Everything You Need to Know About Italian Wine

Bottle Service: Italian Wine

(Before you get off the plane.)


By Ray Isle & Carson Demmond
Food Styling By Simon Andrews Style Editing By Suzie Myers

NORTH TO SOUTH, EAST TO WEST, drive anywhere in Italy and what will you see? Vineyards. The country is home to dozens of wine regions and literally hundreds of native grape varieties; it produces nearly a fifth of the world's wine. So how do you navigate this abundance? Which wineries should be on your list? What can't-miss bottles should you seek out? Food & Wine has all the answers you need, with hard-earned advice on everything from how to order at a restaurant to the most exciting wine regions to visit now.


Restaurant Tips


Find Your Favorite Italian Varieties

  • If you like Chardonnay try Trebbiano
  • If you like Sauvignon Blanc try Vermentino
  • If you like Pinot Noir try Barbera
  • If you like Cabernet Sauvignon try a Super-Tuscan
  • If you like Zinfandel try Primitivo

ORDER LOCAL WINES

Open a wine list in Italy and you'll almost always see bottles made nearby—which makes sense in a country where grapes grow everywhere. Key takeaway: For an authentic experience, drink the hometown juice.

MARCHE & ABRUZZO

Juicy, intense Montepulciano
Wines: Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Rosso Conero. Go-to bottle: 2015 Cataldi Madonna Cerasuolo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($21).

PIEDMONT

Powerful, floral Nebbiolo
Wines: Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Ghemme, Carema, Langhe Nebbiolo. Go-to bottle: 2014 Michele Chiarlo Il Principe Langhe Nebbiolo ($20).

TUSCANY

Tart, berry-scented Sangiovese
Wines: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano. Go-to bottle: 2013 Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($40).

EAT LIKE A WINE INSIDER

We tapped top Italian wine experts and asked them to reveal their favorite under-the-radar restaurants across Italy. Here, three worth the detour.

AL PONTE, VERONA, VENETO

"If you love homemade pasta just like your Italian grandmother used to make in the Old Country, you must go. It's dirt-cheap, too." —Harmon Skurnik, president, Skurnik Wines & Spirits, NYC

OASIS SAPORI ANTICHI, VALLESACCARDA, CAMPANIA

"This family-run restaurant's housemade ravioli with buffalo-milk mozzarella and killer desserts—and its amazing cellar—make it the highlight of any trip to Campania." —Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director, A16 and SPQR, San Francisco

VINOTECA CENTRO STORICO, SERRALUNGA D'ALBA, PIEDMONT

"Local winemakers love this tucked-away spot. It has an amazing list of Barolos and Barbarescos, as well as great food." —Jeff Porter, beverage director, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group East Coast


LESSON

TALK TO YOUR WAITER ABOUT WINE

"Thank you! Grazie!"

A glass of red wine, please.

Un bicchiere di vino rosso, per favore.
(Oon bee-key-AIR-ray dee VEE-no ROW-so PEAR fah-VOR-ay.)

How's the house wine?

Com'è il vino della casa?
(Co-MAY ill VEE-no DEL-ah CAH-za?)

Another bottle, please?

Un'altra bottiglia, per favore?
(Oon ALL-tra bo-TEE-lia PEAR fah-VOR-ay?)

Hey, this wine is corked!

Ehi, questo vino sa di tappo!
(AY-ee, QUES-tow VEE-no saw dee TOP-po!)

I'll have what she's having.

Vorrei lo stesso.
(Vor-RAY low STEHS-so.)



Travel Strategies


Call First, Taste Later

Italian wineries are often small and family-run. The owners will usually be happy to pour for you, but definitely call ahead (your hotel concierge can help). Also, it's always good manners to buy a bottle or two.


Sleep Where You Drink

Some of Italy's most stunning wineries also double as inns. So not only can you tour and taste, but you can also make your friends wildly jealous with sunset-over-the-vines selfies.

FRIULI

Marco Felluga/Relais Russiz Superiore: The recently restored guesthouse looks out over the 247-acre Russiz Superiore estate in the rolling hills near Cormòns. You can see the cellars, bike through the vineyards or take horseback tours of the surrounding area. Doubles from $150; marcofelluga.it.

SICILY

Regaleali: The Tasca d'Almerita family's 1,200-acre estate in central Sicily offers rooms at the beautifully remodeled 19th-century baglio, or farm villa. Meals are prepared by the family's personal chefs, using ingredients (cheese, honey, fruit and vegetables) from the estate, and the wines are among the best on the island. Doubles from $387; tascadalmerita.it.

