Most wine drinkers are familiar with Chianti and Prosecco, but Italy offers several hundred unique varieties of wine beyond what is well-known around the world. There are many types of Italian wines, some of which are less commonly known even by seasoned wine enthusiasts.
However, Italian wine doesn't have to be intimidating. Keep reading to learn about Italian wines, so you can order and explore Italian wines with confidence.
What Are Italian Wines?
Italian wine refers to any wine produced from grapes grown in one of Italy's 20 regions. Wine – particularly red wine – is a major part of Italian culture and is commonly served with meals. Of all the countries in the world, Italy produces the most wine. However, Italy is not the largest exporter of wine, indicating that much of Italy's homegrown wine is consumed domestically.
The highest-quality Italian wines will contain one of the following seals:
- DOC: Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin)
- DOCG: Denominazione di Controllada e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin)
Although both of these seals provide quality assurance of Italian wine, the DOCG label indicates you have one of the very best Italian wines. The DOCG label comes as a stamp on a light pink paper strip that covers the top of the wine bottle.
A Brief History of Italian Wine
Italian wine has a rich history that spans thousands of years. The ancient Greeks recognized Italy's potential for winemaking after settling in Southern Italy. Back then, the Etruscans also produced wine in Central Italy, and they are likely the ones who brought winemaking to France in 525 B.C. Later, the Romans improved upon Greek and Etruscan grape-growing and winemaking techniques to help create wine that more closely resembles what we drink today.
Italy and its neighbors, France and Spain, have become hotspots of wine production. These regions all share similar climates that are amenable to grape-growing and contain terroirs that help cultivate delicious wines. (A terroir refers to a landscape's elements such as temperature, humidity, rainfall amount, water sources, soil types, mineral content of soils, and more. Italy is known for terroirs that create unique flavors and aromas in Italian wines.)
Italian Wine Regions
Italy is divided into 20 regions, all of which produce Italian wines. Here we will list the top 8 wine-producing Italian regions in order of wine production volume.
Situated in Northern Italy on the Adriatic Sea, Veneto is one of the most well-known Italian wine-producing regions.
In addition to being famous for Prosecco, Veneto is known for producing Valpolicella and Bardolino, two wines that have had DOC status for decades. Veneto was the first region to embrace the Strada del Vino, the "Wine Road" many enthusiasts travel to learn about Italian vineyards and wines.
In Southern Italy, Puglia is the top producer of domestic Italian wines. Many grapes grown in Puglia are considered top tier for winemaking.
In addition to creating their own wines, Puglia grape-growers also provide grapes to be used in Vermouth and shipped to Northern France for use in French wines.
3. Emilia Romagna
Emilia Romagna is a seaside region in Northern Italy. It is known for its long winemaking history and its many DOC-certified wine varieties. Lambrusco is the most famous wine from this region.
Sicily has become a more popular Italian winemaking region in recent years. Home to hot temperatures and volcanic soil, Sicily is known for producing affordable table wines and dessert wines.
If you aren't sure where to start, check out the interesting varieties of wine that come from the community surrounding Mount Edna.
Although Abruzzo is less well-known than other Italian winemaking regions, this mountainous Central Italian area produces many fine wines.
The region best-known for the Montepulciano grape, which is often used in chianti and blended Italian reds.
Piedmont, located in Northern Italy along the French border, is home to many DOC and DOCG award-winning wines.
Piedmont wines are some of the most popular Italian wines in the United States. Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera are some of the most well-known grape varietals commonly used in Piedmont red wines.
A common tourist destination, Tuscany – just southwest of Piedmont – is one of the most famous Italian winemaking regions.
Tuscan wines are made of grapes grown in picturesque vineyards that are cooled by air rolling off of the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea. Although Sangiovese is the most commonly grown grape in Tuscany, the region is also well-known for Chianti and Super Tuscan blended reds.
Although not world-famous like Tuscany, Lombardy is a Northern Italian wine region that produces solid red wines.
Although some wines produced in Lombardy are exported, most Lombardy wines are consumed within Italy. Lombardy has six distinct grape-varietal zones; the Valtellina valley and the Brescia province are the most well-known of these zones.
Types of Italian Wine
Italy produces a wide variety of wines. In the United States, the most commonly consumed Italian wines are:
- Pinot Grigio
Clearly, Americans tend to stick to the basic sparkling white wine exports and miss out on the red wines that come with rich Italian history and culture. To delve deeper into Italian wines, you will want their top reds. We suggest starting with the following Italian wines and varietals:
JJ Buckley Fine Italian Wine
JJ Buckley offers superb quality wines to fit every occasion. Our enormous wine collection includes various types of Italian wines for you to try and savor.
If you are unsure about what Italian wine to start with, JJ Buckley provides one-on-one wine consultations. We will help you choose the best Italian wine for your next dinner party and answer questions about Italian wines as you expand your wine collection.