Italian Wines 101 – A Basic Primer

A White, a Rose, and a Red

A White, a Rose, and a Red

There are hundreds of wines produced in Italy each year. If you’re new to the world of Italian wines, choosing a good one to complement your Saturday night lasagna can be a task. Books have been written on the subject and it’s impossible to cover everything in a quick guide, but here are some of the very basics.

Table Wines vs. Unique Regional Wines

There are two types of Italian wines – vino de tavola, or table wines, and higher quality regional wines. The table wines are lighter and of lower quality, but are still widely enjoyed. In Italy where wine is a way of life, they appear in huge jugs on the table of every family restaurant. Because they’re somewhat generic and light in taste, they’re designed to go well with just about any dish.

The higher quality wines are certified by the Denominazione di Origine Controlla, or DOC, which was set up in the 1960s to standardize wines throughout the country and assure that they meet certain quality standards. There’s also the Denominazione di Origine Controlla e Garantita (DOCG), a more specialized designation that is given to the country’s highest quality wines.

Italy’s Wine Producing Regions

With Italian wine, region determines everything. There are 20 political regions in Italy and these are also the different wine producing regions. There isn’t an inch of Italy that’s not perfect for growing grapes, so every nook and cranny of the country produces its own varieties. Although each winery is unique, there are certain regional styles that share similar qualities.

If you want to become an Italian wine expert, it behooves you to learn about these many regions. But for beginners, there are three regions that are best known for their wines – Tuscany, Piedmont, and Veneto.

Tuscany is the area north of Rome that’s most known for Chianti, a strong and dry red wine that goes especially well with most pasta dishes. Piedmont, in the northwest, is known for its Nebbiolo grape, which is used to make rich, full-bodied red wines like Barolo and the lighter Barbaresco. Veneto is in the northeast near Venice and it produces many of Italy’s best white wines.

Italy’s Grape Varietals

Finally, it’s good to know Italy’s grape varietals. These are the various types of grapes from which the wine is made. Again, there are many to learn about, but a few popular ones that are good for starters include red wine grapes Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Aglianico; and the white wine grapes Trebbiano, Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio, and Vernaccia.

Matching Wine with Food

While it’s not a hard and fast rule, it’s generally the case that red wine goes well with red meat and pasta while white wine tastes better with fish or poultry. This explains why red wines tend to be the most popular in Italy, although it should be noted that its white wines like Pinot Grigio, Soave, Asti, Cortese, and so on, are also excellent. When eating Italian food, a good way to match wine to your meal is to choose a wine from the same region as the dish you’re eating.

Regional Italian wines have been developed over the course of centuries. Second only to France in wine consumption, Italy is a wine lover’s paradise. It offers some of the best wines in the world and the best way to become an Italian wine aficionado is to try them yourself.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, author, and a Colorado native living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. Bob's love for wine along with his perception of Cork Cellars, stems from a passion of living well, laughing often, and loving those around him. His philosophy is to celebrate life through wine and food.

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