Italian wine is vast and complicated. There are 20 wine regions to explore and hundreds of Italian grapes. This Italian wine guide is intended to break down the basics of Italian wine by region. Reference Italian Wine 101 when traveling to Italy, when buying Italian wine, and when eating Italian food. Use the Table of Contents to skip around and explore a specific Italian wine region. There’s also this handy guide to Italian wine terms.
Italian Wine History
Discussing Italy and its wines isn’t simply about the grapes. But, most importantly, it is embarking on a long journey rich in history, culture, and traditions. From the Alps to Sicilia, and even among the scenic hills, the presence of the vine and long stretches of vineyards are practically everywhere. However, seeing this boundless expanse of vines explains why the ancient Greeks referred to Italy as Oenotria—the land of vines. This signifies that the vine and wine were already well present in Italy since the times of Greek colonization, although the Etruscan civilization is usually credited in Italian wine history. The Greeks also contributed enormously to the spread of grapevine and wine in Italy, not only by introducing new winemaking and cultivation techniques, but even by introducing different species of vines.
Regardless, it was the Etruscans who established the first forms of vine cultivation and wine production in Italy. This civilization immediately understood the importance and potential of the vine and wine and, although they were not the main consumers, they were aware of its enormous commercial potential and even sold it as far away as Burgundy. But the Etruscans did not introduce the cultivation of the vine in other countries. The spread of viticulture and the consumption of wine was instead the work of the Romans who introduced the vine and the habit of consuming wine in every place that was conquered.
Italy has more than 500 different grape species and only recently has there been a resurgence of interest in promoting many of these grapes that have often been forgotten or underestimated. And fortunately the wine industry itself has shifted from large quantities to quality production. Therefore, exploring the different regions is essential to understanding the wines and the significance to that territory. Cin-cin!
Understanding Italian Wine Classification
The first thing we need to learn in Italian Wine 101 is how to read an Italian wine label. You will notice that many Italian wines have fancy official stamps on the neck of the bottles. Referred to in Italian as a fascetta, this seal of the Italian government also includes either of the following letters: DOC (blue) or DOCG (gold). If you don’t see the fascetta on the bottle’s neck, the actual label on the front of the bottle will have the terms DOC, DOCG, or IGT underneath the specific name of the wine. But what do these letters even mean?
DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)
This stamp signifies that the wine you are about to consume has been held to the strictest standards and is “Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin”. The wine has been verified to be from a particular region/grape/vineyard. The published disciplinare outlines the exact rules for that particular wine to bear its name and the DOCG status. The Italian government takes one of its main exports very seriously and there are currently only 76 (with Piemonte, Veneto, and Toscana touting the most of the 21 regions).
Asti-sparkling wine from Piemonte
Barolo-red wine from Piemonte
Amarone della Valpolicella– red wine from Veneto
Fiano di Avellino-white wine from Campania
Chianti Classico-red wine from Toscana
DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata)
More relaxed in standards than its DOCG sibling, the “Controlled Denomination of Origin” ensures that the wine is from a particular area but it could include different types of grapes. Due to the more relaxed standards there are over 300 DOC wines available.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo-red wine from Abruzzo
Nero d’Avola-red wine from Sicilia
Friuli Collio Pinot Grigio-white wine from Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Prosecco-sparkling white wine from Veneto
Etna Rosso-red blend from Sicilia
IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)
For those winemakers who didn’t quite meet the government’s checklist for DOC, the “Typical Geographical Indication” illustrates that the wine is still from a specific region. This by no means signifies that the wine would be of a lesser quality than the others. In fact, some of the popular Super Tuscans on the market are labeled as such.
Italian Wine Regions
The actual country of Italy is quite young considering its unification was only in 1861. If you were to look at a map of Italy today there are 20 administrative regions that have their own history, culture, cuisine, and even language. Although Italian is the official language, it’s very common to hear the local language of Romano while listening to shopkeepers in Roma, Neapolitan (Napulitano) in the southern regions of the country, Sardo in Sardegna, and even Siciliano in Sicily. It’s as if you are visiting 20 separate countries that are all united under the tricolore (green, white, and red) flag. But this is the beauty of Italy.
