Wine drinking in Italy is an essential way of life. One of the world’s oldest wine producing countries, Italy also produces the largest volume and widest variety of universally popular wines in the world. That status rests squarely on its quality and diversity.
While proof is always in the tasting, here are our picks from among, literally, hundreds of varieties.
This red wine is a product of the wine growing Piedmont region. Beautiful Turin is its capital. Pliny the Elder praised the superb quality of wine produced here. In Italian, nebbia means “fog.” Grape harvesting happens in mid to late October in the foggy season. It could also be because the grape develops a milky covering.
Nebbiolo is a light red wine, highly tannic and famously “tar and rose” scented. It requires several years of aging and is often blended to reduce the strong tannins. The grape does not grow well in other wine growing areas; it requires good drainage and a long growing sub-Alpine climate. These, among other requirements, make the region’s wines unique and a star in Italy’s wine heritage.
Chianti comes from the lovely central Italian region of Tuscany. Its vineyards and olive groves with scattered stone villages are iconic of the Italian landscape.
Produced since the 13th century, Chianti is Italy’s most famous wine. It is forever associated with the “Chianti Mountains” and villages near Florence. Today the Chianti wine making region covers the provinces of Prato, Florence, Arezzo, Pistoia, Pisa and Siena.
Chianti has gone through many changes in its recipe. The wine we know today is the creation of Barone Ricasoli in the late 19th century. The characteristics of the wine are its red, black and cherry colour; mint, spice floral, nutty, various wild herbs aromas and mellow tannins. Generally speaking Chianti is any Sangiovese-based wine and has three very broad classes – classico, superior and super Tuscans. The minimum aging period for Chianti is four months with some prized classes aged up to 38 months.
Trentino-Alto Adige is a wine-producing province in north Italy, with the Dolomite Mountains as a backdrop. The mountains and other geographical features provide a climate ideal for good quality grapes producing dry and sparkling wines and popular reds.
Trentino produces plenty of grappa, a traditional home-made Italian drink. It is derived from the left-over seeds and skins used to make wine. However, it is most famous for several other wine varieties.
The two regions produce wines that reflect its dual German-Italian heritage. Alto-Adige produces Italy’s finest white wines. Here Muller-Thurgau, Rieslings Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Lagrein, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris dominate. Two native red grapes – Teroldego Rotoliano and Marzemino – are the source for two of Italy’s most famous red wines: Carbernet/Merlot and Trentino Rosso.
A mere 25 kms south of Rome in the Lazio region is the ancient, red-tiled roof hamlet of Frascati. This town and its surrounding volcanic-soil hills are forever bound to Rome and the rope is wine! Archaeological research shows wine was produced here as far back as 500 BC – and earlier! The soil is porous, well-drained and rich in potassium. That combination produces large harvests and quantities of wine, all of which has been eagerly lapped up by ordinary Romans, emperors and popes.
Frascati is probably the most famous Italian wine. It is a dry and white wine that comes in two forms – still and sparkling. Two blends form the core of Frascati wines – Trebbiano and Malvasia. The Malvasia is fruity and citrus flavoured while the Trebbiano has a flowery aroma without much flavour. Frascati is inexpensive, which has made it a very popular tavern and cafe tipple.