Everyone knows about Tuscany and their delicious Chianti. Most wine lovers will have tasted the famous Barolo from Piedmont. Veneto cranks out the Prosecco we all know and love, then even the island of Sicily and the wild and wonderful Abruzzo have begun to establish themselves as a major players in the Italian wine world. However, there are a number of lesser known Italian wine regions.
While these lesser known Italian wine regions can fly under the radar, there is a great deal of delicious wine to be found there! We will take you on a tour of a number of the lesser known Italian wine regions. From the King of Italian food in the north – Emilia-Romagna. To Umbria, Tuscany’s neighbour to the east. Then, we will round it out with the southern states that include Campania, Basilicata and Calabria.
By the end of this, you’ll be far more familiar with the lesser known Italian wine regions. Next time you’re out for an Italian meal, or in your local bottle shop, it may be time to buy something other than your favourite go to bottle of Chianti Classico or Gavi di Gavi.
Let’s dive into the lesser known Italian wine regions and discover some delicious wines along the way.
Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – Emilia-Romagna
Emilia-Romagna is perhaps the most well known, of these lesser known regions. So, we will dig into it in greater detail. It is actually more famous for its food, than its wine. We can’t overstate how seriously Emilia-Romagna takes its food, who’d have thought that from Italy?
As American Food Writer Lynne Rosetto Kasper puts it: “Ask an Italian where to eat only one meal in Italy and, after recommending their mother’s house, it is more than likely they will send you to the region of Emilia-Romagna”. After all, ‘Bologna’ does translate to ‘the fat one’, (MacNeil 407)
As the name suggests viticulture in the Italian region began way back in Roman times, around 2500 years ago. However, it would be wrong to not appreciate the distinction between the Emilia and Romagna regions (MacNeil 409).
To put it succinctly, Emilia is found to the west of Bologna. This is the homeland of Lambrusco and has found great success with international varieties of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Romagna is also dominated by the classic fizz of Lambrusco, but has found greater success with the Italian classic of Sangiovese. Another wine of note is the regular Italian white table wine of Albana di Romagna. This was the first Italian white wine to gain a DOCG status, (MacNeil 409).
Indeed, the regional differences go even deeper. Between each region of this area, there are marked differences in style and grape varieties and the wine is characterised by winemakers often coming up with unique concoctions that represent something distinct from typical wines produced from these grape varieties across the rest of Italy. Expect to find a number of native grape varieties.
It is without doubt that wine in this area has had to play second fiddle to the food. Emilia-Romagna is often held to produce the finest food in Italy, (if not the world), whereas wine has sometimes been seen as simply a means to enhance the food.
Times are changing though and winemakers are producing wines which should be celebrated in their own right, (MacNeil 408). One of our favourites is Agricola I Muretti. This small family run vineyard is organic certified and responsible for a great deal of delicious wine. Read more about them here.
Let’s take a tour through this fabulous region, even if it is one of the lesser known Italian wine regions. We will introduce you to the food, the history and the wine from this beautiful part of the world.
The Food Culture of EMilia-Romagna
Whether you’re looking for the decadent pasta-friendly cheese of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the aged and syrupy Balsamic Vinegar or the salty succulent Prosciutto di Parma – all originate from these fabled fertile grounds What makes the food so special here though? (MacNeil 408)
Well, it is the fertility of the terrain that helps boost the produce that is harvested, cultivated and farmed by these talented producers. The Emilia-Romagna region is largely found within the fertile basin of the River Po which flows throughout this region.
This excess of water and nutrient rich soil helps to nourish the animals and give the crops the goods they need to grow. Interestingly though, this fact of nature that leads to excellent food has been seen as a bit of a double-edged sword, with the sharp end point squarely at viticulture.
You could assume that an excess of water and nutrients is also going to benefit the grape-growers, but this is not necessarily the case. A lot of water and nutrients can indeed cause grapes to grow well, but in doing so it can dilute the flavours found in the grapes that wine-makers rely on. This fertility has helped to confine Emilia-Romagna as one of the lesser known Italian wine regions.
A big balloon of Sangiovese grapes can lead to flat, one-note wine. Think of the shrivelled raisins that can be found in the famous Italian wine of Amarone Valpolicella. The grapes are dried and therefore the flavours concentrate (MacNeil 409).
The Wines of EMilia-Romagna
Now though, don’t let us give the impression that the wine of Emilia-Romagna isn’t worth a go. It may be one of the lesser known Italian wine regions, but it still boasts delicious wine. As we’ve said, times are changing. It’d be a mistake to not think that there is very good vino to be had wherever you are in Italy, even the lesser known Italian wine regions..
When discussing Emilia-Romagna you do have to start with Lambrusco. Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine that most people associate with commercial wines that are somewhat sweet, grown by large coops. This trend is changing though. The best Lambrusco are often dry, with a somewhat savoury taste. Yet, one of the great strengths of Lambrusco is in its variety.
This is evident in the Lambrusco grapes. All Lambrusco wines are made from Lambrusco grapes, but just to confuse you there are 13 different varieties of Lambrusco! Lambrusco di Sorbara is fresh and floral, but the Lambrusco di Grasparossa is intensely tannic.
Do not discount Lambrusco as a one note sweet wine. Big and bold, or light and fresh. Tank method frizzante, or traditional method spumante. There are loads of avenues to go down, so get tasting!
