Italy is renowned for its wine production, especially its red wines. With a rich history and diverse regional variations, Italian red wines offer a unique and indeed delightful experience for wine lovers (both beginners and experts). In this article, you will find the information that you ABSOLUTLY need to know about Italian red wine regions and the most popular italian red wines, so that you can start your italian wine journey and impress your friend at the next dinner.
The 6 regions for Italian red wine you need to know
Italy encompasses diverse regions, each contributing distinct flavors. It really takes a lot of time to explore the terroirs and particularities of each region. But here are the 6 regions for italian red wines that you absolutely need to know:
Italian red wines region #1: Piedmont
|A typical hilly landscape in Piedmont
Piedmont is known for producing some of the finest italian red wines. The region's hilly landscape is ideal for growing grapes, and it is home to the esteemed Nebbiolo grape variety, used to produce iconic wines like Barolo and Barbaresco, known for their full-bodied nature, complex flavors, and high tannins.
Location: Piedmont is located in the northwest of Italy.
Most important red grapes: Aside from the very famous Nebbiolo, Piedmont is also home to other grape varieties that contribute to the region's diverse wine production. Barbera, Dolcetto, and Freisa are among the red grape varieties that thrive in Piedmont's vineyards. These grapes are used to produce wines that are typically more approachable in their youth, with vibrant fruit flavors and softer tannins.
Most important red wines:
- Barolo - An elegant and complex red wine from Piedmont, crafted from Nebbiolo grapes, featuring intense aromas of red fruits, truffles, and spices.
- Barbaresco - Another notable Nebbiolo-based red from Piedmont, known for its refined character, aging potential, and expressions of red fruit and earthy notes.
- Barbera d'Asti - A vibrant and fruity red wine made from Barbera grapes in Piedmont, offering a more approachable and immediate drinking experience.
- Dolcetto - A softer and fruit-forward red wine from Piedmont, Dolcetto is known for its easy-drinking style with flavors of blackberries and cherries.
A special thing about red wines of Piedmont: One of the defining characteristics of Piedmontese red wines is their ability to age gracefully. Barolo, in particular, is known for its exceptional aging potential (we are talking about decades). These wines often require several years of cellaring to fully develop their complex aromas and flavors. With time, the tannins soften, revealing layers of dark fruits, earthy undertones, and subtle hints of spices.
Italian red wines region #2: Tuscany
|You will fall in love with Tuscany, not only for its wines..
Tuscany is another prominent region for Italian red wines, producing some of the country's most famous and cherished red wines.
Location: Tuscany, situated in central Italy, is renowned for its picturesque landscapes and historic vineyards, creating an ideal environment for winemaking.
Most important red grapes: Sangiovese is the dominant red grape in Tuscany, celebrated for its versatility and distinct flavors of red fruit and herbs. Other notable red grapes include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Most important red wines: Tuscany is home to iconic red wines such as Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Brunello di Montalcino, all primarily made from Sangiovese grapes. The latter aged for a minimum of five years, and resulting in complex and elegant wines.
A special thing about red wines from Tuscany: Tuscany is truly a paradise for wine lovers, offering not only breathtaking landscapes but also a rich winemaking heritage. This legacy has catapulted wines like Chianti Classico and Brunello to global fame.
Italian red wines region #3: Puglia
|Puglia is increasingly gaining international notoriety not only as a tourist region but also as a winemaking region.
Located in the heel of Italy's boot-shaped peninsula, Puglia is a region gaining recognition for its red wine production.
Location: Nestled in the heel of Italy's boot, Puglia, with its sun-soaked landscapes and coastal beauty, is a prominent wine-producing region.
Most important red grapes: Primitivo and Negroamaro are the standout red grape varieties, thriving in Puglia's warm climate and contributing to the region's robust red wines.
Most important red wines: Puglia is renowned for its bold and flavorful red wines, with Primitivo-based wines like Primitivo di Manduria standing out. Negroamaro wines, such as Salice Salentino, also make a significant mark. In fact the region's hot climate is well-suited for producing bold and very robust reds: that’s why Puglian red wines are often characterized by their ripe fruit flavors, intense color, and tannins.
A special thing about red wines from Puglia: Puglia is renowned for its ancient vineyards, some adorned with gnarled, centuries-old vines, which add a unique and historic dimension to its winemaking tradition. While traditionally known for quantity production, the region has increasingly dedicated itself to producing red wines of exceptional quality in recent years.
