Italy’s Most Interesting Wine Regions

Over the years there has been an increasing amount of debate about the relative merits of wine made in the old world versus the new world.  Part of the debate centers on the style of wines being made, which is largely influenced by the warmer temperatures experienced in vineyards across the new world.  More so than any other country, Italy co-exists in both worlds.

Italy’s wine making history is long and interesting, but the important part to remember is that Italy went through a renaissance of sorts a few decades ago when modern wine making techniques and grapes came to Italy.  Of course, Italy has its own native grapes to work with like Barbera, which is barely planted elsewhere.  That makes Italy fit comfortably in both camps, old world and new.

A castle in Umbria
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Umbria

Responsible for  7% of Italy’s total wine production, Umbria is a region in the heart of Italy, bordered by Tuscany to the west and Marche to the east.  While there are some value based Sangiovese made here, the real draw, in my opinion at least, is Orvieto white wine. Orvieto is actually a white wine blend based on the Grechetto grape; it’s a nice alternative to Chardonnay and Italy’s own Pinot Grigio, and offers a slightly more intense white.

The Italian Alps
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Trentino – Alto Adige

About 6% of Italy’s total wine production comes from this high altitude region sitting at the northern reaches of the country, in the Alps next to Switzerland and Austria.  That high altitude has caused vintners in the area to produce some of the best sparkling wines in all of Italy.  Just like we see with New Mexico here in the United States, areas at high altitude can often produce world class sparkling wines, even from climates that are thought of as too hot or too cold to produce world class wine.

Piedmont

About 11% of total wine production comes from Piedmont which is home to Italy’s most famous wine grape, Nebbiolo.  Nebbiolo is an interesting grape, especially if you’re more accustomed to drinking Cabernet Sauvignon.  Nebbiolo achieves the same level of tannic fruit forwardness, but it combines it with a higher amount of acidity than most wine drinkers  – more accustomed to French and American wine – think is possible. Additionally Barolo comes from this region and this grape, which in my opinion is probably the best bet to join Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as the most expensive red wines in the world.

Sicily

Only 1% or so of Italian wine production, but Sicily offers an interesting look into Italian wine because these are generally the most affordable wines produced in the country.  Part of the reason for that affordability is that Sicily is the warmest part of the country and demographics are making it a more popular destination than it was a generation or two ago when there was more talk of Mafia bosses and other unsavory elements than the fact that it is literally one of the most beautiful areas on the planet.  If you’re pairing a wine with a couple of slices of pizza, Sicilian wine is uniquely suited for that.


About the Author

Mark Aselstine is the owner and proprietor of Uncorked Ventures, a wine club based in San Francisco.  Unlike so many of his competitors, he believes that Italian wine can stand up against its French counterparts and has always greatly enjoyed his time in Italy.