For Italian Wine 101 purposes, many in-depth sources would refer to 21 regions because the autonomous region of Trentino/Alto-Adige is usually separated. Since Italy is number one in the world for wine production, there are wines made from over 500 indigenous and traditional grapes. Besides the Italians themselves, the residents of the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom are also avid fans. However, it’s very common to see more of the main wine regions of Veneto, Piemonte, and Toscana represented on the shelves or in the cellars.
Fortunately for oenophiles, many of the southern and even smaller regions are starting to make their mark on wine maps. Let’s take a trip around Italy and learn about some of the major wines and grapes, one region at a time! Andiamo! Let’s go!
NOTA BENE: Any reference to a hectare in the following descriptions would be equivalent to about 2.5 acres.
Northern Italian Wine 101
- Smallest region in Italy
- Main grapes- Prié Blanc (bianco) and Petit Rouge (rosso)
- 1 DOC- Valle d’Aosta DOC
Valle d’Aosta is the smallest region in Italy and nestled near the highest mountain in Europe, Monte Bianco. Its Dora Baltea River has contributed to the fertility of the central valley and there are seven main sub-zones located along the river. There are many traditional grapes of this region, such as Prié Blanc (bianco) and Petit Rouge (rosso), and it is also very common to see more references to French than Italian due to its proximity to France. This mainly mountainous region is also dominated by red wines with only one DOC: Valle d’Aosta DOC.
- Home to the King and Queen of Italian wine- Barolo and Barbaresco
- Mainly red wine but also white and frizzante
- Main grapes: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Arneis, Cortese, Moscato
- 43 DOCG
- 76 DOC
Piemonte is one of the main regions of Italian wine production with over 50,000 hectares of vines and is mainly known for its powerhouse vini rossi (red wines). Many wines from this mountainous region are monovarietal and not blended. The Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG are frequently referred to as the King and Queens of Italian wines due to their unique expressions of Nebbiolo, as well as emphasizing the importance of terroir and cru with notations about even a singular vineyard from many producers. In addition, the northern Nebbiolo expressions of Gattinara DOCG and Ghemme DOCG are also popular.
After Nebbiolo, Barbera is the second most widely grown grape with four different appellations that produce various styles. Barbera del Monferrato DOCG is considered the most noteworthy, but the expressions of Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba are just as popular in the Langhe hills.
Furthermore, this famous region currently touts 43 DOCG wines and 76 DOC wines yet no IGT wines. For all of the attention to its vini rossi, there are also DOCGs dedicated to vini bianchi (white wines): Gavi di Gavi made from cortese; Roero Arneis made from Arneis; and the region’s most popular Asti Spumante, a fully sparkling wine made from the native Moscato Bianco grape.
- Very mountainous area
- Mostly white wine
- Main grapes: Vermentino, Albarola, Bosco, Rossese, and Ormeasco
- 8 DOC
- 4 IGT
Liguria is the mountainous region of the Italian Riviera that is dominated by vini bianchi and heroic viticulture with grapes harvested by hand due to the many cliff-side vineyards. There are 8 DOC and 4 IGT wines that focus on blends. The vini rossi are highlighted by the Rossese, and Dolcetto (known locally as Ormeasco) grapes, while the vini bianchi are produced from Vermentino, Albarola, and Bosco grapes.
- Famous for sparkling wine Franciacorta
- Main grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco
- 5 DOCG
- 23 DOC
- 15 IGT
Lombardia is as flat as it is mountainous. It is even possible to have a view of the Alps while driving to Milan’s Malpensa Airport. However, this difference in terrain produces 5 DOCG, 23 DOC, and 15 IGT wines among its 29,000 hectares of vines. White wines dominate with the most famous Italian metodo classico spumante (traditional method sparkling wine): Franciacorta. This DOCG is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco grapes and styles could be aged from 18 to 60 months.
- The region famous for Lambrusco and Balsamic vinegar
- Main grapes: Over 6 varieties of Lambrusco, Albana
- 2 DOCG
- 18 DOC
- 9 IGT
Emilia-Romagna and its famous hills have 51,000 hectares dedicated to 2 DOCG, 18 DOC, and 9 IGT wines. Vino rosso dominates with its famous lambrusco family of grapes. These indigenous grapes produce some of the region’s famous dry, still, sweet, and even sparkling wines. The first white wine DOCG of Italy was for Albana di Romagna. Treat yourself to an amazing day-trip from Modena by touring the Castelvetro hills and stopping for a degustazione or tasting of Lambrusco Castelvetro di Modena, balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and the region’s famous prosciutto. There’s a reason why this region is known as one of the gastronomic capitals of Italy.
