Italian wine regions and areas can be classified multiple times over, depending on the area, the climate, the history, the grapes, and through an infinite number of other ways. The following description of 7 Italian regions is meant to provide a basic guide, which will be supplemented in articles to come. The 7 regions consist of Veneto and Piedmont (to the North), Tuscany, Campania, Apulia, and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily (to the South).
Veneto accounts for over 20 DOC zones and a variety of sub-categories. Many of its wines, both sweet (Spumante) and dry, are internationally known. The three most notable are Bardolino, Valpolicella, and Soave. Other respectable wines include the white Bianco di Custoza, the sparkling Prosecco, the Breganze, and the Amarone (a red wine from the Verona province).
The most appreciated wines in the region come from the provinces of Treviso, Verona, Padova, Venice, and Vicenza. The area around Verona, with its temperate climate, is believed to have cultivated grapes since the Bronze Age.
In Piedmont, there are 46 different DOC and four DOCG areas. It is best known for such award-winning wines like Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Grignolino, Malvasia and Asti Spumante among others.
One of the unique characteristics of Piedmont is that most of its wines are produced on family estates, made up of relatively small parcels of land. The main grape grown here is the distinguished Nebbiolo, which is the base for the famed Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara among others. Its name derives from the word nebbia, or fog. During the ripening time in September, there is a heavy morning fog, causing humidity that provides the grapes an ideal habitat.
Another interesting point about Piedmont was its introduction of Vermouth, which Benedetto Carpano first created in his wine shop near the Turin Stock Exchange. The classic American martini cocktail is named after the famous Italian producer of dry vermouth, Martini & Rossi.
Tuscany is usually known for its Chianti, and is home to the Sangiovese and Lambrusco grapes. Other grapes grown here are the Mammolo, Malvasia, Colorino, Raspirosso, Gamay, Grand Noir, Barbera, Moscatello, Aleatico and Vernaccia, among others. Sangiovese is probably the most grown variety and is often combined with small amounts of other locally grown grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo, and Ciliegiolo. These tend to create extraordinary blends such as the Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, Carmignano and the Chianti and Chianti Classico, which are probably the best known Italian wines in the world.
Tuscany has contributed over thirty DOC and half a dozen of DOCG wines, due to the ideal soil and weather conditions. Of the white wines, the most distinguishable is the Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Others include the Bianco d'Elba, from Elba Island, Bianco di Bolgheri, Vermentino, Bianco di Pitigliano and Bianco di Val di Nievole.
Also, Tuscany produces a dessert wine called Vin Santo which means “Holy Wine”. It is usually made from Trebbiano grapes that are dried in an airy place until the start of Holy Week, before being made into wine.
Campania has been making wine since the 13th century B.C. but has only recently produced any commanding national or international respect. Especially in the Taurasi DOCG zone, a few winemakers have been pro-actively producing wide arrays of notable reds and whites. In addition to Taurasi, there are two other “boutique” reds that came out in 1994 deserving praise.
The best-known Campania wine is the Lacrima Christi which means “Tears of Christ”. At one point though, it was so overproduced that it almost ruined its reputation. Soon after, some local winemakers made an effort to restore its former status and have so far been successful.
Apulia produces around 17% of the national total of wine, which more than any other region. Along with Sicily, this region is also the top grape producer. A lot of the wine from this region used to be shipped north to Turin in order to make Vermouth, or to France when their local harvest was either poor or insufficient. But nowadays, vintners are more interested in pursuing wines that effectively balance sweetness, acid, alcohol content and density.
There was a California researcher named Carole Meredith who proved that a certain grape in Italy has the same make-up as the American Zinfandel. Of course, this helps with the popularity of Primitivo di Manduria, which is named after this grape. Apulia has created 25 different DOC wines and is now, as mentioned before, more focused on the quality of wine. The Accademia dei Racemi, an association that brings together vintners, agronomists and oenologists, is dedicated to this task and actively experiments using Zinfandel grapes from the US.
Sardinia is the most ancient land of Italy, and has a very strong soil composition and climate for creating some excellent wines. For example, Vermentino di Gallura makes the list, as one of only four Italian DOCG white wines. In Gallura, the Moscato and Nebbiolo grapes grow very well. The sweet version of Moscato di Tempio is among the most refined and delicious dessert wines produced on the island. The red Nebbiolo, called Nebbiolo di Luras, has recently become very popular. Also, in the northwestern part of the island, the Torbato vines create very nice dry white wine.
The most famous red wine produced in Sardinia is Cannonau. There is another wine called Nepente di Oliena that comes from grapes grown from a rare soil in Italy (clay very similar in composition to that where the Champagne of Reims is produced). But what is very unique to Sardinia is its long list of “passiti”, or dessert wines.
These liquor-like wines are passiti and contain higher alcoholic percentage. The red passiti include Cannonau, produced around Alghero, Oliena and Tortolì. The white passiti are le Vermentino and Nasco, produced around Monti and Alghero. Also, excellent grappe made from single grapes are produced all over the island. Examples are the Cannonau Passito or Nasco Passito of Alghero, the Vermentino of Monti, Moscato and Vermentino in Bosa and the Vernaccia in Oristano.
How can Sicilians drink less (per capita) than any other Italian, but have more vineyards than any other region and be one of the largest wine producers? It doesn’t seem like that should be the case, considering how much Italians in general love their wine. But apparently many of the grapes are made into raisins, which are used in local cooking. (Many of the countries around the Mediterranean use raisins and nuts in their dishes.)
Sicilian grapes are also used to create dessert wines. Dessert wines need a much higher concentration of grapes, making them heavier and sweeter, so they are consumed in smaller quantities. For example, Sicily is responsible for the internationally known Marsala wine.
Dessert wines account for about 90% of the total DOC (Denominaxione di origine controllata) production, but there are several reds and whites that are produced all over the island that are worth mentioning. Large producers such as the Conte di Salaparuta make the well-known Corvo, Regaleali and Rapitalà. Also, the smaller estates of Donnafugata, Consorzio Agrario Provinciale di Trapani, and Fontanarossa produce nice wines.