Italian Wine | Take A Tour Of The Boot

Harry Lambourne
9th January 2024

Who doesn’t love the exports of Italy? Italian Wine has produced some of the world’s all time greats, but the landscape, culture and terroir is rich and varied. This means that Italian wine is exactly the same.

We are going to be taking a tour across Italy’s boot. This will involve a dive into all of Italy’s major wine regions. We will take you through the terroir, the key sub-regions, the grape varieties and the wines which you should look out for.

By the end of this article, you will be a certified Italian wine expert. Whether you’re looking to treat yourself at home, or want to nail your selection on the wine list at an Italian restaurant, you will be covered.

Let’s begin this tour of one of the world’s greatest destinations for wine lovers. You won’t look back!

Italian Wine Regions – PIedmont

Piedmont Wine Region | Italian Wine Region
Piedmont Wine Region

Piedmont boasts some of the finest and most expensive wine in not just Italy, but the entire world. It is beautiful rolling hills in the gorgeous Italian countryside, just to the South of the Alps, with the major city of Turin located nearby.

In terms of approaches and the small pockets of vineyard space, Piedmont shares a lot of similarities with Burgundy. This is because there is a real focus on single varietal wines, rather than blended concoctions and the concept of terroir is deeply important. The vineyards are small and intensely focused on the grapes which are perfectly suited for the land.

While the vineyards areas are small pockets across a rural wonderland, this is a place where quality is at the forefront of everything. The production of this Italian wine region focuses on the best of the best. The DOC and DOCG stamps are saved to indicate the best Italian wine has to offer and 84% of all Piedmont wines hold a DOC or DOCG status.

Red Wines Of Piedmont

In terms of the wines, red wine is what Piedmont is most well-known for. Barbaresco is particularly famous, but Barolo is the ‘King of Wine’. Both of these wines are created from the Nebbiolo grape variety. This comes from the Italian word ‘nebbia’ which translates to fog, due to the powdery-white complexion of this particular grape.

Nebbiolo Grapes - Used in Barolo Wine Production | Indigenous Grape Variety Wines
Nebbiolo Grapes – Indigenous To Piedmont

Barolo is a small commune which is made up of 11 separate villages and each one can produce a different style of Barolo due to the noticeable changes in terroir. However, common themes to Barolo include high tannins, a big body and a beautiful level of acidity that balances this out wonderfully. It delivers on the red fruit notes of cherry, raspberry and strawberry, as well as floral touches of rose. Then, more savoury notes of leather and even a gamey quality can emerge over time in this Italian wine.

Ageing is a big matter of debate in the world of Barolo. All wines must be aged for at least 38 months, with 18 months if an oak barrel. However, many traditionalists will age them for decades. However, modernists want to cut down on these elongated periods of ageing. Indeed, this has caused a revolution in the world of Barolo. You can now drink them at a much, much younger age where as previously many wouldn’t even consider drinking them for 10 or more years.

Outside of these wines, you should also look out for Barbera and Dolcetto. Barolo and Barbaresco may be the old and complex wines reserved for special occasions. Yet, Barbera and Dolcetto are everyday drinkers. Barbera is deeply acidic, with light tannins. Fresh and vibrant, with fruity flavours. Then, Dolcetto is subtle spicy and a touch of minerality. It is also lower in acid and has restrained but clear tanninß.

However, don’t think these are nothing more than quaffable creations. You can find structured and complex examples, particularly in the towns of Alma and Alba.

White Wines Of Piedmont

You should also avoid thinking that there are no great white wines to be found within this Italian wine region. Indeed, there are two styles of white wine of which you should be aware. They are Gavi and Arneis.

Gavi is the most well-known. It is made from Cortese grapes and produces bone dry, light and citrus heavy wines with a mineral finish. You should look out for Gavi di Gavi. This is a separate DOCG delineating the town of Gavi itself. These are the best of the best.

Now, we move onto Arneis which has had a resurgence from the 1980s. It has a bit of body and ripe fruit notes of golden pears and apricots. It is particularly good for seafood which explains why so many of the grapes are found along the coast.

Italian Wine – Veneto

We are staying in the north, but moving to the east. This is an undoubted powerhouse of the Italian wine world. However, it stands in stark contrast to their northern neighbours. This is a place which is famous for high-yielding table wine and Veneto frequently leads the way in production for the whole of the Italian wine-making nation.

The primary city of the Veneto wine region is Venice. One of the world’s great old cities, but the Veneto wine region is much broader. It spans from the Adriatic across gently undulating hills and fertile flat farmlands, until it reaches the foothills of the Alps.

Let’s look at the natural factors that inform the terroir and climate of the Veneto wine region.

