Italy has well over 500 grape varieties, it’s impossible to know them all. However, there are few Italian grape varieties that you should know that’ll give you a better understand of Italian wine in general. I’ve included some of these grape varieties because they’re popular and others because the wines they make are excellent. What’s your favorite Italian grape variety?
5 Italian Red Grape Varieties to Know
Wine lovers flocked to Italy for the gorgeous red wines produced. From the famous wines of Barolo in the north to the exquisite red wines of Sicily, there is a red wine for everyone. Here are the 5 Italian grape varieties to know when exploring red wine.
- Pronounced Ah-lee-a-nee-ko
- Red wine of the south: Campania, Basilicata
Aglianico grows in Southern Italy and is the most popular red grape of the Campania and Basilicata regions. It produces a vino rosso that is often referred to as the “Barolo of the South” for its structure, tannins, and ageing capabilities.
What does Aglianico look like?
Aglianico is a dark berried grape that buds early and ripens late. This means that Aglianico thrives in regions with a long growing season with plenty of sunshine. In the glass, Aglianico is a dark ruby color.
What does Aglianico smell like?
Aglianico is an aromatic red wine. Aglianico smells like black cherry, plums, and herbaceous notes of eucalyptus and pink pepper kernels.
What does Aglianico taste like?
Aglianico is full-bodied with high tannins and high acidity. On the palate, Aglianico is fruit forward with aftertastes of licorice and vanilla.
What foods pair well with Aglianico?
Aglianico pairs well with meat dishes because it has high tannins which need protein to neutralize. Game meats would also pair well with Aglianico or pasta dishes with meat sauce.
- Pronounced san-jo-VAY-say
Sangiovese is the most widely planted grape in Italy and mainly found in central regions of the country. The name is a derivative of Latin’s “Blood of Jupiter.” However, this famous red grape also has a presence as far south as Sicily. Its most famous growing region, Toscana, is home to the world-renowned Chianti Classico DOCG. But the grape is also referred to with the synonyms of Morellino (Morellino di Scansano DOCG), Brunello (Brunello di Montalcino DOCG), and Prugnolo gentile (Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG).
What does Sangiovese look like?
Sangiovese is another early-budding and late-ripening grape that does best in moderate temperatures during a long growing season. The grapes on the vine are blue-black in color. In the glass, Sangiovese is bright ruby.
What does Sangiovese smell like?
When you smell a glass of Sangiovese you will be convinced you’ve put your nose in a bowl of cherries; by far the most dominant smell. Sangiovese can also bring out savory smells like tomato and herbs. It is also smells like coffee and leather.
What does Sangiovese taste like?
Sangiovese is medium-bodied with high acidity and moderate tannins. Again, cherry dominates the palate but there’s also notes of plum and strawberry.
What foods pair well with Sangiovese?
Sangiovese is the ultimate food wine. The high acidity makes it a natural match with every tomato dish you can imagine. The tannins are firm but not overwhelming. It is classically paired with Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
All hail the king! Nebbiolo is the grape that gifts us the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco in the Piemonte region of northern Italy. It is named after the nebbia, or fog, that greets the vineyards in the morning. Nebbiolo is a grape that can age for decades because of it’s high acid and tannin structure. There are 6 regions classified DOCG for Nebbiolo including Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Ghemme, Gattinara, and Carema.
What does Nebbiolo look like?
Nebbiolo is an early-budding and very late ripening grape. The berries are large and thick-skinned with a purple-black color with low pigmentation. In the glass, Nebbiolo is pale garnet.
What does Nebbiolo smell like?
Nebbiolo is known to smell like “tar & roses”. It is a very aromatic wine with lots of cherry, strawberry fruit smells but also spices like anise, flowers like roses and violets, and earthy smells like clay and tar. The aromas of Nebbiolo are hypnotizing.
What does Nebbiolo taste like?
Nebbiolo tastes like being punched in the face but liking it. It’s all the extremes; high acid that will rip your face off, high tannins that will make your mouth implode, and high in alcohol and body. I promise you this is all a good thing though. The palate continues with cherry fruit, leather, and spice.
What foods pair well with Nebbiolo?