Italian red wines region #4: Veneto
|Panorama of the hills around Treviso (Veneto)
Veneto, situated in the northeastern part of Italy, is renowned for producing a variety of red wines of very high quality, including (but not only) the popular Valpolicella.
Location: Veneto is a region set in northeastern Italy.
Most important red grapes: The region is famous for cultivating native grapes such as Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. In the Veneto region some winemakers also produce international red grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, to create unique blends with very specific taste profiles.
Most important red wines: Veneto produces notable red wines, including the unique Amarone della Valpolicella, Valpolicella (made from a combination of native grape varieties, primarily Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara), and Bardolino (produced near Garda lake). These wines are known for their fruity, medium-bodied profile, often described as having cherry and spice flavors.
A special thing about red wines from Veneto: Amarone della Valpolicella stands out as a distinctive red wine made from partially dried grapes, resulting in a concentrated and super complex flavor profile.
Italian red wines region #5: Campania
|Not only Amalfi and the sea, Campania is also a producer of high quality red wines.
The region Campania has a long history of red wine production dating back to ancient, Greek, times.
Location: Campania is located in southern Italy.
Most important red grapes: Campania is renowned for the cultivation of Aglianico, a native grape variety that produces bold and robust red wines. Campania also cultivates other red grape varieties, including Piedirosso and the lesser known Sciascinoso. All these grapes contribute to the region's diverse winemaking landscape and tastes, offering different flavor profiles per each palate.
Most important red wines: The region produces a range of red wines, but one standout variety is Aglianico (the the closest Italian red to Cabernet Sauvignon). Aglianico wines are known for their deep color, intense aromas, notes of dark fruits, herbs, and earthiness, and robust tannins. They often display flavors of black fruits, spices, and earthy notes. Campania is celebrated for bold also for its Piedirosso, the rare Sciascinoso, and Taurasi, akin to "Barolo of the South," impresses with its robust, aged profile.
A special thing about red wines from Campania: Campania's red wines are characterized by the region's volcanic soils and Mediterranean climate, imparting very distinct flavors and characteristics to the wines.
Italian red wines region #6: Sicily
|The Mount Etna, typical symbol of Sicily
Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island, has seen a significant improvement in the quality of its red wines in recent years. With a diverse range of grape varieties, Sicilian red wines offer a broad spectrum of flavors and styles, thanks to its different microclimates.
Location: Sicily is an island located in the very South of Italy.
Most important red grapes: Nero d'Avola, the most widely grown red grape in Sicily, produces wines with dark fruit flavors, good acidity, and smooth tannins. This versatile grape imparts dark fruit flavors, refreshing acidity, and velvety tannins, making it a hallmark of Sicilian viticulture.
Most important red wines: Key red wines include Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato, creating a harmonious profile. Etna Rosso, from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, showcases the region's terroir of this special area, offering elegant and mineral-driven expressions. These wines reflect Sicily's commitment to quality winemaking and the artistry of blending grape varieties to capture the island's essence.
A special thing about red wines from Sicily: Sicily's warm climate and volcanic soil around Mount Etna provide ideal conditions for viticulture, fostering the creation of high-quality red wines. The island's unique charm emanates from the meticulous craftsmanship of its winemakers, blending ancient traditions with modern techniques. This harmonious fusion yield red wines that not only reflect Sicily's natural beauty but also narrate the vibrant and dynamic heritage of its winemaking. Sicilian red wines truly capture the essence of this enchanting island.
Italian red wines you need to know
In addition to exploring the renowned wine regions, it's important to highlight some individual Italian red wines that have gained international acclaim. These wines have their own distinctive qualities and represent the excellence of Italian winemaking tradition. Here are the 12 italian red wines that you need to know:
- Chianti (Tuscany)
- Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany)
- Barolo (Piedmont)
- Barbaresco (Piedmont)
- Amarone della Valpolicella (Veneto)
- Super Tuscan Wines (Tuscany)
- Nero d'Avola (Sicily)
- Aglianico (Campania)
- Valpolicella (Veneto)
- Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
- Pinot Noir (Lombardy)
- Barbera (Piedmont)
Italian red wines you need to know #1: Chianti
You can not say that you know something about Italian red wines, if you do not know Chianti. Chianti (and its other types like Chianti Classico, Chianti Riserva, etc.), is also for Italians an icon of Tuscany and has a long-standing reputation for its quality and versatility. Forget the straw-wrapped "fiasco" bottles, Chianti is now an high quality wine that can delight italian red wines beginners and experts. Made primarily (or entirely) from Sangiovese grapes, Chianti wines exhibit a range of flavors, from red cherry and tomato leaf to leather and tobacco. With its medium body and balanced acidity, Chianti is an excellent companion for a variety of dishes, including pasta, grilled meats, and aged cheeses.