We’ve touched upon the Alps. This helps to provide some altitude to the vines on this land and protects much of the region from the cold winds that sit on the other side of the mountains.

The Veneto Region - Home of Prosecco
The Veneto Region – Home of Prosecco & Pinot Grigio

There are also two major rivers. The River Adige and the River Po. Both fall into the Adriatic after flowing through the fertile plains of Veneto. They create vast areas of rich, sun-drenched farmland which are ideal for an abundance in produce. Yet, high-yields don’t mean high-quality wine.

Winemakers will instead look to plant vines on the less fertile slopes or the foothills of mountains. These limit yields but produce more concentrated and complex offerings. These are what you should seek out. Some grape varieties are constants such as Pinot Grigio and international varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but there are also regional specialities of which you should be aware.

Let’s take a look into some of the best sub-regions of this Italian wine region.

Soave & Valpolicella

We will begin with Soave. This area is located by the castle-topped hillside town of which it shares its name. The wines will be primarily made from Garganega grapes. They are dry and high in acidity with ripe citrus and stone fruits and then subtle notes of almond. You will frequently find these blended with Verdicchio Blanco, (known locally as Trebbiano di Soave).

Be especially aware of the Soave Classico region. These are wines from original Soave zone, before it was expanded to meet demand. The vines are found in the steep hills above the towns of Soave and Monteforte. These wines are particularly rich and complex.

Next up is Valpolicella. All of these are made from the high acid and low tannin Corvina grapes. These are a few different styles of Valpolicella, so make sure you buy the one which is right for you.

We will begin with Amarone. One of the most desirable Italian wines. These are produced by something called the ‘Appassimento Method‘. Grapes are left in the vineyards and achieve an extra-level of ripeness. Then, these whole bunches are left in cool lofts for over three months.

Appassimento Method
Corvina Grapes Drying In The Appassimento Method

As they dry and shrivel up, the flavours and sugars concentrate. This leads to full-bodied and brooding wines which are high in alcohol and often slightly off-dry.

Now, we’ll move to the classic Valpolicella. These are simpler, fresher and fruitier offerings. Light and acidic with vibrant fruit flavours. Again, look to the Classico region for more complex and interesting wines.

Next we should get to the Valpolicella Ripasso style of wines. With this style of wine, newly fermented Valpolicella wine is added to leftover Amarone pulp. This serves to add colour, tannin flavour and structure to this wonderful Italian wine. They are often particularly jammy and not dissimilar to Californian Zinfandel.

Last on our list of Valpolicella wines is the undeniably unique ‘Recioto della Valpolicella’. These are made from the ripest grapes which have then been dried. Recioto comes from the Italian word ‘recie’ which means ears. This is because the protruding elements on the bunches of grapes resemble ears. These ears are the grapes which are most exposed to the sun so achieve the highest levels of ripeness. The fermentation of these wines are halted before the sugar has been eaten up and the end result is a syrupy sweet delight.


We couldn’t leave our discussion of the Italian wine region of Veneto without talking about the nation’s favourite fizz – Prosecco. Brits guzzle down as estimated 8.2 million litres of Prosecco every week!

While there are many great options for sparkling Italian wine, (even Piedmont has Asti), Prosecco is the most consumed and actually often misunderstood.

Prosecco is actually the region in which this style of sparkling Italian wine is made, rather than the grape variety. It is made from the Glera grape. Although, to make it more confusing, the Glera grape used to be the Prosecco grape variety.

Prosecco Wine Region
Prosecco Wine Region

However, when the regions of Prosecco and Conegliano-Valdobbiadenne were established they renamed the grape to avoid confusion. Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG is the best of the best. These stunning hills are home to some of the best sparkling wines in the world and possess a great flavour complexity and intensity compared to your everyday Prosecco.

The grapes are deeply aromatic, so the wines are fermented in great big stainless steel temperature controlled vats in order to preserve these aromatic qualities. This is why Prosecco possess fresh fruit and floral notes. Crisp, dry and delicious.

Italian Wine – Tuscany

Now, we move onto another world-famous Italian wine region. Tuscany is recognised as one of the world’s great destinations for wine, but like so many other Italian wine regions it has faced issues. Mass production to fit consumer demands, in the wake of the second world-war led to many examples of unremarkable wine.

Tuscan Wine Chianti Vineyards
Tuscan Wine Chianti Vineyards
The History of Tuscany

However, the groundwork for the drop in quality of this Italian wine region was laid in the 19th century. It can be linked to a man named Baron Bettino Ricasoli. His family had been producing Chianti since the 12th century, but then they tweaked the classic formula to add white grapes. The goal was to produce a wine which could be drunk young.

