The Diversity of Italy’s Wine Grape Varieties

The Diversity of Italy’s Wine Grape Varieties

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


Glass of red wine on a ledge overlooking the rolling landscape of TuscanyItaly is a land blessed with the perfect conditions for grapes and wine. It has somewhat varied landscapes, with terrain that features coastal cliffs, deep valleys, and lakes, as well as sun-drenched plains, rugged mountains, and gently undulating hills. 

‌This beautiful country has a climate that shifts as much as the view, contributing to seemingly infinite microclimates that bring forth a bounty of plant life. This complexity makes Italy one of the most grape-diverse countries in the world and gives it an incredible array of both indigenous and adopted varieties. 

‌For Italian wine connoisseurs or those simply curious about new grape varieties, there is much to discover within Italy’s borders. Let's explore the diversity of Italy’s wine grapes.

Italy’s Wine Regions

With more than 350 authorized grape varieties across 20 wine regions, Italy is a land that keeps on giving. Its rich wine history dates back more than 3,500 years, with ancient roots extending from Calabria to Emilia-Romagna and beyond. 

‌Northern wine regions include:

  • Aosta Valley
  • Piedmont 
  • Lombardy
  • Liguria
  • Trentino-Alto Adige
  • Emilia-Romagna
  • Veneto
  • Fruili-Venezia Giulia

‌The central wine regions are:

  • Tuscany
  • Umbria 
  • Abruzzo
  • Marche
  • Lazio

‌Southern wine regions comprise:

  • Campania
  • Calabria
  • Molise
  • Puglia
  • Basilicata
  • Sardegna
  • Sicily

‌Each wine region has its own climate, terroir, and winemaking style, so the same grape variety may taste very different in two distinct regions. Even from producer to producer, each grape may reveal unique complexities and an incredible depth of character.

Grape Varieties and Where They Grow

Read on for a look at some of the most common wine grape varieties in Italy, where they grow, and which wines they produce.

Northern Italy

Nebbiolo 

This dark-skinned beauty produces wines high in tannins and acidity, with a delicate ruby red color and a bold flavor reminiscent of tar and roses. Nebbiolo grows in fog-driven Piedmont where it produces robust wines like Barolo and its counterpart Barbaresco. It also grows in Lombardy where it’s known as Chiavennasca, yielding more approachable and slightly earthier wines like Rosso di Valtellina and Sforzato. 

Glera

A white-wine grape, Glera is more famously known as Prosecco. It received a name change in 2009 to differentiate those wines produced in the DOC and DOCG regions from the sparkling wines produced elsewhere using Glera grapes. 

Glera grows mainly in the temperate climates of Veneto and Fruili-Venezia Giulia, offering a refreshing acidity, an aromatic profile of citrus, apple, pear, and honey, and a structure perfect for sparkling wine like Prosecco.  

Lambrusco

Lambrusco is a collective name that comprises nearly 60 subvarieties of a grape that’s become synonymous with red sparkling wine. Lambrusco varies in color from ruby red to deep red-purple, and the taste often ranges from cherry and blackberry to watermelon, cream, and strawberry, with additional notes of violets, rose, rhubarb, and earth. 

This red wine grape comes from the Emilia-Romagna region and produces sparkling wines like Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, and Lambrusco Maestri.

Central Italy

Sagrantino

A dark-colored grape, Sagrantino is the hometown pride of sun-drenched Umbria. This thick-skin variety has one of the highest tannin levels of all, and it yields wines with a gorgeous inky blue-purple color and a flavor of dark red, plummy fruits drenched in cinnamon. Producers use this bold grape to produce wines like Montefalco Sagrantino and Montefalco Rosso.

Sangiovese

Sangiovese accounts for more vineyard acreage than any other grape variety in Italy. One of the most important varieties for creating Tuscan wine, it grows well not only in Tuscany but also in Umbria, Abruzzo, Marche, Lazia, and Campania.

This blue-black grape yields wines with excellent balance, high acidity, and firm tannins. Its flavor delights with everything from savory to fruity notes, offering up dark stonefruits, cherries, earthy herbaceousness, or sweet tobacco. Sangiovese appears in Super Tuscan blended wines, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Chianti. It's counterpart, Sangiovese Grosso, is found in Brunello di Montalcino

Trebbiano

Trebbiano is the collective name for a group of six grape subvarieties, although Trebbiano Toscano is the most widely planted of these six. This light-skinned grape grows mainly in Tuscany but also appears in Umbria and Lazio, producing wines with crisp acidity and notes of peach, lemon, and green apple. 

Trebbiano yields refreshing wines like Orvieto and features in blended wines like Frascati Superiore and Cannellino di Frascati.

Montepulciano

After Sangiovese, Montepulciano is the next-most-planted variety in Italy. This dark-skinned grape loves the lengthy growing seasons of central and southern Italy and is a common variety in Abruzzo, Molise, and Marche vineyards. 

Montepulciano produces a deep purple wine with higher acidity and grippy tannins. It has notes of dark cherry, boysenberry, chocolate, dried oregano, and cloves. Its most famous wine is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but it also produces Rosso Concero, Rosso Piceno, and Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo.

Cabernet Sauvignon

With their hot summers and rolling hills, Tuscany and Sicily are ideal growing locales for Cabernet Sauvignon. This red wine grape variety is highly tannic and a major component in Italian Super Tuscan wines. While a transplant from France, its Italian expression has intense dark fruit notes mixed with herbs, tobacco, chocolate, and savory bell pepper. 

Southern Italy

Aglianico

Intense flavors, elevated acidity, and tannins are the characteristics of Aglianico. This dark-skinned grape grows in Campania and Basilicata and yields earthy red wines with full body and excellent aging potential. Aged wine from Aglianico grapes reveals plenty of sweetened fruits, spice, and smoky, savory herbs. Along with Taurisi and Aglianico del Vulture, this southern grape is the predominant variety in Falerno del Massico.

Primitivo

Primitivo is an early-ripening grape with bold flavor, tannins, and high alcohol that can range from 14 to 18 percent ABV. Believed to be closely related to Zinfandel in America, Primitivo reveals dark red tones with a spicy and fruity complex. 

This grape loves the hot, dry climate of Puglia and produces full-bodied wines like Primitivo di Manduria, Primitivo del Salento, and a sweet variant Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale. This sweet variant uses grapes that dry on the vine to concentrate the sugars and flavors. 

Wrap Up

As you can see, Italy has some of the most complex wine grape varieties in the world, with flavor profiles and colors as intricate as the landscape in which they grow. 

To discover your new favorite, explore our extensive wine catalog of Italian wines and other international specialties. We also provide personalized assistance and would be happy to recommend fine wines or offer other tailored services, connecting you with the wines you love.