Visit the Wineries of Italy
Northwestern Italy and the Piedmont region in particular, is a food and wine lover’s dream destination. Set in the foothills of the Alps, Piedmont’s major city is Turin. With no less than 46 DOCG-DOC designated wine areas, its legendary wines include Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, and Asti Spumante, just to name a few. The Nebbiolo grape is the basis of many of the complex, intense red wines that make the region famous.
With so many outstanding producers in Piedmont, choosing only a few to visit is no easy task. Many wineries require advance appointments and tourist services are limited in the winter months. Estates that have received high marks from the critics include Gaja, Elio Altare, Domenico Clerico, Giacomo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa, Pio Cesare, Produttori del Barbaresco, Rocche dei Manzoni, Sottimano, Vietti and numerous others. Vineyards tend to be small and hundreds of tiny producers craft wines in everything from humble cellars to ancient palatial estates.
Most Italian wines are made to go with food, and Piedmont boasts some of the best fine-dining in a country that positively overflows with great food. No trip to the region would be complete without tasting the wines of Piedmont with local delicacies like white truffles, spectacular cheeses, hearty risottos and the prized local beef.
In the hill towns surrounding Tuscany’s capital city Florence, a major shift in winemaking took place starting in the 1980s and what the world knew as Chianti was forever changed. New techniques in the vineyards and cellars of Tuscany have elevated humble table wines into superstars. The noble Sangiovese grape is the basis of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the blends known as Super Tuscans, which are now some of Italy’s most esteemed wines. Even Tuscany’s traditional sweet wine, Vin Santo, has made great strides.
Wine in Tuscany has diverse styles that range from very traditional to highly experimental. Reds are the focus although white wines have also steadily improved. In the late 1980’s when a small group of winemakers began blending Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals, no one knew that these creations would become high-priced collectibles. The name “Super Tuscan” was coined by Robert Parker, the world’s best-known wine critic and an early proponent of these wines.
There are few places more romantic or inviting than the gentle rolling hills of Tuscany. Coupled with delectable food, world-class wines, Renaissance art and architecture, it is no surprise that this area is one of the most popular for visitors to Italy. Making appointments in advance is a must for visiting wineries. An excellent cross-section of producers in the region would include Antinori, Castell’In Villa, Castello di Monsanto, Felsina, Fontodi, Le Macchiole, Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia and Tua Rita.
Northeastern Italy is best known for the canal city of Venice. It’s also a major wine producing region for both dry and sparkling wines. Familiar names from your local wine shop would include Soave, Valpolicella, Prosecco and Amarone. The Veneto, along with the two neighboring regions, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia make up the area known collectively as Venezie.
Unlike much of Italy, this area became known for its light, pleasant white wines. In recent years quality has become a greater focus and red wines, both traditional native varietals and international favorites, have become more widely planted. The Veneto has become modern Italy’s largest volume wine producing region but it also produces many high-quality wines as well.
Visiting wineries in the Veneto means leaving the coastal city of Venice behind and venturing inland. With literally hundreds of wineries to choose from, tourist amenities vary greatly, but visitors are welcome as evidenced by the “strada del vino,” Italy’s first wine touring road. Some respected producers in the area include Allegrini, Anselmi, Bolla, Borgo del Tiglio, Tommaso Bussola, La Castellada, Dal Forno, Due Terre and Vie di Romans.
Southern Italy Wineries
In the sunny south of Italy there are six wine regions, Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia. This is the portion of Italy so steeped in viticulture that the Greeks called it Oenotria, the land of wine. But until recently, the south of Italy was known more for producing copious quantities of wine, not quality.
In the last twenty years modernization has swept through the vineyards and wineries of southern Italy and those efforts are yielding serious results. In the hills of the Campania region both reds and whites made from an assortment of native varietals are receiving very good marks from critics. Recommended producers include Antonio Caggiano, Cantina del Taburno, Feudi di San Gregorio, Galardi, Salvatore Molettieri, Villa Carafa and Villa Matilde. Naples is the major city in Campania and it includes the spectacular Amalfi coast, the island of Capri and the ancient ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
A wine tour of the south of Italy would not be complete without considering the wines of Sicily and Sardinia. Famous for dessert wines like Marsala, the island of Sicily had more acreage under vines than any other region in the country until recently. Much of the wine produced was from large cooperatives but the recent trend is toward smaller individual wineries. Noted producers include Donnafugata, Fontanarossa, Fatascia, Firriato, Morgante, Murana, and Tasca D’Almerita. Sardinia, with its isolated island location and strong influence from Spain, produces wines from grape varietals not widely used elsewhere. Like many regions in Italy, recent trends toward reducing yields and modernizing winemaking methods are creating improved wines. Important producers include Argiolas, Dettori, Jerzu, Santadi and Gabbas.