Want to stick to white sparkling wine? Emilia-Romagna can still deliver this. Classic Spumante wines can be found throughout the Emilia-Romagna region.
The local grape variety of Pignoletto has become the most famous in the UK, but it is also the name for the regional sparkling wine. Look for wines made from Famoso, Grechetto and Rebola. These white wine grapes thrive on this terroir and can be a great alternative to Prosecco and also translated into wonderfully fresh and fruity still white wines as well.
Sangiovese is the king of red wine in Emilia-Romagna but they are distinct from the often oaked Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino wines. Emilia-Romagna Sangiovese plays up the fruit and floral notes, (this is often the same for this region’s Cabernet Sauvignon).
If you are looking for something indigenous, then opt for another key red grape of the region – Rebo. Rebo is similar to Merlot, in fact it is a crossing of Merlot and Teroldego. It’s thick skin and defined tannins make it an excellent candidate for spending some time in oak. This is similar to Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, but again you’ll often see Emilia-Romagna winemakers utilise the fruit-forward aspects of this grape.
That’s our look into one of the lesser known Italian wine regions – Emilia-Romagna. Now, it’s time to turn out attention south and look at another one of the lesser known Italian wine regions.
Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – UmBria
Umbria sits just to the right of the famous region of Tuscany. This probably explains why it has remained one of the lesser known Italian wine regions. Many will focus on Chianti, but just over the hills and not so far away, the region of Umbria is responsible for some great wines.
It is a rural and serene setting, where delicate sunlight illuminates the rolling hills which are home to an assortment of delicious wine that doesn’t match the fame of Tuscany. Hence, why it is on our list of lesser known Italian wine regions.
The top wine of the area is Orvieto. You also get Orvieto Classico which comes from the small central Orvieto zone where the wines were first produced. Rather confusingly, these can be red or white wine. Although, most commonly it is found as a white wine. They are normally dry white wines, but you can have some which has some residual sugar. Semi-sweet Oriveto will be labelled as ‘amabile’, then the sweetest will be ‘dolce’, (MacNeil 411).
At its best, it’s crisp with juicy white peach flavours. It is produced in the medieval town of the same name. You will find the grape varieties of Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Drupeggio and on occasion Malvasia, (MacNeil 410).
Now, for the red orvieto. These are newer and will be labelled as Orvietano Rosso. They’re blends and some of the most serious blends you’ll ever find, with some versions containing as many as thirteen grape varieties.
Any of the following can be found; Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo, Merlot, Montepulciano, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. You can also take these grapes from the whole Orvieto DOC. To make things even more complicated, you can have single varietal Orvieto red wines from any of the above grape varieties, (except Montepulciano).
Outside of Orvietano Rosso, you’ll find exceptional wines in Togriano Rosso and Sangrantino di Montefalco. The former is a medium bodied and delicate offering made from Sangiovese and Caniolo. Then, Sagrantino di Montefalco are anything but, they’re big, bold and powerful wines that are often compared to the Amarone wines of Veneto – they’re made from Sagrantino grapes and can be anything from dry to sweet (with dried grapes), (MacNeil 412).
There’s no reason that Umbria should remain one of the lesser known Italian wine regions. You can find excellent wines here and we strongly recommend you check out the goodies which can be found in one of the lesser Italian wine regions.
Now, we continue our journey south into some of the other lesser known Italian wine regions.
Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – The Southern States
Here, we’ll be coming a few of the lesser known Italian wine regions into one section. Don’t worry, you’ll still leave with a few recommendations for each of them!
Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – CAmpania
Campania is most famous for the city of Naples and the accompanying Amalfi Coast and blue waters of Capri.
3 wineries existed in 1970, now there are more than a hundred, (MacNeil 414). Three ancient grapes hold focus here, the red Aglianico and the whites of Fiano and Greco. Each thrives in the volcanic soil of Avellino, to the north east of the world-famous Mount Vesuvius.
Aglianico is found in the DOCG of Taurasi – they’re black and bitter with flavours of leather and tar. They also have great ageing potential, fans of Barolo should check this one out.
Then, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino are the star white wines of the area. They have a minerality from the volcanic soil, but they’re also planted at altitude which locks in freshness and a bracing acidity, (MacNeil 415).
Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – Basilicata
This is the most mountainous region of southern Italy with half the surface area of the region being found on the mountains and rolling hills, (MacNeil 417).
Aglianico del Vulture DOCG is the most prized wine of the region. It comes from Aglianico grapes grown on the extinct volcano of Mount Vulture. These are a real treat. They’re big, brooding reds wines with defined tannins but a rather striking level of acidity and a real mineral edge.
Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – Calabria
This is the very toe of Italy’s boot and a favourite stop of ancient Greek adventurers. The region is most well known for olives and oranges, with grapes and vines being far more troublesome, (MacNeil 417).
Gaglioppo is the primary grape variety, which is made into the Cirò wines. These are medium bodied and grapey spicy reds. You also get Greco di Bianco. These white wines are notable, but especially the dessert wine from partially dried grapes which display a particularly herbal note.
We hope you enjoyed our dive into some of the lesser known Italian wine regions. It goes to show that there is an endless amount of delicious wine to be found in Italy, outside of the most famous regions. Get trying and uncover your new hidden gem!
MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd ed., Workman Publishing, 2015.
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