- Famous for Prosecco and Amarone
- White wines dominate
- Glera, Garganega, Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara
- 14 DOCG
- 28 DOC
- 10 IGT
Veneto is overwhelmingly dominated by its vini bianchi and is first in Italy for wine production. Its 78,000 hectares are home to 14 DOCG, 28 DOC, and 10 IGT wines. Prosecco is the most well-known Italian sparkling wine with more than 500 million bottles produced in both DOC and DOCG classifications made from Glera. The Prosecco hills of Treviso are an easy day-trip from nearby Venezia. The other popular white grape, Garganega, produces Soave and is usually paired with dishes ranging from antipasti to even grilled white meats. However, the Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG is the most famous red wine aged in barrels for two years and produced from air-dried Corvina grapes blended with Rondinella and Molinara grapes.
- Austrian/German influence
- Main grapes: Schiava, Lagrein, Pinot Grigio
- 9 DOC
- 4 IGT
Trentino/Alto-Adige and the Dolomites will be spectacular hosts to the 2026 Winter Olympics. Although this region currently has no DOCG wines, the 9 DOC and 4 IGT allow for many expressions of native grapes. Trentino wines have the influence of Lago di Garda and the Teroldego Rotaliano DOC is its most well-known. The northern Alto-Adige section has Austrian roots with many of its wine labels written in German and referring to the region’s name as Südtirol. The vini rossi of Schiava and Lagrein are really a tale of two grapes. The lighter-bodied Schiava is quite a contrast to the fuller-bodied Lagrein. There is also quite a bit of Pinot Grigio which does well in the colder climates of the north.
- Predominantly white wine
- Main grapes: Pinot Grigio, Picolit
- 4 DOCG
- 10 DOC
- 3 IGT
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is Slovenia’s neighbor and making headlines with native single varietals that are a part of the region’s portfolio of 4 DOCG, 10 DOC, and 3 IGT wines. Currently, the vini bianchi account for almost 70% of total production in hillslope vineyards while the flatlands share plantings of white and red vines. The sweet wine made with Picolit is very popular as it is paired with many of Friuli’s sweets or blue cheeses. However, cooler temperatures highlight the real star of the show: Pinot Grigio, as well as its “Super Whites.” This region also is gaining traction with its ancient wine tradition of using skin contact white wines and amphorae vessels to produce orange wines.
Central Italian Wine 101
- Most famous wine region of Italy, home to Chianti, Brunello, and the Super Tuscans
- Main grapes: Sangiovese grosso, Sangiovese piccolo
- 11 DOCG
- 41 DOC
- 6 IGT
Toscana is usually the household name for Italy’s red wine, such as Chianti Classico DOCG from the traditional zone of Chianti. This well-known expression of the Sangiovese grape is probably the most well-known even in the world. This same grape also produces the sophisticated Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, as well as the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. Furthermore, there are 11 DOCG, 41 DOC, and 6 IGT wines produced among the region’s famous hills. Included in these IGT wines would be the Super Tuscans from Bolgheri that focus on international grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But let’s not just talk about the reds because the region’s first DOC wine was Vernaccia di San Gimignano in 1966, a vino bianco made from the Vernaccia grape in the Siena province.
- Wine region around Rome
- Mainly white wines
- Main grapes: Malvasia, Trebbiano
- 3 DOCG
- 27 DOC
- 7 IGT
Lazio currently produces 3 DOCG, 27 DOC, and 7 IGT wines that are mainly vini bianchi. Most of the vineyards are outside the hustle and bustle of Roma and in the hillsides instead. However, about 15 miles southeast of Roma is the location of the first wine in the region to be designated as a DOC. Frascati is made from Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia del Lazio, and also Trebbiano Toscano and its superiore version was elevated to DOCG status in 2011. Besides being known as a dry wine, the Cannellino di Frascati DOCG form is the hallmark for a sweeter dessert wine in this region. It’s also important to note that the Etruscan heritage of winemaking can still be noted as many cellars of vineyards are actually located in Roman caves.