Nebbiolo needs a dish that matches its weight, acid, and tannins. The best dishes are meat and game dishes or strong flavors like truffles which also grow in northern Italy. For Barolo food pairings, check out this post, most pair with Nebbiolo in general.
Nero d’Avola is undoubtedly the symbol of Sicilia with about 12,000 hectares of total area cultivated on the island. It is also referred to as Calabrese in the official Italian registry, suggesting that its origins are in Calabria. But in reality Nero d’Avola is a native of Sicilia and its origins are from the province of Syracuse in the southeastern part of the island.
What does Nero d’Avola look like?
Nero d’Avola is a high yielding grape that ripens early. The grapes are loosely clustered with blue medium-sized berries. In the glass, Nero d’Avola is deep ruby.
What does Nero d’Avola smell like?
Nero d’Avola is a wine of medium aromatic intensity. Nero d’Avola smells like black cherry, violets, and licorice. The longer it ages the more earthy characteristics come out like tobacco and dried leaves.
What does Nero d’Avola taste like?
Nero d’Avola is a medium-bodied, medium+ acid, and medium tannin wine. On the palate there’s a beautiful velvety mouth feel, fruity notes of plum and cherry and a slight spiciness on the finish.
What foods pair well with Nero d’Avola?
Nero d’Avola pairs with smoked meats, grilled pork chops and steaks, beef stews, and anything with BBQ sauce.
Primitivo may sound unfamiliar to you, but what if I tell you it’s the same grape as Zinfandel? A-ha! Sorry Zinfandel, you thought you were strictly American. Not the case. Primitivo grows in Puglia, the heel of the boot.
What does Primitivo look like?
Primitivo grape form really long and narrow bunches. It is a thin-skinned grape that likes to grow in warm climates. In the glass, Primitivo is bright reddish ruby.
What does Primitivo smell like?
Primitivo is a very fruit forward red wine. It smells like raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. There’s also a distinct cinnamon note.
What does Primitivo taste like?
Primitivo generally has moderate subtle tannins. It is medium to full bodied with low acidity but high alcohol. Primitvo expresses its spicy notes on the palate.
What foods pair well with Primitivo?
Primitivo pairs nicely with spicy food, meat dishes, and any dishes with a jam or fruit component.
5 Italian White Grapes to Love
There are hundreds of Italian white grape varieties grown throughout the country from Pinot Grigio in the north to Grillo in Sicily. There is a whole world of Italian white wine to discover but start with these 5 Italian grape varieties to uncover superb white wines.
Fiano is a white grape variety considered among the best and noble in Italy. It is grown mainly in the province of Avellino in the eastern part of Campania. The name’s origin is from a northern Ligurian population of the Apuan Alps who migrated in the second century BCE to Campania. They brought with them the Apuana vine, the name of which morphed into Apiano, then Afiano, and eventually Fiano. It has been documented since the 17th century.
What does Fiano look like?
Fiano is vigorous but characterized by low yields and gives the best results if grown on volcanic soils. Fiano’s grape bunch is small or medium-sized with berries that are very tight, thick-skinned, and golden. In the glass, Fiano is a straw-colored.
What does Fiano smell like?
The wine obtained from Fiano is characterized by refined and complex aromas and stands out for the finesse and richness of its fruity and floral aromas, with notes of pears and apples, peaches, and citrus fruits, and even pine nuts.
What does Fiano taste like?
Fiano is light-bodied with a velvety mouthfeel with good minerality and pleasant and marked acidity.
What foods pair well with Fiano?
Fiano pairs well with seafood dishes, herb-rubbed poultry dishes, and Asian-style vegetarian dishes.
Grillo is arguably the best white grape in Sicily. It is a cross between the Sicilian white grapes Cataratto and Zibibo. Grillo was an obscure grape that became a trendy wine seemingly overnight thanks to a movement toward natural winemaking on the island.
What does Grillo look like?
Grillo is a high yielding grape with medium-sized grape bunches. It has acclimated perfectly to the warm Sicilian growing season. In the glass, Grillo can be medium straw to gold depending on the winemaking technique. Oxidized styles will be darker in color.
