Italy is the largest wine-producing nation in the world and has 20 wine regions. Unlike other countries where grape growing is largely restricted to specific geographical areas, Italian wine is produced nearly everywhere from the top of the boot to the tip of the toe.
Most serious wine drinkers are well acquainted with Tuscany’s Chiantis and Piedmont’s Barolos and Barbarescos. However, with so many wine regions, each having its own unique terroir, and with over a thousand indigenous grapes, there are many great quality, lesser known Italian wines.
The next time you are at your favourite wine store, try a bottle from one of these lesser-known wine regions.
This southern region is referred to as ‘the green lung of Italy’. Historically, the area was known for the bulk wine production of Montepulciano and Trebbiano, but wineries are working on changing that. There is a native light-skinned white grape varietal called Pecorino, that was once thought to be extinct, but is now gaining popularity thanks to its ability to produce ripe and refreshing wines.
Calabria, which is situated at the toe of the boot, has been producing wine for more than 2,500 years. It’s best known for a regional style called Ciro Rosso, made from the Gaglioppo grape. It is a powerful, flavourful red with earthy notes and persistent fragrance.
Located in southern Italy, east of Naples, Campania is primarily home to the Aglianico varietal. It has very high acidity and tannins, similar to Piedmont’s Nebbiolo grape. Thus, Campania is sometimes referred to as the ‘Nebbiolo of the south’. It produces an earthy, hearty red wine that goes well with fatty meats and spicy sauces, and like its Piedmont counterpart, has tremendous aging potential.
Emilia-Romagna is one of the oldest wine-producing regions and spans most of central Italy. It’s known for Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine made from the grape of the same name. The wine ranges from dry to sweet, depending on the producer. It has high acidity and notes of berry.
Friuli is situated in northeastern Italy between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. The region was historically known for its white wines, many of which were created from the area’s Friulano grapes. However, it is now receiving international attention for its red wines, which are composed of international varietals such as Merlot.
Garda, the largest lake in Italy, is in the alpine foothills, midway between Venice and Milan. There are several small wine regions scattered along its shores, each with its own specialty. For example, the Bardolino region produces wines from Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella varietals, similar to those grapes of the Valpolicella region.
The Lugana region has developed a reputation for bold complex white wines from locally grown Trebbiano grapes.
The Langhe region is found between the Barolo and Barbaresco appellations in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. Just like Barolo and Barbaresco, Langhe makes its most acclaimed wines from local Nebbiolo grapes.
Liguria is in north-west Italy to the south of Piemonte. The eastern half of the region is home to the famous wine-producing Cinque Terre area, while the western side, Riveria Ligure di Ponente, is known for several highly distinctive wines. Rossese is unique, said to be unlike any other Italian red. It’s been likened to both Dolcetto and Valpolicella and yet boasts its own unique complex character.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. There are several underrated indigenous wine varietals found there such as Vermentino, Cannonau and Mirto. Wines made from the white grape Vermentino are crisp, acidic and fruity.
The island’s dominant red variety is Cannonau, which is very similar to France’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It has robust fruit and earthy flavours.
Sicily is an island off the coast of the tip of Italy’s boot. Its finest red wines are made from Nero d’Avola grapes which grow in arid vineyards and produce rich wines with intense flavour. Similar to Syrah, it has the ability to produce a hearty, fruity and sometimes tannic wine. There are also reds that are produced from the Nerello Mascalese varietal that create elegant, expressive wines.
In western Italy, south of Umbria is the town of Taurasi. The local vineyards contain Aglianico, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese grapes which are Italy’s three most distinguished varieties.
Umbria is located in the middle of central mainland Italy. It is bordered by Tuscany to the north and west, Marche to the west and Lazio to the south. According to some experts, Umbria is home to some of the most undervalued wines in Italy, ranging from crisp, dry Grechetto to bold, ruby red Sagrantino. Sangiovese grapes are also popular in Umbria.