- Equal production of red and white wine
- Main grapes: Trebbiano, Grechetto, Sagrantino
- 2 DOCG
- 13 DOC
- 6 IGT
Umbria is one of the few landlocked regions of Italy, but the hills of this region are postcard perfect! The wines produced here are almost equally shared to red and white wines and comprise the 2 DOCG, 13 DOC, and 6 IGT classifications. However, one of the more famous vini bianchi would be the Orvieto DOC that is made from Trebbiano Toscano and Grechetto grapes and is well-known for its freshness and pleasant acidity. For wine lovers who savor higher tannins, an interesting choice would be Montefalco Sagrantino Secco DOCG made from usually 100% Sagrantino grapes from the province of Perugia. Don’t forget to try some of Perugia’s famous chocolate, as well!
- Old medieval area with 18 castles
- Main grapes: Verdicchio, Sangiovese
- 5 DOCG
- 15 DOC
- 1 IGT
Le Marche is the only region usually referred to with the article “the” as part of its name (The Marches) and is also ideally located between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. The inland green hills are quite the contrast to the rocky coastline. Its many piazzas reveal the region’s medieval heritage and its residents are proud to promote the 5 DOCG, 15 DOC, and 1 IGT-designated wines. Any patron would be encouraged to try the region’s pride and joy vino bianco: a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC/DOCG that could easily be recognized by its unmistakable green amphora bottle (but don’t be alarmed if you see it served in a traditional wine bottle, as well). Due to the central location of this region, the coastal city of Ancona is not only known as the gomero or elbow of Italy, but it’s also commonly seen as the line of demarcation from Sangiovese-based wines to Montepulciano-based wines.
- Where they used to film Spaghetti Westerns
- Main grapes: Montepulciano, Pecorino
- 1 DOCG
- 8 DOC
- 8 IGT
Abruzzo might seem familiar to those who are fans of Spaghetti Western films of the 1960s as well as the region’s Gran Sasso massif of the Apennine Mountains. However, over 90% of the vineyards are located in the hills and the region’s one Colline Teramane DOCG wine is considered a more northern expression of the native Montepulciano grape. The other 8 DOC and 8 IGT wines showcase not only the famous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but also one of the more more famous rosato wines: Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Even though the region is recognized more for its red wines, the Pecorino and Passerina white grapes are gaining more attention.
Southern Italian Wine 101
- Once part of Abruzzo
- Main grapes: Tintilia, Aglianico, Falaghina
- 3 DOC
- 2 IGT
Molise was part of the Abruzzo region until 1963. Although the regions shared many cultural and gastronomic similarities, the predominant wine grapes are more typical to the nearby regions of Puglia and Campania: Bombino Bianco, Aglianico, and Falanghina to name a few. However, the region has also worked to promote the native red Tintilia grape in its largest DOC: Tintilia del Molise. The vineyards of the other 3 DOC and 2 IGT wines are almost equally divided between the region’s mountains and hills. It would not be surprising to see a future tourism poster touting “Come for the hiking and stay for the Tintilia wine!”
- Home to Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii, in turn volcanic soils
- Main grapes: Aglianico, Piedirosso, Falaghina, Fiano, Greco di Tufo
- 4 DOCG
- 15 DOC
- 10 IGT
Campania always has its eyes on Vesuvio, the world’s most dangerous live volcano due to the population density of the region’s capital city, Napoli, and its suburbs. Although infamously known for the eruption that destroyed Pompeii in 79 CE, the volcanic soils have produced some of the region’s noteworthy wines of the Vesuvio DOC, including blends of Aglianico (rosso), Piedirosso (rosso), Coda di Volpe (bianco), and Falanghina (bianco). Frequently referred to as the “Barolo of the South”, the Aglianico grape is also well-known for its expression in two of the four regional DOCGs: Taurasi and Aglianico del Taburno from the provinces of Irpinia and Benevento respectively. But the vini bianchi made from Fiano and Greco di Tufo comprise the other two DOCGs. A trip to the islands of Ischia or even a tour of the Amalfi Coast would also introduce the wine lover to more native grapes from the region. In addition to the DOCGs, there are 15 DOCs, and 10 IGTs. But it would be guaranteed that the Vino da Tavola (table wines) could represent over 100 other grapes—and wouldn’t it be a nice goal to explore all of them? We’ll leave that for Italian Wine 102.
