Did you know wine-making in Italy dates back more than 4,000 years, Italy is the world’s leading wine producing country, and wine is made in every single one of Italy’s twenty regions? For visitors to Italy, following the wine map around the country makes a great way to experience its culture and customs, sampling some of its best-known wines and discovering some hidden treasures along the way.
Most of Italy’s most famous wine regions are in the north of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit vineyards and taste unusual wines in the south or on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Wine really plays a key part in Italy’s centuries of traditions!
Piedmont produces some of Italy’s biggest hitters in the wine world. Located in the north-west corner of the country, bordering France and Switzerland, Piedmont has a strong gastronomic tradition that encompasses its best-known wines, the reds Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from the Nebbiolo grape. The region is also known for its whites, such as Gavi and Moscato d’Asti, a popular sweet dessert wine.
Most wineries in Piedmont are small and family-owned, making them ideal for visitors and a great way to learn about local culture. Unless you have a designated driver, you will need to make use of public transport, taxis, or a private guide—basing yourself in the town of Alba, for example, is the ideal choice, not least because of its many restaurants and wine bars. From here, the UNESCO-listed vineyards of Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato are right on your doorstep.
Tuscan wines – Chianti
No name is more synonymous with Italian red wine than Chianti. The heart of the Chianti wine region is between Florence and Siena, providing the perfect excuse to combine a wine and food trip with a visit to both unique cities. The landscape of the Chianti region is picture-postcard, with gentle hills carpeted in vineyards and olive groves stretching as far as the eye can see.
The area is well set up for wine tourism and many wineries offer guided visits with lunch or dinner to sample their wines in the best possible way, paired with local food. The Chianti area is focused around the five small towns of Greve, Panzano, Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina, all of which have their own distinct character and plenty of wineries within a stone’s, or should that be a cork’s, throw!
Tuscan wines – Brunello di Montalcino
South of Florence, the area around the small town of Montalcino has become famous for the production of what might well be Italy’s most prestigious red wine: Brunello di Montalcino. Made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, Brunello has been produced in the Montalcino area since the early 14th century. The region also features a number of lighter wines made to comply with different regulations, such as Rosso di Montalcino.
The town of Montalcino sits atop a charming Tuscan hilltop and boasts plenty of authentic local culture, such as its annual Sagra del Tordo, an archery pageant that keeps local traditions alive. Vineyards worth visiting include Altesino, one of the most well-established, American-owned Il Palazzone, and the superlative Siro Pacenti.
In the north-east of Italy, the Veneto region, home to Venice, is best known for its white wines and prosecco. You may prefer to visit its wineries as a day trip from Venice or spend several days touring the region’s top producers and combining winery stops with delicious food.
The Tommasi estate in Pedemonte will immerse you in the passion of a family that has been producing wine since 1902, while OnePiò, in the Valpolicella Classica zone, was founded by a young wine producer and businesswoman in 2016.
Italy’s gastronomic heartland and home to such premium products as Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan cheese, Emilia-Romagna is also well respected for its wines. Overcoming its once cheap and cheerful reputation, the Lambrusco region is coming into its own thanks to a new trend in independent wineries. The tenet of Italian cuisine is that local food and local wine are both enjoyed at their best together, making the lighter Lambrusco the perfect foil for Emilia-Romagna’s world-famous gourmet products.