By Rai Cornell
Italy. Just the thought of the country floods the mind with thoughts of delicious food, romantic landscapes, stunning cities, and, of course, delectable wine.
The Italians are known for many things, but their passion, palates, and prowess in the world of wine-making is at the top of the list.So what makes Italian wine so special? Let’s find out.
Reading the Label
You’re heading to the store and you’re in the mood for something lusciously mediterranean. Naturally, you head to the Italian wine section.
Scoping out the labels, your excitement and appetite deflates to confusion and uncertainty. “Vino da... what?” “DO- who?”
Italian wine labels can be a bit tricky to interpret. But we’ve got your back. Here’s what all that lingo means.
Italian Wine Terminology
You’ll see several tidbits of terminology on your Italian wine label, including the type of wine and its classification. While you’ll often see names you recognize, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Grigio, you may also see just rosso (red) or bianco (white). These are likely regional blends or table wines.
The other note you’ll see on the front of the label is the classification. Italian wine classifications come in the following varieties:
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) – The top classification of wine, this label means the wine is of high quality and was produced in the specific region listed on the bottle.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) – The largest of the wine groups and slightly less rigorous than DOCG, DOC wines are regulated for quality and consistency.
Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) – Still great wine, IGT varieties may be produced from grapes grown outside of the region or even outside of Italy.
Vino da Tavola – Older table wines are often of great quality, while more modern table wines have dipped in quality a bit. These wines can be made with any grapes and may not conform to regulated production methods.
Italian Wine Regions
The Italian countryside is ripe with changes in terroir, including soil composition, minerality, climate, and temperature (which are, surprisingly, not the same thing – see here).
Therefore, different regions of Italy come with different notes, flavors, and experiences once they’ve been translated into wine.
Campania - Home to some of the finest Italian wines and wineries, this region tends to produce notes of dark chocolate, black pepper, and toasted bread.
Lombardia - Lake Como is located within this region and is often associated with Nebbiolo grapes, which produces a high-quality, light-bodied wine that also goes by the name Chiavennasca.
Piemonte - Wines made in Piemonte tend to have higher tannin and acidity levels.
Sicilia - Sicily is one of the world’s few heroic viticulture regions and is home to Marsala, a strong, fortified wine similar to Port or Sherry. You’ll also find Moscatello, Chardonnay, and Zibibbo coming from the island of Sicily.
Toscana - One of Italy’s most famous regions, Tuscany is home to Chianti and Sangiovese wines, as well as unique takes on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Trebbiano. Many of the DOCG wines come from Tuscany due to the incredible terroir the region imparts.
Veneto - Here, the Corvina grape is king. You may also see some delicious but lesser known varieties such as Garganega, Soave, Rondinella, and Molinara carrying the Veneto name on their labels.
The only way to find your Italian soulmate is to try as many Italian varieties as you can. Here are some of our favorites that feature memorable qualities with a classic Italian air.
In the heart of Verona, you’ll find Valpolicella, which produces some of the most magnificent Amarone. Amarone is a red wine made with a combination of whole, ripe grapes and dried grapes. The result is an ultra rich treat with notes of blackberry, cherry jam, herbs, and spices. We adore this 2013 Veronese Rosso.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try something Sicilian. A glass of 2017 Baldovino Cabernet Sauvignon brings out the earthiness of the Sicilian island as well as the crispness of the sea with notes of blackberry, tobacco, and dark chocolate.
Venice isn’t just known for its languid canals and singing gondoliers. It’s also renown for its stunning Pinot Grigio. This 2017 Pinot Grigio delle Venezie features the brightness of peaches, apples, figs, and even bananas.
As the home to some of the best Italian fish dishes, Sicily, of course, delivers an incredible white wine for a perfect pairing. The 2017 Cantine Grasso Inzolia-Catarratto is juicy with notes of pear, peach, and yellow flowers.
Italians are the masters of romance, so it’s no wonder they make some of the world’s finest rosé wine. In the city of Asti in the Piemonte region, winemakers craft Grignolino, a hybrid of red wine and rosé. With an exciting color and notes of raspberries and spices, this velvety 2017 Ca de Lion Grignolino is a must-try.
Every great wine country has its own version of sparkling wine. Italy’s is Prosecco. Unlike French Champagne or Spanish Cava, Prosecco has strong notes of fruit, flowers, vanilla, and even hazelnut. Made in northeastern Italy in the village of Prosecco, this aptly named bubbly beverage is an ideal pairing for prosciutto e melone appetizers or salty dishes.
Explore the world of Italian wines and let us know what you think! Do you have a favorite region? A favorite classification? A favorite vintner? Dish in the comments below!