- The heel of the boot
- Main grapes: Primitivo, Negroamaro
- 4 DOCG
- 29 DOC
- 6 IGT
Puglia is the second-largest area under vine after Sicilia and is considered the “heel of Italy.” The region itself could be split into smaller wine sub-regions due to the varied grapes that produce 4 DOCG, 29 DOC, and 6 IGT wines. Uva di Troia is a red grape that is also known as Nero di Troia due to the darkness of the grapes and is cultivated in the northern part of the region. In addition, the red Primitivo is cultivated in the central part of the region and produced into the highly-reputed Primitivo di Manduria DOC/DOCG.The grape’s name refers to its notability as one of the earlier-ripening grapes in Italy. And representing the south, Negroamaro is a red grape that is grown in the part that is also referred to by many Italians as the Salento Peninsula. This part of the region is also known for producing many of Italy’s rosato wines.
- Small region with much history
- Main grape: Aglianico
- 1 DOCG
- 4 DOC
- 1 IGT
Basilicata is one of the smaller regions of Italy, but the historical city of Matera was Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2019. Tour guides commonly refer to the city as the Sassi di Matera because the term signifies the ancient rock-cut cave dwellings that are now home to many hotels, restaurants, and enoteche (wine bars). As this region was able to re-introduce itself to the world in 2019, the corresponding events brought attention to the region’s main native grape, Aglianico del Vulture. While this grape’s expression can tip its hat to the rich soils of the extinct Vulture volcano, it represents itself in over 90% of the wines comprising the 1 DOCG, 4 DOC, and 1 IGT classifications.
- The toe of the boot
- Main grapes: Gaglioppo, Ciro
- 8 DOC
- 9 IGT
Calabria is often referred to as the “toe of Italian boot” and is blessed with beautiful coastlines along the Tyrrhenian and Ioanian seas. The vini rossi are dominated by the Gaglioppo grape with the Ciro DOC one of the wines most likely to be found in the United States. The other 8 DOC and 9 IGT wines showcase some of the region’s other native grapes, such as: Pecorello (rosso), Magliocco Canino (rosso), Greco Bianco, and Montonico (bianco).
- The largest Mediterranean island and wine region
- Main grapes: Grillo, Catarratto, Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola
- 1 DOCG
- 23 DOC
- 7 IGT
Sicilia is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is the largest area under vine with over 100,000 hectares dedicated to its 1 DOCG, 23 DOC, and 7 IGT wines. It’s a territory that is rich in history, culture, art, and culinary traditions. The western part of the island is known more for its white grapes, including Grillo, Catarratto, and Inzolia. These grapes also contribute to the blend of the well-known Marsala wines. The eastern part of the island is dominated by red wines, especially the Nerello Mascalese wines of Etna Rosso and Carricante of Etna Bianco. However, a wine made from Nero d’Avola is the vino rosso symbol of Sicily. For a special treat, look for a Passito di Pantelleria or Malvasia delle Lipari—sweet wines made from air-dried grapes from the western Pantelleria or northern Aeolian islands.
- White wines in the north, red wines in the south
- Main grapes: Vermentino, Cannonau (aka Grenache)
- 1 DOCG
- 17 DOC
- 15 IGT
Sardegna emphasizes vini bianchi in the northern part of this Mediterranean island, while vini rossi dominate the southern portion. The Vermentino di Gallura DOCG is only the DOCG on the island and this white wine is the perfect accompaniment to the many dishes from sea and unique cheeses. While the other 17 DOC and 15 IGT wines highlight the region’s other native grapes (Carignano, Monica, Vernaccia di Oristano), Cannonau is probably the most famous and important red grape and produces the Cannonau di Sardegna DOC.
A huge thank you to Julie Farricker!
Julie, while not dreaming about Italy and her next adventure, is a high school English and social studies teacher. She regularly visits all 20 Italian wine regions and strives to share the best Italian wines with her clients at The Italian Cellar.