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Italian Wine Regions: Wine Labels and Wines of Italy

Learn about the Italian wine regions, their wine and their labels. Italy makes wine throughout the region. Some of the wine can be from the absolutely stunning, to the mediocre and everything in between.

Everyone in Italy you meet either makes wine or knows someone who makes wine. To them it is no more scientific than making a loaf of bread, or throwing a pizza into the oven. Jars of the stuff are stored in cantinas (cellars) of local homes and farmhouses along with the much loved prosciutto hanging from the rafters.

It has been our experience that the further south you travel through these Italian wine regions, the cheaper it becomes to buy. 

Our most hilarious wine purchase was many years back where I had found out

Grapes on the vine

that there was a Cantina Sociale, a co-operative winery, not far from Cortona where we were staying where one could dispense your own wine. So one morning we set off in great anticipation. Well, we did find it, eventually, tucked away in some back roads in the middle of nowhere.


 

We ventured in, armed with our soft-drink bottles and anything else we could lay our hands on to fill. 

However, after much broken English and Italian going around we realized that we couldn't use our containers but would have to go up the road to the local petrol station that would sell us a suitable vessel.

Well, it looked like a jerry can, it probably was a jerry can, and we proceeded jubilantly back to the cantina. We were ushered into a cavernous room lined with what looked like petrol bowsers where we would make a choice between either red wine or white. Rather fitting for our container!

After getting our red wine back to the villa we proceeded to share it out with our family and friends. The general consensus was that it tasted like lawnmower fuel. However, it did get better after each glass, and with some determination and little persuasion, it was soon consumed.

italian wine pumps at a cantina known as loose wine

Nowadays, we are descerning, and have sought out cantinas where you can buy good "loose wine" or Sfuso , as it is locally known. It comes in glass demi-john 5 liter bottles, is dirt cheap and is very palatable.

 Our favorite wine bought like this comes from a very good vineyard in Montepulciano, for a fraction of the cost that it would cost to buy in normal 750 ml bottles with a fancy label for the  same wine.

 Unless Italians are having important guests, and unless they make their own wine, they always buy "loose wine" for everyday drinking.


Loose wine pumps at a local cantina.

"The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star." 

                                                 ~  Leonardo da Vinci,


Understanding Italian Wine Labels for the Wine Regions of Italy

  • Classico: Usually the original heartland of a wine zone
  • Cru: Usually a specially designated vineyard
  • DOC: Denominazione di Origine Conrollata, the attempt at controlling the quality and quantity of the wines produced. Some say, not that successfully.
  • DOCG: Denominazione di Origine Conrollata e Garantita. With this label you are getting a reliably good bottle of wine.
  • Fizzante: Slightly sparkling wine
  • Riserva: Wine that has been aged under specific conditions
  • Spumante: Sparkling wine
  • Tenuta: Wine estate or smallholding
  • Vendemmia: Vintage
  • Vino da Tavola: Surprisingly good table wine

Loose wine, Sfuso in 5 liter bottle

Sfuso, or Loose Wine in a 5 liter bottle

Italian Wine Regions: Southern Italy

The main wine producing areas in this region are Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Sardinia and Sicily.

With many days of sunshine, it is not too difficult to grow some good wines here. Apulia produces more wine than any other wine region of Italy and Negroamaro is the region's hallmark. it is a deep rich grape that can produce a smashingly good red wine. Negroamaro means 'black and bitter' and wines made from these grapes are dark, dry and full of flavor.

Another grape grown in the Apulia region is the Primitivo grape. It makes a delicious red which tastes of berries, is spicy and almost raisin-like in taste.

Sicily produces some of the regions finest white wines, growing more white grapes than red. However, Sicilian grapes such as Nero d'Avola provide good, strong dry reds. Its climate also makes it a good area for dessert wines, Marsala is a classic wine in this category.

Some of the top producers in this wine region are Regaleali, Rapitala, Corvo, and Donnafugata. Sicily is famous for its dessert wines and some of the most famous are: Moscato from Lipari, Malvasia from Messina, and Zibibbo which is a delicious white liqueur wine. From the south-west, the Marsala wines developed wines that have English names such as Woodhouse & Inghams.

My favorite wine from this region which is well priced, and extremely smooth is Montepulciano d' Abruzzo. A very nice wine from Abruzzo and comes highly recommended.


Italian Wine Regions: Lazio

Within Lazio one finds Rome, and it is in the surrounding hills that vines have thrived with a warm climate and fertile soil. White wine is the more favored variety to grow and the best known white wine is Frascati, a full-bodied dry white wine.

Other producers in the region which make white wine in the same style are Castelli, Colli Albani, Marino, Romani and Velletri. The main grape used in this wine is the Trebbiano.


Italian Wine Regions: Central Italy

italian wine region in tuscany with a hilltop village in the background Chianti is a well-known Italian wine region of Tuscany

Perhaps this is the wine that most people are familiar with. Chianti was being quaffed by the gallon in the UK long before it became fashionable to drink Italian wine. In those days Chianti wasn't exactly from the top shelf; let's just say it was a bit rough. However, much has changed, and Chianti these days is very drinkable, and Chianti Classico is produced in the heart of the Chianti zone and can be laid down for 4-8 years.

My favorite Italian wine is Brunello di Montalcino. Very far removed from that cheap plonk I was describing earlier. This is a sophisticated, deep red with complex flavors that leaves me weak at the knees. That's when I can afford a bottle! This of course can be laid down for a decade or two and would still taste sublime.


Italian Wine Regions: Northwest Italy

This wine region is well know for 2 of Italy's finest red wines; Barbaresco and Barolo. Barbaresco is a powerful Italian wine made with the Nebbiolo grape. Barolo is complex, firm of tannins and also made with the same Nebbiolo grape. The most pronounced difference between the two wines is that the tannins of Barbaresco tend to soften quicker, which can make the wines more approachable to drink at an earlier age but won't allow it to age for as long as a traditionally made Barolo could.

These vineyards are found in Piedmont just southwest of Turin, but it is not just red wine that Piedmont is famous for. They also make a very respected white wine with the Moscato being Piedmont's most respected white.

Other wines in the region that are well-respected within the wine industry are Barbera d'Alba and Dolcetto d'Alba.


So, as you can see, there is no such thing as Italian wine, just as there is no such thing as Italian food. Each of these is a misnomer. What you have when sampling these wines of Italy are distinctive Italian wine regions each of which has their own grape varieties which produces distinctive regional wines. What can be found in the south cannot be replicated in the North, or even Central Italy, as the climatic conditions are different, as is the soil.

These Italian wines should be celebrated for their uniqueness and variety that the happy traveler can sample through their quest for the true Italy.

Books on Italian Wine


OTHER RESOURCES:

Piedmont Food and Wine

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