Many—if not most—of our clients include some sort of wine tasting in their Italy itinerary, including experiences from a general “Intro to Italian Wine” survey with a sommelier in a Roman tasting room to a deep dive into a specific, little-known local wine at family-run wineries in Puglia’s Val d’Itria. I’m no sommelier (and maybe not even an oenophile), but I love wine and have led many a wine tasting over the years in Italy. Based on the hundreds of wines I’ve sampled and loved, I’ve put together a list of 15 of the best Italian wines I think you should try while traveling in Italy.
To keep it simple, I haven’t included any specific vintages or wineries…or even much detail about each wine. I don’t think you need it—these wines are just yummy and don’t need much of an introduction. This is more of a pocket guide to keep handy during your trip; if you get the opportunity while traveling to have a sip, a glass, or buy a bottle of any one of these at the local wine shop or even supermarket, I most definitely recommend it.
To start, here are the most popular Italian wines easy to find abroad. Since you’re likely to find these stocked in your neighborhood liquor store or Trader Joe’s, there’s no reason to highlight them here, but I do suggest you try them before you visit Italy so you have something to compare:
A sparkling white wine, Franciacorta holds its own next to a Veuve Cliquot champagne. Have it as a pre-dinner drink or for a celebration.
A light, can’t-go-wrong red. (OK…this one is easily found outside of Italy, but the local selection is so much better!)
There are three types of Fragolino (strawberry wine) found in Italy. One is a dessert wine. One is a sparkling wine. The third, the one I recommend, is a non-dessert, non-sparkling, light strawberry-flavored wine that may be harder to find because it is illegal to make: its alcohol levels are evidently hard to control. It’s not dangerous though (it’s only about 5% alcohol), so if you can find a local farmer who makes it, try some.
1) Moscato D’Asti
A light, sweet, and bubbly white wine that is ideal to sip before dinner, use in a Bellini, or to accompany dessert.
2) Nebbiolo Bianco
A white wine made with the Arneis grape, one of my sommelier friends describes this wine as a “pinot grigio on steroids”.
A slightly sweet red wine, though not a dessert wine, that some say this tastes a little like Barolo without the strong tannins.
4) Barbera D’Asti
A yummy red that is delightfully fruity when young but develops a fuller flavor as it ages, with cinnamon and cocoa notes.
1) Vernaccia di San Gimignano
A light white wine that has been a favorite since the 1300s, though it spent a few decades out of fashion until modern wine lovers rediscovered its crisp, slightly acidic flavor.
2) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
A robust red made with Sangiovese grapes, this is among the best Italian wines for its intense notes of cherries, plums, and violets and is both bold and smooth.
3) Montepulciano D’Abruzzo
Fooled you! This robust red is actually made in the central region of Abruzzo, though it shares its name with the more famous Vino Nobile. It is dry with soft tannins, though the quality seems to vary notably between wine makers.
4) Vin Santo
A very sweet dessert wine generally made with white grapes that have been dried on straw mats or hanging racks. It is often served with biscotti for dipping in the wine.
1) Basilicata DOC
A delicious red with chocolate and cherry notes made with the Aglianico grape grown in the volcanic soil of Mt. Vulture and considered one of Italy’s top red wines.
2) Rosato from Salento
A rose’ wine made from the Negroamaro grape and one of the most important wines from Puglia. The color can range from barely-there powder pink to in-your-face fuschia.
1) Donnafugata (Sicily)
I’m breaking my own rule by mentioning a wine-maker rather thana specific wine, but Donnafugata has put Sicily on the wine map with their well-respected red (and white) wines.
2) Vermentino (Sardinia)
A great white wine that pairs well with the island’s sharp “pecorino” sheep cheese and fresh seafood plucked from the waters just off the island’s coast.
3) Cannonau (Sardinia)
An powerful red with higher (sometimes 18%) alcohol levels that is made with the oldest grape discovered in the Mediterranean to date.
If you are interested in trying the best Italian wines while in Italy, check out these great wine tour options (we were contacted as a source for this article, so we have worked with many of the companies listed here!) As they say in Italy, “cin, cin!”
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