veneto produces more wine than any of these well-known areas. Known for its red wines, Prosecco (affordable sparkling wine) and fruity whites, Veneto is an important region in the north-east corner of Italy. This region also produces the luscious red Amarone wine. To produce Amarone wine the grapes are partially dried before fermentation. After four years of aging in oak barrels, a velvety full-bodied red wine is produced. The well-known Conegliano School of wine in Veneto is one of the country’s leading wine schools.
2. Lombardy – Wine has been made here long before the Ancient Romans. Nestled just below Switzerland you will find small production wines and beautiful unspoiled wine country. This area produces red wines from vineyards terraced on the side of the hills. The Valtellina region in the far North produces some of the most powerful red wines. Chiavennasca (known as Nebbiolo elsewhere) is the main grape cultivated in this area. Because the vineyards are on very steep hillsides, at harvest time the workers are literally sent mountain climbing. One of the most picturesque regions of Lombardy is Lugana. It sits on the southern end of Lake Garda with its many fishing villages and castle-studded towns. Expect some truly fabulous white wines from this area.
3. Piedmont – Sitting at the foot of the Alps this is arguably Italy’s finest wine region. These mountains serve to protect the vineyards and therefore offer a favorable climate for growing grapes. Known for its red grapes, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto each is responsible for superlative wines. Although known for its red wines they also produce some prestigious white wines made from Moscato and Cortese grapes. Piedmont has a reputation as the “Burgundy” of Italy because of its many small family wineries and focus on quality.
4. Tuscany – This is the most famous of all the wine regions in Italy due to its romantic scenery and most prestigious wines. Some of its acclaimed wines include Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Its signature red grape is the Sangiovese that thrives in the sunlight on the hillsides of the Apennine Mountains. Tuscany’s yearly production consists of 70 percent red wine and 30 percent white wine. This ideal environment includes warm temperatures, cool mountain breezes and hillside vineyards.
5. Montalcino (part of Tuscany region) – Montalcino is a beautiful Tuscan hillside covered with vineyards, ancient villages and intense wine. This gentle Mediterranean area is warm and dry with gentle breezes that aid in the ventilation of the vines. I first heard about Brunello di Montalcino wine produced here from Rachel Ray on the Food Network show “30 Minute Meals.” After searching for it in my local wine shops I found it to be both rich in body and price. It is one of Italy’s most prestigious and sought after wines made from 100% Sangiovese grapes. Because of this it is a favorite among collectors. The name Brunello means “nice dark one” and the wines made here are considered dark and full bodied reds. These wines exude characteristic notes of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate and leather.
6. Calabria – This area was influenced by the Ancient Greeks, who cultivated the first vines here. Calabria is a rural region of southern Italy and forms the tip of Italy’s boot. The landscape is mainly mountainous making wine production prohibitively expensive. Ciro is Calabria’s oldest and most well known wine. It is produced for quantity and quality. This region is the largest producer of bergamot oranges in Italy. Bergamot oranges are used to manufacture perfumes and teas. Additionally, this area produces one-third of Italy’s olive oil despite its small size and population.
7. Sicily – Sicily is one of the biggest producers of wine behind Veneto and Pulia. Ironically, the Sicilians consume less wine per capita than other Italians. It is known as the hottest driest region of Italy. Many of the Sicilian grapes are dried into raisins and are also used in making sweet dessert wines. Internationally, Sicily is known for its sweet wine, particularly its world-famous Marsala wine. Ninety percent of the production on the island is dessert wine, although there are several good reds and whites also being produced.
From north to south, Italy’s diverse regions produce some of the world’s most famous and loved wines. Every region offers a different experience and Italian tradition. From the grapes, wine production, climatic conditions, the finest wines of Italy are appreciated around the world. Italy’s wine story is definitely a history of success.
About our Guest Blogger…
Bettie and Nuch Infante are proprietors of Wineablegifts, a small business ecommerce site that sells unique upscale and unmatched hand painted wine glasses and flutes. Learn more about them at the Wineablegifts blog.