Wine regions of Italy: A bluffer’s guide

How to Drink Better: Here is a primer to a wine-producing country with more than 500 wine regions

Italy vies with France to be the largest wine-producing country in the world. It has more than 500 separate wine regions and more than 350 permitted grapes; it is a brave wine geek who would claim to know them all. The wines, however, are endlessly fascinating and usually made from local grape varieties.


We are familiar with images of Tuscany; gentle rolling hills, fields of vines and lavender, olives groves, cypress trees and terracotta-clad villas. Tuscany is home to some of the most famous wines of Italy.

Grape varieties: Sangiovese is the quintessential Tuscan grape. Top quality Cabernet Sauvignon blends are produced in Maremma, down on the coast, and crisp fruity white wines from the Vermentino and Vernaccia grapes.

Best known names: Tuscany is the home to Chianti Classico, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, all made primarily from Sangiovese. Chianti is generally less expensive and inferior to Chianti Classico. Brunello di Montalcino is full-bodied and powerful.



Piemonte in the northwest corner of Italy produces an array of fascinating white and red wines from a range of indigenous grape varieties.

Grape varieties: Dolcetto is generally light and fruity, the local version of Beaujolais; Barbera is medium to full-bodied with sour cherries and plums. Vast amounts of sweetish fruity fizz is made from the Moscato grape, but the glory of Piemonte is Nebbiolo, a thick-skinned red grape that produces fragrant, tannic long-lived wines.

Best known names: Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from Nebbiolo, are among the greatest wines of Italy. For less expensive and more approachable wines, look out for Langhe Nebbiolo, which can offer great value for money.


Grape varieties: Pinot Grigio and Garganega for white wines, Glera for Prosecco. Most red wines are made from Corvina, Rondinella or a blend of the two.

Best known names: There are plenty. Prosecco is the ever-popular fizz, Pinot Grigio delle Venezie and Soave are the best known white wines of varying quality. Valpolicella, Ripasso della Valpolicella and Amarone are all made from the same grapes, in ascending levels of intensity and alcohol.


A large region on the central east coast, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is one of the best-selling Italian wines. Quality and price range from cheap and cheerful wines, which can be very gluggable, to some very impressive wines. The grape variety is Montepulciano.


Above the Abruzzo on the eastern central coast, the rolling hills and cool temperatures are ideal for viticulture. The best known white grape is Verdicchio, used for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and others. Red wines to look out for include Rosso Piceno and Rosso Conero, typically made from Sangiovese, Montepulciano or a blend of the two. The best wines can offer excellent value for money.


One of the largest wine regions, Puglia produces hearty full-bodied ripe reds primarily using the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes.


One of the most historic wine regions of Italy, Campania surrounds the city of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. The volcanic soils produce a range of excellent fresh herb-scented white wines and a few great reds as well. White grapes include Fiano, Greco di Tufo and Falanghina, while Aglianico produces tannic age-worthy red wines.


The large sunny island of Sicily produces vast amounts of wine. Much of it is inexpensive and easy-drinking, but there are plenty of ambitious, interesting producers working wonders with Sicily’s local grapes.

Grape varieties: Grillo and Catarratto are the most widely grown white grapes, usually producing light and fruity wines. Nero d’Avola is the most popular red grape. In warm regions it produces full-bodied, powerful wines; from cooler regions the wines can be very, very stylish and elegant. Frappato, which produces scented, light wines with strawberry fruits, is growing in popularity. Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, can produce thrilling red wines, as can Carricante in white wines.

Best known names: The biggest name is IGT Terre Siciliane, a catch-all name covering the entire island and most grapes. Quality varies from ordinary to excellent. Other names worth looking out for include Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Etna and Marsala, the traditional fortified wine from Sicily.

Other regions of note

Subalpine Trentino-Alto Adige produces excellent fresh vibrant white wines using Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon, as well as lively red wines from Lagrein and Teroldego. Friuli, which borders Slovenia in the northeast, also makes great white wines from the Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Friulano and, most notably, Ribolla Gialla grape varieties.

Sardinia produces increasingly good wines; the textured perfumed white Vermentino and rich red Cannonau are well worth seeking out.