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Italian Wine Buying Guide

Hand-harvesting on the Melini estate, Tuscany.
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Map showing the regions of Italy's wine producers.

Italy offers the wine tourist a wealth of treasures with its complex patchwork of regions and styles. Delve into a sample of the vast array of wines and beautiful vineyards with these snapshots.

Sicily

From the graceful city of Palermo to the arid slopes of Mount Etna, this little isle exudes a particular style that is at once Italian, yet uniquely Sicilian. The same philosophy applies to the region’s wines, often created from historic local grape varieties such as white Catarratto and red Nero d’Avola. Once known almost exclusively for fortified styles from the east and south, where African winds create some of Italy’s hottest landscapes, Sicily has forged a great reputation in recent years for fresh, fruity wines. The best of these come from the cooler vineyards of the northern coast, on the foothills of Italy’s spinal mountain range, the Apennines.

Puglia

Forming the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia lies at the heart of Italy’s oldest vineyard region. The vineyards of the southern tip predate the Greek occupation of the area, causing the invaders to name their new acquisition ‘Land of Vines’. Despite a period of decline, the quality of the wines from Puglia is firmly on the rise, with the best producers combining traditional grape varieties such as red Primitivo and white Falanghina with modern winemaking techniques. The region’s best known vineyards lie in the far south, on the plains of the Salento peninsula, where gnarled old, low yielding Negroamaro vines produce accomplished reds of huge intensity.

Tuscany

The landscape across much of modern Tuscany remains largely unchanged from the scenes of cypress trees, humble stone farmhouses and blue-green hills that inspired local painters Michelangelo and Botticelli many centuries ago. Vineyards were as evident in their time as they are now, spreading inland from the Mediterranean coast first on low plains then on sun-catching slopes so vital for ripening the local star grape, Sangiovese. The vast majority of the region’s famous wines, such as Chianti, Brunello and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, extract the finest traits of this red variety to create the definitive Tuscan style.

Veneto

This is possibly Italy’s most varied region, with a wealth of red, white and sparkling styles crafted from vineyards that span the plains of the Po Valley and the heights of the Alps’ southern reaches above Verona. Although there’s many permitted varieties, Garganega is the most prevalent white, used for Soave, and a blend of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella create the most famous red, Valpolicella. The Valpolicella style varies from light and fresh to rich, super-intense Ripasso, where the grapes are dried prior to pressing for added flavour concentration.

Piedmont

As one of Italy’s few landlocked regions, sheltered on three sides by the Alps and the Apennines, Piedmont has harsher winters and hotter summers than its coastal neighbours. The ethereal fog or ‘nebbia’ that swirls amongst the Langhe and Monferrato Hills, home to much of the region’s wine production, has given its name to the real star of the region; the Nebbiolo grape. The sole component of Barolo and Barbaresco, this difficult variety constantly challenges winemakers. Barbera and Dolcetto are easier reds to grow, but harder to nurture to true magnificence, while Cortese can create truly beautiful white Gavi from the southern reaches of the region.

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Italian Red Highlights

 

Mezzomondo Negroamaro Rosso 2008/09 Salento, Puglia

Mezzomondo Negroamaro Rosso 2008/09 Salento

A delightful Italian wine, with a robust combination of savoury characters and dark berry fruit flavours. Perfect with red meats.

Terra Viva Merlot 2008/09 Veneto

Terra Viva Merlot 2008/09 Veneto

A 100% organic wine from the cool valleys in the foothills of the Alps with an intense purity of style and blueberry fruit.

Melini Borghi d'Elsa 2008 Chianti

Melini Borghi d'Elsa 2008 Chianti

This is a delicious Chianti made from Sangiovese grapes grown in Tuscany. Packed with red cherry fruit and hints of spice.

 

Italian White Highlights

 

Araldica La Luciana 2008 Gavi, Piedmont

Araldica La Luciana 2008 Gavi, Piedmont

This is a fresh, crisp and lightly aromatic dry white wine from the Cortese grapes local to the Piedmont region.

Sicilano Wild Cat Catarratto 2007/2008 Sicily

Sicilano Wild Cat Catarratto 2007/2008 Sicily

A delicious Catarratto with lively citrus fruit flavours and a soft, buttery edge. All the fruit for the Wild Cat is organic.

Zenato Villa Flora 2009 Lugana, Veneto

Zenato Villa Flora 2009 Lugana, Veneto

An excellent Italian wine produced from Trebbiano grapes grown just south of Lake Garda with delicate floral notes.