TUSCANY

Castell'in Villa: One of Chianti's most historic properties, dating back to the 1200s, offers luxurious rooms in a renovated 13th-century convent and a pool amid the vineyards. Rooms from $155; castellinvilla.com.


GO NOW

VISIT THE VOLCANOES

The good thing about growing grapes on the slopes of Italy's volcanoes: mineral-driven, complex wines. The bad thing: eruptions. Take them in stride.

BASILICATA

Mt. Vulture
Last eruption: 40,000 years ago
Go-to bottle:
2012 Re Manfredi Aglianico del Vulture ($35)

CAMPANIA

Mt. Vesuvius
Last eruption: 1944
Go-to bottle:
2013 Terradora di Paolo Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso ($22)

SICILY

Mt. Etna
Last eruption: 2016
Go-to bottle:
2014 Graci Etna Rosso ($24)


HEAD FOR THE COAST

The wine regions along Italy's coast produce distinctively crisp white wines. They're great as aperitifs and pair beautifully with fish and shellfish from the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas.



Trends to Try


Uncork the New Fizz

Prosecco's great—we get it. But there's more to Italian sparkling wine than bargain bubbles. Cutting-edge producers all over the country are making terrific bottles worth paying a little more for.

Franciacorta

Italy's most elegant bubbly comes from this Lombardy wine region. Producers have borrowed more than a few tricks from Champagne, including some of the grapes being used: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Go-To Bottle: NV Ca' del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut ($45).

Lambrusco

Forget the sweet, industrial fizz you might have seen in the US. Lambrusco, from the Emilia- Romagna region, has a long artisanal history. The best are dry and complex—not to mention red! Go-To Bottle: 2015 Vigneto Saetti Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce ($20).

Trento

The steep, cool vineyards of the Dolomites foothills, in Italy's far north Trentino region, are ideal for crisp, sparkling wines. Unlike Prosecco, Trento must be aged for a minimum of 15 months, which helps to add complexity. Go-To Bottle: NV Ferrari Brut ($28).


DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE CLASSICS

Sometimes the most well-known regions are also the most exciting, as new generations push for change.

ABRUZZO

A surge in small, ambitious producers has made this wild, mountainous province one of the most compelling wine regions in Italy right now. Go-To Bottles: 2013 Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d'Abruzzo ($50), 2015 La Valentina Pecorino ($20), 2010 Illuminati Zanna Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($40).

CHIANTI CLASSICO

In Chianti's top subzone, the best local producers are leaning less on international grapes like Cabernet; instead, they're exploring earthy, vibrant Sangiovese in its purest form. Go-To Bottles: 2013 Monteraponi ($30), 2012 Monte Bernardi Riserva ($30), 2013 Fontodi ($38).

PIEDMONT

If you don't feel like blowing big bucks on Barolo, look farther north. The new-on-the-radar Alto Piemonte region, which includes Gattinara, Ghemme and Bramaterra, makes great Nebbiolo for a fraction of the price. Go-To Bottles: 2012 Vignaioli Boniperti Barton Fara ($32), 2010 La Prevostura Lessona ($48), 2012 Colombera & Garella Bramaterra ($36).


GO PREINDUSTRIAL

Some of the most adventurous winemakers in Italy are looking backward rather than forward—to the ways wine was made hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Read on for some lingo you need to know.

Col fondo: This style of Prosecco is aged on its lees (spent yeast left over following fermentation), and that sediment is still in the bottle—the name literally means with the bottom. The wines are earthier and more complex than standard fruity Prosecco.

Sulle bucce: White wines with these two words (the skins) on the label have been skin-macerated—made like a red wine to extract more color, aroma and texture. Friuli is home base for this trend, but producers from Trentino to Sicily are also making their own sulle bucce wines.

Amphora: Aging wine in these egg-shaped clay vessels, an ancient tradition, is all the rage among Italy's superorganic natural-wine producers. Once again, Friuli's winemakers are leading the way.


GO DEEP

EXPLORE A FORGOTTEN GRAPE VARIETY

Some native Italian grapes had all but died out before a few brilliant winemakers started working to bring them back. Look for bottles in their region of origin or in great wine shops; Les Vignerons (lesvignerons.it) in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood is a good hunting ground.

LIGURIA

Grape: Mataòssu
What It's Like: Citrusy white with herbal overtones
Winery Champion: Punta Crena

PIEDMONT

Grape: Pelaverga
What It's Like: Fragrant, berry-scented, light-bodied red
Winery Champion: Comm. G.B. Burlotto

PUGLIA

Grape: Susumaniello
What It's Like: Deeply colored, tart red with black currant notes
Winery Champion: Tenute Rubino