Ah, Italy: the picturesque hills of Tuscany and the cantering of gondoliers in Venice. It’s no wonder this romantic country holds so much allure and wonder for travelers around the globe. And, just like so many incredible locations, experiencing the local food and drink scene is something that makes any trip here even more memorable and immersive. Trying the pasta parmigiana is a given in Italy, but what about the wines? Even if you’re not a regular drinker, wine in Italy is something you should absolutely surrender to during your travels.
Italian Wine Designations
Before we jump into specifics, we should cover a few important classifications that govern Italian wine production. Beginning in the 1960s, the government established criteria to protect the authenticity of the country’s wines. You’ll probably see labels on the necks of Italian wine bottles that indicate their designation.
The Top 6 Italian Wines You Should Know
Barolo and Barbaresco
Produced in the Piedmont region of northern Italy from Nebbiolo grapes, these rich, full-bodied reds age extremely well. Barbaresco is slightly lighter and has a shorter aging requirement than Barolo.
Brunello di Montalcino
Renowned Tuscan wine made completely from Sangiovese grapes. Dark in color with strong red fruit flavors and savory, herbal notes.
A world-famous Tuscan blend made with at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Its tart cherry flavor and high acidity pair well with classic rich Italian dishes.
This parkling wine is typically produced in the Veneto region. Enjoy a refreshing glass with appetizers to start your meal.
A family of popular Tuscan red wines that don’t adhere to DOC and DOCG blending rules – more on that below.
Wine Regions of Italy
Much like pizza in New York City differs from pizza in Chicago, wine from one Italian region can be vastly different from another region. While most regions produce high-quality wine, understanding a bit about the regions, and how they influence the grapes, is key to a deeper appreciation of the glass of wine in front of you.
Wine Seasons in Italy
The next thing to know before ordering wine is to understand the pressing process and the wine seasons. The same grape can produce two entirely different flavors and aroma palates based on when it is pressed and fermented. The wine seasons are generally referred to as “pressings” and broken into two halves - first, or “early” pressings, and late pressing.
A major part of a wine’s taste is determined by when the grapes are picked and crushed. While all grapes produced for wine have a sweeter taste than table grapes, allowing the grapes to mature on the vine a bit later into the season, a “late pressing label” generally amounts to a sweeter wine like a Riesling. Late-season grapes are left on the vine longer than normal in order to naturally dehydrate and increase sugar concentration. Sometimes called “ice wines” in countries where the grapes can freeze on the vine, these dessert wines are often enjoyed after dinner in place of a dessert.