Chainti is definitely one of the most popular Italian red wines in Italy and an italian red wine you absolutly need to know (and taste). Regarding tasting, do not worry if you are little bit intimidated by its intensity at first, try to accompany it with the pairing suggestions above and it will for sure become one of your preferred italian red wines.
Italian red wines you need to know #2: Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino is a prestigious Italian red wine produced in the town of Montalcino, Tuscany. Made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes ( you should know by now that Tuscany = Sangiovese), also known as Brunello (that in Italian means "light dark"), this wine undergoes a minimum of five years of aging before release. The extended aging process contributes to its complex aromas of dark fruits, spices, and leather. Brunello di Montalcino pairs exceptionally well with hearty meat dishes and matured cheeses.
The Brunello di Montalcino ranks among the top five Italian red wines. If you liked Chianti and you would like to taste something with more complexity, than a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino should be your next choice.
Italian red wines you need to know #3: Barolo
Barolo, often referred to as the "king of wines," hails from the Piedmont region. Produced solely from Nebbiolo grapes, this wine is renowned for its power, structure, and ability to age gracefully. Barolo wines typically display flavors of ripe cherries, rose petals, and tar. Their pleasant tannins and high acidity make them ideal for pairing with rich, savory dishes such as braised meats and truffles.
The Barolo ranks among the top 5 red wines in Italy, known in the US thanks to the Barolo Boys.
Italian red wines you need to know #4: Barbaresco
Barbaresco is another exceptional red wine originating from the Piedmont region. Like Barolo, Barbaresco is produced from Nebbiolo grapes but offers a slightly softer profile. It showcases elegant aromas of red fruits, violets, and spices. Barbaresco pairs beautifully with roasted meats, game, and aged cheeses.
Italian red wines you need to know #5: Amarone della Valpolicella
Amarone della Valpolicella is a unique iItalian red wine produced in the Veneto region. Made from partially dried grapes, this wine embodies richness and depth. Amarone wines exhibit intense flavors of ripe fruit, dried figs, chocolate, and a hint of sweetness. With their bold character, Amarone wines are often enjoyed as a meditation wine or paired with hearty dishes, such as stews and aged cheeses.
We can confidently assert that Amarone della Valpolicella ranks among the top 5 red wines in Italy, without the fear of failure.
Italian red wines you need to know #6: Super Tuscan wines
Super Tuscan wines are a modern addition to the Italian wine scene. These wines emerged as a response to restrictive wine regulations in Tuscany and often blend traditional Sangiovese with international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s inspired by the famous Bordeaux blend. Super Tuscan wines are known for their full-bodied nature, rich flavors, and excellent aging potential. They pair well with robust dishes like grilled meats and game.
Italian red wines you need to know #7: Nero d'Avola
Nero d'Avola is a red grape variety native to Sicily. Wines made from Nero d'Avola are deeply colored, full-bodied, and display flavors of dark cherry, plum, and spices. With their firm tannins and moderate acidity, Nero d'Avola wines are versatile companions for a variety of dishes, including grilled vegetables, pasta with red sauce, and roasted meats.
Italian red wines you need to know #8: Aglianico
Aglianico is an ancient grape variety that finds its roots in the Campania and Basilicata regions. Aglianico wines are known for their deep color, firm tannins, and complex flavors of black fruits, tobacco, and exotic spices. These wines age exceptionally well and pair beautifully with rich, flavorful dishes like grilled lamb, aged cheese, and game.
Aglianico could be regarded as somewhat of an Italian counterpart to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Italian red wines you need to know #9: Valpolicella
Valpolicella is a red wine from the Veneto region, made primarily from Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes. It is known for its bright cherry flavors, light to medium body, and vibrant acidity. Valpolicella is a versatile wine that can be enjoyed on its own or paired with various Italian dishes, including pasta with tomato-based sauces, pizza, and antipasti.
