Italy is a powerhouse when it comes to the production of wine.
The country is the first in the world when it comes to the production of wine and offers an enviable variety of grapes and wines that reflect the diversity of its terroir, spanning for coastal landscapes to higher altitudes and inland mountainous soil.
The world of Italian wine is complex and overwhelming for the non expert: this is a quick overview and a beginners’ guide to Italys’ wine region to help get you started in our Italian wine journey.
Italian wine zones and regions at a glance
Vineyards can be found all over Italy and an easy way to get started with different localities and locations is thinking of the country as divided into 4 wine zone, each comprising of some of the 20 administrative regions that make up Italy.
The North West – with the administrative regions of Liguria, Lombardy, Valle D’Aosta and Emilia
The North East – Veneto, Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia
The Center – Romagna, Lazio, Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Molise, Abruzzo
The South and the Islands– Puglia ,Campania, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia
The North West
The North West of Italy is one of the most important wine zones in the whole of the Italian peninsula and is responsible for the success of classic wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco.
It is an area characterized by the presence of the high Alps mountain range but also by the sea, which kisses the shores of Liguria. The most peculiar geographical characteristics of this area is a series of steep, narrow hills that stretch northbound from the Ligurian coastline into Piedmont: Le Langhe.
Blessed with south-facing slopes and a limestone-rich soil, le Langhe is home to a peculiar type of grape, Nebbiolo, that makes some of the most famous wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco, both originally from here.
Piedmont is also famous for wines such as the full bodied Barbera, the sweet sparkling Asti and the still white wine Gavi.
The North West of Italy is also the home of the wines from Franciacorta, in Lombardy, and famous mostly for its sparkling, some of such high quality to compete with French champagne.
A notable wine from this region and from Emilia in particular, is also the Lambrusco, one of the most misunderstood and mistreated of all types of wine.
While the most commercially available varieties of Lambrusco is in mosy cases a sickly sweet frothy concoction, real Lambrusco from the area of Modena is a surprisingly good wine: proper DOC Lambrusco is usually dry, refreshing, sparkly and with moderate alcohol – the perfect companion to parma ham and parmesan, also from this region.
The North East
the north east of Italy stretches from the Alps to the flat coastline of the Adriatic and is the wine region produces a staggering variety of wines (over 50 variety of grapes grow here) that range from sparkling whites to good reds and dessert wines.
In terms of productions, the biggest concentration of vineyards is between Verona and Trentino, where the vineyards benefit from the shelter of the Alps and the mitigating effect of Lake Garda: this is the area producing Valpolicella (including Amarone), Bardolino and Prosecco di Valdobbiadene as well as Soave, the biggest Italian white wine DOC.
While the Veneto region produces the vast majority of the wines from this part of Italy, many delicious wines are also made from grapes grown in Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia: worth a mention are the local varieties of Gewurtztraminer, Malvasia and Refosco
The wine producing regions of Central Italy
Central Italy is one of the best know wine producing regions of Italy outside of wine circles mostly thanks to some popular varieties such as Chianti and the powerful tourism machine behind this area, which makes it accessible also to wine novices.
The central part of Italy is a varier terrain characterised by the Appennines in the centre and coastal plains both to the its East and West.
The area is mostly associated with good everyday wines such as Orvieto (Umbria), Sangiovese (Romagna), Montepulciano d’Abruzzo but with a notable exception: Tuscany, geographically part of this region, has high-quality wines that rival those from Piedmont and are a large part of Itay’s fame as a winemaking country.
When it come to Tuscany, it is handy to think about the region as organised into two different wine areas: the central hills between Florence and Siena and the Thyrrenian Coastal zone, close to the border with Lazio.
Both area produce wines of excellent quality, especially the red and delicious Morellino di Scansano, from the area of Maremma, the elegant white Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the full flavoured Brunello di Montalcino and of course the famous Chianti.
This is also the area of the so-called vin santo, which is a famous Tuscany dessert wine usually served with cantucci or cantuccini (biscuits).
South Italy and the islands
The wine production of Southern Italy is dominated but the wines from Puglia (Apulia), by far the biggest producers in the area but also counts some important wines from Sicikt, especially the region around Mount Etna.
Puglia produces a great variety of grapes including Negroamaro and Primitivo, which is a clone of California’s Zinfandel and has risen in popularity especially ib the last few years.
Famous red wines from the area worth tasting are Salice Salentino and Primitivo di Manduria while white wine lovers should look at the rea of Locorotondo, which makes serous white only wines.
Sicily also offers a huge variety of grapes that are at the basis of famous wines.
Worth knowing are passito wines, a luscious dessert wine made from dried grapes made form ether Moscato (Moscato di Pantelleria) or Malvasia (Malvasia delle Lipari) but we should not forget the beautiful red of Nero d’Avola, probably the most famous Sicilian wine in the world.
Mama Loves A Drink advocates quality over quantity. Always drink responsibly!