Learn all about Italian Wine Regions and Appelations on your way to becoming an expert in Italian wines.
In this section, you will find maps of Italy and each of the twenty Italian wine regions, which are also political divisions. You will also learn about the Italian wine appellations, which we will refer to as (wine-producing areas or sub-areas), major varietals and major wines of each region.
The map below shows all of the Italian wine regions. We will make extensive use of this wine map and variants throughout the Italian-Wine-Coach website.
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As in all our learning sections, this one is divided into three levels; Bambino, Ragazzo and Goombah
. We're building one level at a time, so if this section is not complete,come back soon for more.
In the United States, one of the most well known wine regions is the North Coast of California, which includes the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley appellations.
Almost every wine drinker in the U.S. has heard of these famous areas.
One of these names along with the major varietal (cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay) gives even the modestly knowledgeable buyer some idea about the wine in the bottle. Of course, as we stray to other areas of California or the U.S., we will find regions not as well known, but will still find familiar varietals on the label. Likewise, learning about the wine regions of Italy is the first step in understanding Italian wines.
In Italy, a region will have wine-producing areas and sub-areas which, to some degree, are regulated by the Italian government. These are like the appellations of California or France. Sources on Italian wines may call these appellations, zones or areas. For consistency, we will simply use "wine-producing areas" and "wine-producing sub-areas" and may give up the "wine-growing" on occasion. Each of these will have a name and a classification such as DOC or DOCG. These "classifications" are discussed below and in more detail at Wine Classification System
In just the North Coast region of California, there are about 45 different "appellations". Few people know that these appellation are referred to formally as American Viticultural Areas-AVA.
And there are hundreds in the U.S. However, in the U.S., there are not many rules about what grapes can be grown, yield etc. for an area to get an AVA designation.
Likewise, there are not many rules regulating a vintners use of the AVA designation on a label.
Not so in Italy.
The Italian Government created a wine classification system that is much more complicated, and combined with the Italian wine makers creativity in labeling can quickly destroy a buyer's confidence. However, a little knowledge about each region, its grapes and producers and the classification system can take most of the mystery out of buying Italian wines. This is how you impress your friends. Who understands this stuff? More importantly, you will greatly enhance your enjoyment of Italian wines.
Italy is divided into twenty political regions, which also serve as wine regions. Each of these regions have unique characteristics, including varietals, weather, soil, elevations, and growing and winemaking technique. So although, a few regions produce the large majority of the best wines, each offer good to great wines and unforgettable and pleasurable experiences.
Mouse over the regions on the wine map, below, to get a sense of the major wines produced in each one. One of the confusing things about Italian wine is that a "wine name" may, in addition to the producer, include (or not) the grape varietal, area/sub-area name, Region name, or a "brand". For example two common wine names are Chianti and Barbera. Chianti refers to a wine area and Barbera is a grape variety. So, once you know something about the regions and its grape varietals, understanding wine names gets a lot simpler.
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You have likely seen many of these wine names on a label or wine list. What else do you see? You will probably see some initials, such as DOC or IGT, which will likely be on the bottle neck and the full classification (see below) spelled out on the label. You may also see (or not) the region, wine-producing area or sub-area, vineyard, varietal, and vintage (year), color, and type of wine. [A page will be added later to discuss the Italian wine label, an experience unto itself]
The trick is to be able to identify enough of these to help you make the best informed decision about the wine in the bottle.
Even, for those who speak Italian, this can be confusing and even intimidating until one becomes familiar with a few basic things.
Let's start with the basics.
The Italian system identifies wine-producing areas and also establishes four distinct "quality" classifications. "Quality" here refers more to following government rules than the qualities of the wine itself.
These classifications may include regulation of specific grape varietals, yields, formulas, and even blind tasting.
The vintner is, by law, required to follow these rules when making and labeling its wine.
The details of this system are beyond the scope of this page, and we are developing a separate page that discusses the Italian Wine Classification System in more detail.
For now, here is what you need to know about the Italian Wine Classification System.
A wine-producing area (or sub-area) with any of the following designations can be in any Italian wine region,
although not all regions have yet produced wines that get the DOCG designation.
From highest to lowest Quality Classification
DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, I.E. Certification of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.
DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine. I.E. Certification of Controlled Origin.
IGT stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica. I.E.Typical Geographic Indication.
VDT stands for Vino da Tavola. I.E. Table Wine.
Another word of caution on quality. Some of the best wines from Italy, the Super Tuscans, have an IGT designation, simply because
the vintners don't follow the rules for DOC or DOCG. And it wasn't that long ago, those great wines had the Vino da Tavola designation.
The next level will focus on the three Italian wine regions which produce majority of the most familiar and best wines in Italy;
- Piemonte (Piedmont) in the northwest corner.
- Toscano (Tuscany) to the southeast of Piemonte.
- Veneto (Venice) in the upper northeast.
Take another look at these regions in the wine map below as we move to the next level. You have probably seen and even experienced many of these wines. Now let's learn more about them.
Not surprisingly, the best Italian restaurants have the best wine lists. Often the list is divided by region (and possibly under color-Rosso and Bianco), and most often, the first section will be Piemonte (Piedmont) followed by Toscano (Tuscany) or vice-versa. There may be several other regions as well, and most likely Veneto is one of them. These three regions are highlighted in this section.
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Piemonte, on the Mediterranean Sea and bordered by France and Switzerland, lies at the foothills of the Alps. The region is famous especially for Barolo wines, consistently the most expensive wines produced in Italy. Barolo are made from a unique grape called Nebbiolo, a name which may have its origins in the foggy areas where the grape grows. These are not wines to drink young. A good Barolo can take 8-10 years (and more) to mature adequately.
