The most well-known Italian red wine is perhaps Chianti, featuring on the menus of Italian restaurants around the world. In the fine wine world, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Super Tuscans top the list for what many consider the best Italian red wine.
However, these giants, made from Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and international varieties respectively are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to red Italian wine. Italy boasts a great number of red wines ranging from light bodied to full bodied, dry to sweet and still to sparkling. Italy’s massive selection of indigenous varieties and range of terroirs gives rise to a wine list that should have something to suit all palates.
Piedmont is most famous for its Nebbiolo, but is also home to two more key varieties, the workhorse variety Barbera and Dolcetto, which makes reds for everyday drinking. However, there is also a wealth of other red varieties to discover, including Freisa, related to Nebbiolo, the light, spicy Grignolino, the sweet, often sparkling Brachetto and the spicy, aromatic Ruché.
Sangiovese is king in Tuscany. In addition to Chianti and Brunello, you may also like to dip your toes into the world of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Morellino di Scansano, both wines based on Sangiovese.
Tuscany’s neighbour Umbria boasts one of Italy’s most tannic red wines – Montefalco Sagrantino, which is also produced in a sweet passito version.
Veneto is home to Valpolicella and Bardolino, bright fruity wines based on Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella as well as the velvety rich alcoholic dry passito Amarone della Valpolicella and its sweet partner Recioto della Valpolicella.
Trentino-Alto Adige in the north has some hidden gems too, such as the deeply coloured full-bodied Lagrein and the light Schiava (also called Vernatsch in German) with red berry and floral aromas in Alto Adige, or Süd Tirol as it is known by German speakers, and Merzemino and Teroldego Rotaliano in Trentino. Teroldego is the prince of wines in Trentino with spicy forest fruit, violet notes and smooth tannins.
The much-maligned frothy red Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna has more to offer than you think, with dry, artisanal versions of the fruity wine being produced alongside the sea of sweet, light, quaffable summer sparklers.
The south also has much to offer, with Puglia weighing in with its dense, heady Primitivo di Manduria and Salice Salentino produced from Negro Amaro and Aleatico, as well as the region’s most elegant red, Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva.
Campania’s Taurasi, made from the high acid, high tannin Aglianico has been dubbed the Barolo of the south, but Aglianico also produces Aglianico del Taburno in Campania and Aglianico del Vulture in neighbouring Basilica, two more southern heavyweights.
Abruzzo is home to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which covers most of the region. Montepulciano is widely planted both here and in the Marche, but generally takes a back seat to the big boys of the centre and south, Sangiovese and Aglianico, although it can be a plump wine of great depth and longevity, inky black with flavours of blackberries and earthiness.
No spin around the best Italian red wine would be complete without mentioning Italy’s main islands – Sicily and Sardinia. Sicily’s top seller is its deep, dark Nero d’Avola, bottled either as a varietal or in blends with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or especially Syrah. It is also part of the recipe for Cerrasuolo di Vittoria where it partners with the lighter Frappato. The heights of Etna are the realm of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, the components of the trendy Etna Rosso. The final stop on our whirlwind tour of red Italian wine is Sardinia, home to Cannonau, the local name for Grenache, and one of Sardinia’s most popular varieties. The light, bright berry-scented Monica is also planted here along with Carignano, the inkiest and fruitiest of Sardinia’s three main red varieties.
At Wine Paths, our team of local experts can help you continue your journey and guide you through the jungle of Italian red wine.
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