What does Grillo smell like?
Grillo smells like grapefruit, lemon, and green apple.
What does Grillo taste like?
Grillo has medium+ acidity, medium bodied, and moderately high in alcohol. Natural winemaking styles will have slight tannins as well.
What foods pair well with Grillo?
Grillo pairs well with anything coming out of the sea, especially seafood pasta dishes with squid ink. Grillo would be great with fresh oysters, grilled chicken, or even a great wine for Thanksgiving dinner.
As an American, until I started studying wine, Pinot Grigio was one of the only Italian grape varieties I knew. Believe it or not, Pinot Grigio is rather rare except in the areas of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, and Trentino-Alto Adige, all found in the northeast corner of Italy. It became extremely popular in the United States and throughout the new world because it was a inexpensive wine that was easy to grow and actually tasted really good. It’s very easy drinking and goes with lots of different foods.
What does Pinot Grigio look like?
Pinot Grigio is the same grape as Pinot Gris and a part of the Pinot family of grapes. On the vine, the berries are pinkish purple.
What does Pinot Grigio smell like?
Pinot Grigio is an aromatic white wine with citrus and floral characteristics. Peaches, lemon, and melon smells are present as well.
What does Pinot Grigio taste like?
Pinot Grigio is light-bodied with crisp acidity. The citrus notes come out on the palate as well as an almond flavor on the finish.
What foods pair well with Pinot Grigio?
Anything you would squeeze a lemon on would be great with Pinot Grigio; grilled fish, wild greens, roasted poultry. Pinot Grigio is a wine you can also drink on its own while nibbling on light snacks.
Trebbiano Toscano is the most widely grown white grape in Italy. It is a member of the Trebbiano family of grapes that also includes Trebbiano Abruzzese and Trebbiano Romagnolo. This grape is also known as Procanico. In France, the same grape is called Ugni Blanc.
Trebbiano Toscano’s area under vine in Toscana is even higher than that of Sangiovese. Interestingly it was also part of the original Chianti recipe. Today, however, winemakers blend it with other grapes like Malvasia to make the sweet Vin Santo wines.
What does Trebbiano Toscano look like?
Trebbiano creates long grape bunches with greenish yellow berries. It is a late-ripening grape due its typical October harvests; however, some areas might harvest it earlier in order to take advantage of the thick-skinned grape’s high acidity levels. In the glass, Trebbiano is pale straw.
What does Trebbiano Toscano smell like?
Trebbiano Toscano isn’t a particularly aromatic white grape. You will find apple, pear, citrus, and peach aromas in the best expressions of the grape.
What does Trebbiano Toscano taste like?
Trebbiano Toscano is light to medium-bodied with good acidity. Green apples and a tiny bit of saline are present on the palate. The finish can be quite herbaceous.
What foods pair well with Trebbiano Toscano?
Trebbiano Toscano is a great white wine that pairs seamlessly with most light dishes like aglio e olio, pizza bianco, chicken salad, and grilled fish.
Verdicchio is a white Italian grape variety found mainly in the Le Marche region on the hills between Jesi and Matelica. Its name, as it also happens in many other similar cases (Verdeca, Verduzzo) derives from the green color of its berries. Recent DNA studies have confirmed its identity with Trebbiano di Soave and Trebbiano di Lugana, which has led to the hypothesis that Verdicchio was introduced in the region by Veronese winemakers around 1400. The main cultivation areas of Verdicchio are that of Castelli di Jesi, in the province of Ancona, and that of Matelica in the province of Macerata.
Verdicchio is suitable for both steel and wood vinification and has the potential to produce wines of great longevity, also thanks to the great structure, acidity, and high alcohol content. The grapes produce very fresh wines, with an extremely complex aromatic profile, and characterized by an unmistakable almond and savory finish. Verdicchio is rather eclectic and can be enjoyed without losing its main characteristics in the sparkling, classic or charmat method, passito or late-harvest versions. (Julie wrote this poetically, I didn’t want to change a word).
This post would not have been possible without lots of input and writing from my dear friend Julie Farricker. Make sure to visit The Italian Cellar to keep up to date with all things Italian wine and travel.