Barbaresco, another fine wine from this region is also made with the Nebbiolo grape. Somewhat less expensive, and typically doesn't need as many years as the Barolo. Both of these wines will have a DOCG classification.
Two other common red wines from Piemonte are Barbera and Dolcetto. The Dolcetto is made from the Dolcetto grape and the Barbera is made from the Barbera grape. There, wasn't that easy? Both are lighter than either Barolo or the Barbaresco, and are typically consumed young. However, some of these can be cellared.
You may also see either of these wines with a DOC or a DOCG classification, meaning they are made in an approved wine-growing area or sub-area using government guidelines.
There are other reds, although not as common, such as Ghemme and Gattinera, both made with the Nebbiolo grape. These wines are not required to be 100% Nebbiolo, although many are.
White wines from Piemonte
All regions in Italy have good white wines, however, they are almost always overshadowed by the reds. Piemonte has some great whites.
Of course, the most famous is the sparkling wine, Asti Spumante, made with the Moscato grape. Cortese, a dry white, not surprisingly, is made from the Cortese grape. It may be labled as Gavi or Cortese di Gavi. Some of these can be excellent.
A lesser known white from Piemonte is Arneis, which will likely be made in Roero as a DOC. You may see a label with Barolo Bianco or Bianchetto, and they will likely be made primarily with Arneis and blended with others.
Now let's look at how you may see one of Piemonte's wines on a label or restaurant wine list. Barolo is one of the simplest.
Barolo- This wine comes from the Barolo wine producing area of Piemonte.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita-Barolo is a DOCG.
Silvio Grasso - Producer
Bricco Luciani - One of Grasso's vineyards
1997 - Vintage
Other info on the label can be important but for the most part just confuses Americans.
Imbottigliato all origine - Estate bottled
Azienda Agricolo - Agricultural Company
La Morra Italia - Location
Obviously, there is other information we would like to have to make the best decision, like; the reputation of the producer, the quality of the vintage, current drinkability, and tasting notes and ratings. There are places on the web to get this information. We have some favorites and will share those as we proceed.
Most of you are familiar with Toscano, the home of such tourist meccas of Florence and Sienna.
It is also the region which probably exports more wine to the U.S.than any other region.
Most people get their first taste of Italian wine from Toscano. Who among us did not cut their teeth on Chianti and spaghetti or lasagna?
And likely graduated to Chianti Classico and Chianti Riserva. These are certainly the most well known wines coming out of Italy.
Consequently, we use Chianti as a further example in demystifying the Italian wine. This should make it easier
when we move on to other regions.
Chianti is made in the wine-producing area named Chianti. Chianti is made substantially (minimum 80%) from the Sangiovese grape
and may include in the other 20% one or more other varietals, even white grapes. When you have a Chianti Classico,
you are drinking a wine made in the Chianti Classico wine-producing area. However, you may also see a Chianti Colli or Chianti Rufina, which are sub areas of Chianti.
Riserva, on the other hand, does not refer to an area. Riserva can only be used on a Chianti which has been aged for a
certain time period. Many of these wines have two years in the barrel and some months in the bottle before being sold.
The Italian government regulates how a wine must be labeled based on the wine producing area (or sub-area), the grape varietals, aging, etc. So when you see a Chianti Classico Riserva, you know you have a Chianti made in Classico
by the standards set for that DOCG, which of course, include the Sangiovese grape and aging requirements.
As well known as Chianti is, they are usually not considered the best wines of Toscano.
The Brunello di Montalcino has long been considered the premiere wine from Toscano and rivals the Barolos as the most sought after (and expensive) wines from Italy.
Montalcino is the wine producing area and is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes.
In the last decade or so Super Tuscans have competed with Brunello for Toscano's best wine distinction.
For sure, they are among the most expensive. The best example of a Super Tuscan is the famous Sassicaia
from the Bolgheri wine-producing area of Toscano. This wine made from cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc has been around for decades. Sassicaia, granted its own DOC sub-area status in the 90's, can easily cost $200 upon release.
Another famous Super Tuscan from Bolgheri is Ornellaia, similar in price to the Sassicaia.
Not all super tuscans are as expensive as these. Tignanello can often be found for $65-$80 and there are others under $30. We will be building pages dedicated to finding affordable and inexpensive Italian wines.
Venice (Venezia) is what we normally think of when we see Veneto and the city is one of the great cities of the world. Get away from this coasal city and we find one of the greatest wine producing regions in Italy. Although Veneto has some great red wines such as Valpolicella, Bardolino, and Amarone, it may be best known for Soave and Orvieto, two wonderful whites and Prosecco, the popular sparkling white. Soave Superiore is a DOCG
separate from the Soave DOC. With the Superiore, you get a wine that has met the standards of the DOCG, i.e. 80% Garganega grape from Soave vineyards with regulated yields, longer aging, and higher alcohol.
Valpolicella is a medium bodied fruity red made with a blend of Corvina, Rodinella, and Molinara grapes. A very interesting wine made in the Valpolicella wine-producing area is Amarone. This wine is made from grapes after they have been dried (think raisins) producing a flavorful full bodied red.
Bardolino is a popular dry red blended from several varieties of grape, including, corvina, rodinella, and molinara.
There is also a DOCG, Bardolino Superiore.
Now onto the other seventeen regions of Italy. There are some other great regions and some that are coming on strong as many producers update their techniques to compete with the rest of the country.
Stay with us.
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More to Come!
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