Italian wine can be considered the last frontier of wine knowledge. This is because there are more than 350 indigenous wine grape varieties popular in Italy.
Learn the basics of how to read an Italian wine list so you can order with confidence when you go tasting. You don’t have to be intuitive about Italian wine to have a great time, having great knowledge.
Explore the Italian wine list
Most wine lists don’t give you much information except price, producer, and vintage. It’s great to have a bartender nearby to guide you. However, sometimes there is no one to support you. So where do you start?
Italian wine analysis
The name of the producer can be a single producer like Valentini, or a cooperative like Produttori del Barbaresco (56 team members) or a larger brand of wine like Ruffino. Knowing which winery is from can help you in understanding whether a wine is rare or easy to find.
Type of wine
Like France, Italian wines are often named after a region and each region is classified. For example, a wine labeled Chianti Classico DOCG coming from a Chianti sub-region in Tuscana requires a minimum composition of 80% Sangiovese grapes. In addition, a “Name Wine” such as Ruffino “Modus” on the Italian wine list (classified as IGT) is an atypical blend of unclassified grapes. Super Tuscan falls into this category.
Each of Italy’s 20 wine regions specializes in different wines and different grape varieties. Learning the basics of the top Italian wine regions will help you read the list of Italian Wines.
The variation of the classical element greatly influenced Italian production. As a general rule, older wines tend to have less tannin.
What is Super Tuscan Wine?
An “Alternative” wine of Italian alcohol law.
The term Super Tuscan was coined in the 1970s by Italian winemakers and wine writers to describe a wine from Tuscany.
Prior to 1992 wines from Tuscany, made from grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, were classified as low quality Vino da Tavola. Producers such as Antinori and his wines Tignanello and Tenuta san Guido’s Sassicaia have circumvented this system by creating high-quality wines with untested grapes. Super Tuscan wines are now known as IGT.
Italian wine region
Italy consists of 4 major wine regions and includes 20 unique regions.
• Valle d’Aosta
• Trentino-Alto Adige
• Friuli-Venezia Giulia
In the US, most Italian wine lists include wines from Toscana, Piedmont, Abruzzo, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Alto Adige, Puglia and Friuli. Rarer Italian wine regions include Lazio, Liguria, Calabria and Basilicata.
9 popular Italian red wine grapes
A grape with many names grown throughout Italy. Sangiovese is the main grape variety of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino in Tuscany.
A grape known for its aged high tannin wines from Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont.
A dark-skinned grape that produces wines with lower tannins and high acidity grown primarily in Piedmont, Italy.
A grape and also the Emilia-Romagna region (and part of Lombardy) that produces the light sparkling red wine of the same name.
It is a popular grape grown in central and southern Italy. Easily confused with the vino Nobile de Montepulciano which is actually Sangiovese from the city of Montepulciano in Tuscany. Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo is a dark rustic wine with full flavor, black pepper spice and high tannin.
A style of wine from Veneto made with a blend of grapes (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) that are partially dried to create a richer, high alcohol wine with a hint of sweetness in the finish. .
Ripasso della Valpolicella is a style of wine from Veneto made with three grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Produced by fermenting fresh juices with residue left over from Amarone winemaking for added fullness.
A grape from Southern Italy that is closely related to Zinfandel.
A Southern Italian wine grape that is sometimes blended with Primitivo to add tannin and structure. Wines from Puglia that are primarily Negroamaro include Salice Salento Rosso, Brindisi Rosso and Squinzano Rosso.
9 popular Italian white wine grapes
The most familiar Italian zesty white wine grape comes from France (Pinot Gris). It is actually a Pinot Noir mutant, a grape with a reddish-gray color. It is grown mainly in Alto Adige, Friuli and Lombardy, where it is known as Oltrepò Pavese.
aka Ugni Blanc. Trebbiano is the most planted white wine grape in Italy and is also used to make Cognac and Balsamic Vinegar. Trebbiano is found as a blend in white wines throughout Italy. It is called Orvieto DOC in Umbria.
The white wine grape that makes up the majority of the grapes in the regional wine called Soave (pronounced “Swah-vey”) in Veneto. The Soave Classico DOC is often baked in a simliar style to toast the Chardonnay with a more almond-like aroma.
The grape in the region’s wines is called Cortese di Gavi or just Gavi from Piedmont. A highly acidic white wine with light citrus and floral aromas in a similar style to Pinot Grigio or Chablis from France.
A sweet and slightly bitter white wine grape most grown in the Marche. Also used in Soave, where it is called Trebbiano di Soave (unlike Trebbiano).
A Southern Italian white wine grape from Campania with floral, citrus and grainy aromas often blended in regional white wines alongside Trebbiano. Fiano di Avellino DOCG is 100% Fiano.
A grape from the Piedmont region most notable for the region’s Roero DOC white wine.
A grape from Sardinia and also popularly grown in Tuscany. Vermentino is a clear white, often similar in taste to Sauvignon Blanc with a more bitter taste not unlike grapefruit.
Moscato aka Muscat is a very aromatic grape known for its sweet and bubbly version, Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont.
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