Italy governs its wine industry in a similar manner as the French by using an appellation system of wine categorization. There are 21 regions that contain a rather large number of red and white varietals. Many of these grapes, such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah, are common throughout many parts of the new and the old world.
Other varietals such as, Barbera, Corvina, Molinara, Nebbiolo, Rondinella, Sangiovese, and Trebbiano, are more exclusive to Italy. It is these grapes that give Italian wines their distinguished flavour.
Italian white wines come in varieties that run from sparkling and sweet to smooth and fruity to crisp and dry. The following variety of whites will generally be found at your local wine merchant:
Asti is a sparkling wine made from Moscato grapes in Piedmont. It is a sweet wine and low in alcohol, with fruity and floral flavors.
Frascati is composed mainly from Trebbiano grapes. It is generally dry or slightly off-dry, light-bodied, and un-oaked.
Gavi is made from Cortesa grapes which create this dry, medium-bodied wine from Piedmont. It is generally un-oaked or slightly oaked.
Orvieto is generally a medium-bodied wine made mainly from Grechetto grapes in the Umbria region. It is dry, and crisp, with fruit undertones.
Pinot Grigio is a light-bodied, dry, crisp wine that contains no oak. It is made from Pinot Gris grapes.
Soave is produced in the Veneto region. This wine mainly consists of Garganega grapes, which give it a dry, crisp, un-oaked, and light- or medium-bodied flavour.
Verdicchio is a dry, medium-bodied, crisp white wine. It is made from Verdicchio grapes in the Marche region.
As with the whites, the reds come in a variety of styles.
Amarone is a full-bodied wine produced from partially-dried Corvina grapes. It is a dry and firm wine but does have a hint of sweetness. It is best paired with rich, savoury foods or flavourful cheeses.
Barbaresco is similar to Barolo (described below), as it is produced from the same Nebbiolo grapes. However, it is generally a little lighter in body and a little less expensive. This wine is one that can usually be laid down for some time. It is best from between 8 and 15 years of age.
Barbera is mainly produced in the Piedmont region. It is characteristically dry, light- or medium-bodied, and has an intense berry flavor, lots of acidity, and but little tannin.
Barolo is one of my personal favourites. It is dry and full-bodied. Barolo is produced from Nebbiolo grapes in Piedmont and contains complex aromas and flavours. It is a wine that improves with age and is best enjoyed at 10 to 20 years of age, depending on the producer.
Brunello di Montalcino is a full-bodied, intense, concentrated wine produced from Sangiovese grapes from Tuscany. Dry and quite tannic, it is best enjoyed when it’s at least 15 years old.
Chianti is a very dry, medium-bodied, moderately tannic wine that is created mainly from Sangiovese grapes from Tuscany. “Chianti Classico” is often the best. Wines labeled “riserva”, and more expensive wines, are generally more concentrated and can be aged for a period of time.
Lambrusco is most commonly a sweet, fizzy wine. It is made from Lambrusco grapes usually from the Emilia-Romagna region. These wines are also available in both dry and sparkling styles.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is generally a medium-bodied wine but there are some lighter variations. It is a very easy-drinking wine that is produced in the Abruzzo region.
Salice Salentino is a dry, full-bodied wine produced from Negroamaro grapes in part of the Puglia region. Generally it has intense aromas and flavors of ripe, plummy, baked fruit, and rich, dense texture. It is best paired with robust foods so as not to over-power the meal.
Valpolicella is a medium-bodied wine created mainly from Corvina grapes in the Valpolicella area of the Veneto region. It is dry, lean, and only moderately tannic, with more or less intense cherry aromas and flavors. Some versions, such as single-vineyard wines, are particularly good.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is medium-bodied, dry, and lean, with red cherry flavor, similar to Chianti but slightly fuller. It is produced from Sangiovese grapes in Montepulciano, in the Tuscany region.
If you are not familiar with Italian wines there are a number that I would recommend trying. If you like white wine, Pinot Grigio and Verdicchio are worth a taste. From a red perspective, I suggest both Chianti and Valpolicella. There is a good selection of both available in a moderate price range. However, if you are willing to spend a little more, Barbaresco and Barolo are well worth the investment.