As things progressed, more white grapes were added. It cut prices and satiated new palates. By World War 2, Chianti could be made up of 30% Trebbiano grapes, (MacNeil 382).

After the war, stimulus packages were introduced along with inferior Sangiovese clones. Things reached boiling point. ‘Spaghetti Chianti’ was the must-have item. Unimpressive, mass-produced and encased in straw.

Chianti, as I’m sure you know, made a comeback. Small farmers moved away from the unexciting and looks to focus on superior Sangiovese grapes. High-quality Chianti and ‘Super Tuscan‘ wines brought prestige back to the region.

Stricter regulations came into play and with it a DOCG status, (the highest available in Italian wine), was attributed to both the Chianti and Chianti Classico region. All wines must be aged for a minimum of two years in wood, then three in the bottle.

The Wines of Tuscany

The quintessential grape of Tuscany, (as we’ve touched upon), is Sangiovese. This forms that backbone of Chianti. It has a good level of tannin, body and acidity, with rich red fruit flavours. However, it also can display a wealth of other tasting notes. Tomato, oregano, espresso, balsamic and dark chocolate can all be found regularly.

Another major player in the world of Tuscany is Brunello. The grapes translates to ‘small dark one’ and it does produce dark and brooding wines with a big and full body. Look out for Brunello di Montalcino. These are some of the world’s finest wines. These Italian wines will possess pronounced flavours of blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, chocolate, violet, tar, cinnamon and leather. It is a wine to be aged, (and must be aged for five years minimum), and will only become more intoxicating with age.

Another grape which deserves a mention is Cabernet Sauvignon. As this is a classically French grape, it is surprising that it has made such a splash in the world of Italian wine. Yet, it is through the aforementioned Super Tuscan wines that Cabernet Sauvignon made a name for itself.

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes
Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

Winemakers were disillusioned with the state of Chianti and broke off to do their own thing. While they raised a few eyebrows at first, the results were undeniable. They were producing Cabernet Sauvignon to rival the very best and Italian wine has dedicated regions to these wines. Look out for Bolgheri and Sassicaia if you want a taste of the Super Tuscans. Many of these regions are close to the coast. The sea breezes help to preserve an acidity and freshness to these wines.

Italian Wine – Abruzzo

Abruzzo is another wild and wonderful Italian wine region. Abruzzo has been called Italy’s last great wilderness as it is largely an area untouched by the forces of modernisation. Medieval towns and old fortifications sit amongst an array of stunning natural parks.

Abruzzo National Park Site
Abruzzo National Park

The Italian wine region of Abruzzo sits on the calf of Italy’s boot and has a green and glorious landscape which is dry and sunny. Yet, the vineyards are generally found at high altitude, thanks to various mountain ranges. This, along with coastal breezes from the Adriatic, help to prevent overheating, while preserving acidity and freshness.

The Wines of Abruzzo

Montepulciano is the dominant grape variety with the Italian wine region of Abruzzo. It possesses a deep ruby colour and often pangs of pepper, liquorice and baking spice as trademark spicy qualities. There is also a smokey element. Notes of mesquite are not uncommon.

However, you can also expect a big fruit bomb, (particularly in youthful Montepulciano). You’ll note flavours of plums, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry and cherry.

You should also keep an eye out for Cerasuolo Montepucliano. Cerasuolo means cherry-red and refers to the light colour of these classic rosé wines. These wines display strong notes of wild red fruit and a bracing acidity.

You can also find great white wines in Abruzzo. They are generally great value for money. Three grapes are key. They are Trebbiano, Passerina and Pecorino.

Trebbiano has a rich acidity with notes of green apple and lemon, as well as subtle herbaceous notes of basil.

Then, Passerina which is a favourite of local birds. Passerina translates to ‘sparrow’ and apparently the birds have a penchant for munching down ripe Passerina grapes. Again, this wine is deeply acidic and has notes of apple, lemon and lime which sit alongside a delicate florality.

Last up is Pecorino, (not the cheese). Once more the name, (‘little sheep’), comes from the fact the flocks of sheep would come through the vineyards and eat these grapes. Pecorino can balance sweetness and acidity. Fresh, but with a real complexity. You’ll experience notes of strong citrus and stone fruit notes with florality, herbal kicks and minerality.

Italian Wine – Sicily

We are moving off the mainland now and arriving at the Italian wine region of Sicily. The Isle of Sicily sits just off the toe of Italy’s boot. Sunny beaches and stunning architecture line the coastline, with the imposing active volcano of Mount Etna not far behind.

Palermo Sea Front Sicily
Coast of Palermo – the Sicilian Capital

It is a deeply hot area which is to be expected given its location in the Mediterranean. It is dry and sunny with temperatures regularly exceeding 40 degrees. Dry days, ample sunshine, cool nights and low risk of spring frosts all contribute to a place which is wonderful for viticulture.

