Regions and Appellations Italy

Italian Wine

Italy – the home of Moscato, Chianti, Amarone and Prosecco – has a rich and diverse wine heritage dating back more than two thousand years. Famous for its bewildering diversity of both grape varieties and wine styles, Italy is also significant for the sheer volume of wine it produces: just over 4 billion liters (around 1.06 billion US gallons) in 2012, from 800,000 hectares (197,700 acres) of vineyards. It is rivaled in this regard only by France and Spain. (© Wine-Searcher)

Managing and marketing such a vast wine portfolio is no easy task, particularly in today's highly competitive wine market. The Italian government's system of wine classification and labeling uses a four-tier quality hierarchy made up of more than 500 DOCG, DOC and IGT titles. See Italian Wine Labels.

The classic Italian hillside vineyard

Italy is divided into 20 administrative regions (see left), all of which produce wine to some extent, and all of which contain various wine regions. The most significant, when both quality and quantity are taken into consideration, are Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto.

Each region has its flagship wine styles. Some are famous because they are produced in large volumes and can be found all over the world, others because of their consistently high quality. Tuscany is known for its generic Chianti, of course, but among devoted wine aficionados its Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - as well as Chianti Classico - are more highly regarded. Similarly, Veneto's vast output of Prosecco, Soave and varietal Pinot Grigio does little to boost its reputation as a fine wine region, and yet it produces one of the world's richest, finest wines: Amarone della Valpolicella.

Italy's vineyards are home to more than 2,000 grape varieties, many of which are on the brink of extinction. The safest and best-known Italian grapes are Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Pinot Grigio (although technically the latter is more French than Italian). These varieties cover many thousands of acres of vineyard, and can be found in various regions. At the other end of the scale are such little-known rarities as Centesimino and Dorona, which are found in tiny numbers in just one or two places.

All of Italy's grape varieties, famous or not, face serious competition from better-known French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These internationally popular grapes are being planted in ever-increasing numbers all over Italy, and with high success rates. Some of Italy's finest and most expensive wines are made from these "foreign" varieties. An obvious example is the Super Tuscan Sassicaia from Bolgheri, which is predominantly made from Cabernet Sauvignon with around 15 percent Cabernet Franc.

Italy is unmistakable on the map, with its iconic, boot-like shape. Effectively one vast peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean, the country runs NW–SE for 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) along a strong, steep spine formed by the Apennine Mountains. On its western side, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, lie its two island regions, Sicily and Sardinia.

It is hard to summarize in any useful way the climate of such a long and topographically varied country. Vineyards here are planted anywhere from sea-level in eastern Emilia-Romagna to around 1,300 meters (4,200ft) in the alpine Aosta Valley. Latitude is also a key factor here; at 46°N, the northern Alto Adige region lies a full 11 degrees north of Pantelleria, leaving it some 1,100km (680 miles) further from the warmth of the equator.

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Most Popular Italian Wine

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Avg Price
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy Cabernet Franc - Cabernet Sauvignon 8th 95 $292
Marchesi Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy Cabernet - Sangiovese 15th 93 $137
Masseto Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy Merlot 26th 95 $847
Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy Cabernet - Sangiovese 37th 95 $316
Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy Bordeaux Blend Red 38th 94 $233
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy Nebbiolo 50th 94 $418
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino, Barolo Riserva DOCG, Italy Nebbiolo 68th 96 $1,240
Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT, Tuscany, Italy Sangiovese 74th 95 $142
Montevertine Le Pergole Torte Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy Sangiovese 122nd 94 $229
Gaja Barbaresco DOCG, Piedmont, Italy Nebbiolo 128th 93 $232
Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy Sangiovese 148th 92 $61
Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Annata, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Italy Sangiovese 149th 94 $182
Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Italy Sangiovese 163rd 95 $108
Gaja Sperss Langhe - Barolo, Piedmont, Italy Nebbiolo 164th 94 $272
G. B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero, Barolo DOCG, Italy Nebbiolo 168th 94 $282
Giacomo Conterno Francia Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy Nebbiolo 186th 94 $308
Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Italy Sangiovese 194th 94 $591
Marchesi Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy Bordeaux Blend Red 195th 93 $116
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy Sangiovese 196th 90 $66
Luciano Sandrone Le Vigne, Barolo DOCG, Italy Nebbiolo 207th 94 $137
Bibi Graetz Testamatta Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy Sangiovese 215th 93 $104
Produttori del Barbaresco 'Barbaresco DOCG', Piedmont, Italy Nebbiolo 220th 91 $46
Ornellaia 'Le Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia' Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy Bordeaux Blend Red 223rd 91 $59
Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Toscana IGT - Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy Sangiovese 230th 93 $617
Tenuta San Guido 'Guidalberto' Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy Cabernet Sauvignon - Merlot 233rd 91 $47
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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