Italian red wines you need to know #10: Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a red wine from the Abruzzo region, made from the Montepulciano grape. It offers a rich, fruity profile with medium to high tannins and balanced acidity. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is widely appreciated for its approachability and pairs well with a range of Italian cuisine, from pasta dishes to grilled sausages.
Italian red wines you need to know #11: Pinot Noir
Originating in the Burgundy region of France, In Italy the Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italian) is primarily cultivated in the northern regions of Lombardy (specifically: Oltrepò Pavese) and Trentino Alto Adige. Italian Pinot Noir wines showcase a distinct expression influenced by the local terroir. The cooler climates of these regions contribute to the development of elegant and nuanced flavors in the grapes. Producers in these areas are dedicated to the careful cultivation of Pinot Noir vines, emphasizing its sensitivity to terroir and climate. Italian Pinot Noir wines often exhibit a balance of red fruit flavors, subtle earthiness, and vibrant acidity, showcasing the versatility of this Burgundian grape in the Italian terroir. While not as extensive as in some other wine regions, Italy's Pinot Noir production reflects a commitment to quality and an exploration of the grape's potential in diverse terroirs.
Italian red wines you need to know #12: Barbera
Barbera is a prominent red grape variety in Italy, particularly known for its wines in the Piedmont region. The Barbera grape thrives in diverse terroirs, producing wines that are approachable, versatile, and vibrant. Barbera wines are recognized for their deep red color, high acidity, and soft tannins: they are indeed very nice wines.
One of the key features of Barbera is its ability to express the characteristics of the specific subregion in which it is grown. The Barbera d'Asti and Barbera d'Alba appellations in Piedmont are renowned for producing some of the finest examples but Barbera is produced also in other regions such as for example Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, and Liguria. These wines often exhibit flavors of red and dark fruits, along with hints of spice. Barbera's accessibility, food-friendly nature, and the capacity to age well make it a beloved choice among both casual wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike.
Frequent questions about Italian red wines
Now that we've explored the famous regions and notable wines, let's answer some commonly asked questions made by wine lovers about Italian red wines.
What makes Italian red wines unique?
Italian red wines are unique due to the diverse climate, terroir, and indigenous grape varieties found throughout the country. Each region has its own winemaking traditions, resulting in a variety of styles and flavor profiles.
How should Italian red wines be served?
Italian red wines are typically served at a slightly cooler temperature than room temperature, usually around 16-18°C (61-64°F). This helps to showcase their aromas and flavors without overpowering the palate.
What foods pair well with Italian red wines?
Italian red wines have a remarkable ability to complement a wide range of foods. They pair well with classic Italian dishes such as pasta with tomato-based sauces, grilled meats, aged cheeses, and hearty stews. Additionally, the tannins in Italian red wines make them a great match for rich and fatty dishes.
How long do Italian red wines typically age?
The aging potential of Italian red wines varies depending on the specific wine and the region it comes from. Generally, wines from Piedmont, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, can age for 10-20 years or more. Other wines, like Chianti and Valpolicella, are usually best enjoyed within a few years of release.
How many indigenous grapes are they in Italy?
Italy is home to a vast array of indigenous grape varieties, contributing to the country's rich and renowned winemaking tradition: Italy is actually the country with the higher number of indigenous grapes in the world. The exact number of indigenous grape varieties in Italy is challenging to determine precisely due to regional variations, local clones, and historical factors. Over 500 native are grape varieties registered in Italy, grown throughout the country. From Northern to Southern Italy, some well-known examples include Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Montepulciano, and Aglianico, among many others. Each region boasts its own unique and diverse set of grape varieties, adding to the incredible diversity of Italian wines.
Are Italian red wines only made from native grape varieties?
No, while Italy is known for its indigenous (i.e. native) grape varieties, winemakers in some regions have embraced international grape varieties as well. This blend of native and international grape varieties has resulted in wines known as "Super Tuscans," which have gained international recognition and is made with Sangiovese (red grape variety native to Italy, primarily associated with the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria), Cabernet Sauvignon (red grape native from Bordeaux, France, which in the Italian version maintains its international identity), Merlot (red grape native from Bordeaux, France), and Syrah (red grape native from Rhône Valley, France).
Italian red wines allow you to explore the wine heritage that Italy has to offer. With this guide we have tried to summarize and highlight the notions you absolutely must know when it comes to Italian red wines, but there is still much to discover.
Your adventure in the world of Italian wine awaits – salute!