The fact that this area is so well-suited for grape-growing means that this particular Italian wine region is ideal for low-intervention wine-making. This means that Sicily is excellent for both organic and biodynamic viticulture.

The Wines Of Sicily

Sicily has found great success with both red and white wines which are generally produced from indigenous grape varieties. Due to the scorching heat of the region, we though it was fitting to start with the white wines.

The star of the show has become Grillo. Grillo was primarily used the produced the fortified Marsala wine. However, a man by the name of Marco de Bartoli saw the potential for Grillo to become a still dry white wine and things have truly taken off.

Now, Grillo is becoming a staple of supermarket shelves and wine lists across the world. Grillo is most commonly seen as a deeply acidic wine with strong citrus notes and an undercurrent of minerality. Tart, delicious and refreshing.

Grillo Grape Sicily | Indigenous Grape Variety Wines
Grillo Grapes – Indigenous To Sicily

There are two more grape varieties which we should mention when discussing the white wines of this Italian wine region. One is Catarrato. These faintly frosted grapes possess citrus aromas. Then, Carricante. This grape thrives on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. It is often blended with other grapes, but can be a single varietal wine as well. You will commonly note flavours of lime, lemon, orange and grapefruit.

Next up are the red wines of this Italian wine region. Perhaps, the most well known grape variety is Nero d’Avola. It has also had a recent revival and can be fit into two camps. The dark, dense grapes are often stored in oak barrels which possess black fruit flavours, as well as notes of dark chocolate and subtle spices. These are heavier creations. Alternatively, winemakers will also look to produce wines which are designed to be drank younger. These will have more tart red fruit flavours and not see new oak vessels.

This brings us onto the next key red grape variety in this Italian wine region – Frappato. In fact, 85% of Frappato vines are found on Sicily. It is comparable in taste to Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. Light, fresh and full of red fruit flavours. It is delicious when slightly chilled.

Italian Wine – Puglia

Puglia may be lesser known than some of the Italian wine regions which we have mentioned. Yet, you should be aware of Puglia and it has the ability to produce some outstanding wines.

Again, it is a winemakers dream. It is dry and sunny with fertile vines that stretch along the Adriatic coast. It is a powerhouse of production and is responsible for a ton of everyday table wine, but more complex and rarified examples can be sought out for the discerning wine lovers. Winemakers now seek to limit yields and in turn produce more concentrated and structured wines.

Puglia Wine Region
Puglia, Italy
The Wines Of Puglia

This is Primitivo country. They produce thick, inky and tannic wines, but you may know the grape by a different name. Primitivo is known as Zinfandel in California.

Common tasting notes tend to include fruits such as blackberry, strawberry, plums and cooked fruits. You will also note flavours of cinnamon, dark chocolate and tobacco. Keep your eyes peeled for the DOC of Primitivo di Manduria. This area is excellent for Primitivo.

The other grape of which you should be aware is Negroamaro. A speciality in the sub-region of Salice Salentino. The name translates to ‘black and bitter‘ so you should expect a dark liquid with savoury tasting notes.

Look out for flavours of dark berries, currant, aniseed, liquorice, clove, cinnamon, allspice, forest floor and gamey qualities.

Italian Wine – Lesser Known Regions

We have taken you on a tour of what we think are the most essential Italian wine regions. If you’ve been there and done that, then we recommend checking out our article on the lesser known Italian wine regions.

Here you can read about Pignoletto of Emilia-Romagna, or the Orvieto of Umbria. You can even go further south to Campania, Basilicata and Calabria. Find out some more hidden gems of the Italian wine world.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our tour of Italian wine. Don’t forget to pick yourself up a bottle. The best way to learn is by doing. All these tasting notes and topographical tidbits can be a bit abstract, but once you’ve got a glass of good Italian wine in your hand things will begin to click into place. Browse our full range of Italian wine by clicking the button below!

If you want to treat yourself, or someone else in your life, don’t forget to check out our Monthly Wine Subscription and Gift Wine Subscription products. Each month you’ll receive hand-picked wines from small, independent family winemakers who focus on organicbiodynamic and sustainable viticulture. Learn more here:

Work Cited

MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd ed., Workman Publishing, 2015.

If you’d simply just like to learn more about wine from the comfort of your own home, be sure to check out our online blog and sign up to our mailing list. We’re always looking to teach people about different regions, grape varieties and producers. Beyond that, you can expect to find a whole host of playlists, cocktail cards and recipe cards packed full of wine pairing ideas. There might even be some special offers along the way so make sure that you don’t miss out!

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