Looking for a guide to Italian wine? You've come to the right place.
If, like many people, you love wine and have visited Italy for its wine, this guide to Italian wine is for you!
Back home you have your favorite bottles and feel confident enough to order from a wine list.
But in Italy, you're completely lost. Wine lists are often books, or you've never heard of the grapes, or the wine is named for an unfamiliar place.
In any case, you feel a long way from home without the usual suspects of Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir.
Before you ask for a glass of something familiar, keep reading this guide to Italian wine to understand a little more about Italian wine culture and how to feel confident in ordering wine.
If you want to understand a bit about Italian wines, the different grapes, how to navigate a menu, and what wine to order with your food in Italy, you'll find it all here with this guide to Italian wine:
Dionysus rituals involving wine in ancient Greece were linked with women and liberation, whereas by the time of Bacchus in Rome, wine had become available to everyone - rich and poor, and men and women alike.
This tradition of wine being a 'democratic' drink still holds true today. While wine can often be associated with snobbery, this isn't something you need to worry about while here in Italy, as this guide to Italian wine will show.
As far back as the ancient Greeks, Italy was referred to as enotria, or the 'land of vines'.
The Mediterranean climate is ideal for growing grapes with an abundance of sun, unique and varied soils, and lots of mountains and hills that offer ideal sun exposure, ventilation, and soil drainage.
Every single region in Italy is capable of producing great wines, and does!
Italy leads the world in wine production, producing around 54 million hectoliters of wine annually. That's the equivalent of nearly 7 billion standard size wine bottles, every year - one for each person on the planet!
Researchers recently found grape seed resin in clay vases in a Sicilian cave. This would indicate that Italy has been producing wine since 4,000 BCE.
With nearly 6,000 years of winemaking, Italy has had a long time to experiment, understanding which grape is suitable to each area, as well as massale or mass selection, where you select individual vines which are giving you ideal characteristics or are the strongest, cultivating vines, meaning a guide to Italian wine is not always straightforward!
As a result, grapes have often become inextricably linked with specific territories.
This is why wines are commonly named for places, as opposed to the grapes themselves, as it's the territory which gives rise to the flavors and aromatics in each grape.
Planting Chardonnay in Sicily versus the Alto-Adige will give you two completely different results, so naming the wine Chardonnay wouldn't give much of a clue for what would be in your glass.
On top of this, Italy is famous for its biodiversity, with about 1,800 different grape varietals and over 150,000 licensed winemakers - so don't expect to recognize all of them! Explore and have fun with the help of this guide to Italian wine!
One of the most important things to remember in Italy is that most Italian wines are food wines.
They are generally higher in acidity which is great for stimulating your palate, but on their own, they may feel harsh, sour, or sharp.
Don't judge the wine until you've tried it with a bite of food.
Here are a few tips, recommendations, and suggestions for ordering wine in Italy.
Most often if you're at a restaurant, rather than a more simple trattoria, you'll have many more options to choose from than just typical local wines.
Here are some common regions you'll see on a larger list, and some of their associations:
Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino.
These are all Sangiovese-dominant wines, but from different regions, with different vinification and aging techniques.
Sangiovese is often acidic so you'll want some salami, hard cheese or pork to pair with these wines.
If you're doing a Fiorentina steak - go with a Brunello for it's bold, rich nature.
For most pork dishes, a Chianti or Chianti Classico should do. The denomination for Chianti is extremely large so the wines may taste very different, but Chianti is an essential inclusion in any guide to Italian wine.
You will also often see Super Tuscans which are wines produced under the IGT label, often with international grapes like Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah etc, not permitted in high percentages for the DOC/DOCG wines.
These wines tend to be 'safer choices' if you're not comfortable going outside your comfort zone of New World wines from CA, Australia or South America.
Barolo, Barbaresco and other Nebbiolo based wines have come to dominate the regional offerings.
Nebbiolo is one of the most complex grapes for wine enthusiasts to try.
On the lighter and more approachable side, you can opt for a Barbera which is a great, afforable and versatile food wine or try a Dolcetto which is also simple, approachable and great for pizzas and appetizers.
Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco are two examples of wines coming from the volcano, giving you the ability to taste the terroir. Often the red wines have a light charred/smokey taste to them, and the whites from volcanic areas tend to be very minerally and balanced.
There is also Nero d'Avola, a fruity, fresh and acidic red wine from southern Sicily.
If you like natural wines or orange wines, this region is famous for them.
Orange wines are simply a white wine vinified like a red wine, meaning skin contact or maceration, giving a higher presence of amber color, tannins and mouth-feel of a red wine.
Many of the white wines from this region are very aromatic.
Veneto wines are for lovers of big, rich, powerful, reds.
You'll find Amarone or the slightly lighter and more fruiter Valpolicella Ripasso.
Veneto is also known for the more ubiquitous Prosecco.
If you're reading this guide to Italian wine in Rome and want to drink something truly local:
And if you are more of a wine geek or like more extreme wines - try the orange wines from Fruili-Venezia-Giulia (orange just means a white wine with skin maceration, not made from oranges) or ask for a local natural wine.
When in Rome, try some of the local wines with Roman dishes.
It's very difficult to generalize, and often the wines we pair with these dishes at Rimessa Roscioli are very specific or niche pairings, like Schioppettino with Cacio e Pepe.
Every grape will show very different expressions depending on where it's from and how the winemaker vinified it.
This is why letting the experts make suggestions can really help!
Alberto Giacobbe - makes one of the best expressions of Cesanese
Damiano Ciolli - a staple in the region - his wife speaks english for anyone who wishes to do a winery visit
San Giovenale - Habemus is a synthesis of the best of Italy and CA
Casal Pilozzo - his villa was once lived in by Tyrone Power and Orson Welles and the cellar dates to ancient Rome times.
Andrea Occhipinti -
Ribelà - for more extreme natural wine lovers
Food and wine lovers may already be familiar with Roscioli and Rimessa Roscioli.
If you don't, you need to be!
Rimessa Roscioli changed my life 6 years ago because it completely opened up my mind to what wine can really be about - learning, stories, history, proper pairing and human connections.
Nearly all our servers are also sommeliers, they all speak english and are thrilled to speak about wine, the story of where it comes from and let you learn about each wine in a very casual but meaningful way. Plus we have nearly 60 wines by the glass with our Coravin wine pouring system!
Between Roscioli and Rimessa Roscioli, we have nearly 60,000 wine bottles in our cellar - most from artisan winemakers from all over Italy, as well as some French and other countries.
It's a place for both everyday wine lovers and for connoisseurs to come enjoy some of the best Roman dishes along with a unique and memorable bottle of wine.
Have fun, explore, get lost, learn, be open, and most of all don't be afraid or expect to understand it all!
You are always welcome to like what you like, but trying something new is great to spice up any routine, which over time will often have diminishing results.
Wine is as common as water on the table here, and its main job is to enhance and elevate a social experience, so I hope my guide to Italian wine has helped you have a fantastic experience! Buon appetito!