The holidays are upon us and it’s a wonderful time of year to spend time with family and loved ones. Lots of parties are taking place everywhere and we’re surrounded by food and holiday beverages. This time of year can bring a lot of questions about what to get someone for a special gift or what to bring to that next party you’ll be attending. Choosing a bottle of wine for yourself or a gift can be quite intimidating when walking into a wine shop that has hundreds of bottles to choose from. In sticking with the theme of Italian wine for this column I’m going to share some particular grapes and wines to search for this year.
A lot of folks gravitate to reds in the winter time to warm up a bit. Reds will also pair better with a lot of the heartier fare that most of us consume around the holidays. In Italy there is an abundance of reds to choose from. I’m going to share reds and whites to seek out and explore in northern, central and southern Italy.
Piedmont, located in northwestern Italy, is known for its most important grape, nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is a grape that is produced in many different styles within this region with the most prestigious being Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Definitely not one of your most affordable wines at about $40-80+ a bottle, but it would make a great gift for that wine lover in your life. I personally love to open wines for special occasions including during the holidays. For something more affordable from this region there are other nebbiolo based wines from other parts of the region — not at the level of barolo or barbaresco, but still good. There are also wines of the barbera and dolcetto grapes that provide great value.
My other top choices for reds of northern Italy would be the wines of Veneto, in northeastern Italy, including Amarone della Valpolicella and Valpolicella Superiore. These wines are based on a blend of grapes including corvina, corvinone, rondinella and molinara. Amarone is going to be more costly, while the Valpolicella Superiore is much more affordable.
For whites of northern Italy I gravitate towards the wines of the Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli regions. There are typically a lot of grapes from these regions that you will be familiar with, including sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. In my opinion, these regions produce some of these grapes’ best expressions.
If you’re a sparkling wine lover and need some bubbly to celebrate, Franciacorta in the Lombardy region is a rival of champagne, but is harder to find here in the states. Another option is prosecco from Veneto, which is one of the most popular sparkling wines in the world. For some of the best quality prosecco, look for those from Conegliano Valdobbiadene.
Central Italy is probably best known for some of Italy’s best loved red grape, sangiovese. If you’re a lover of sangiovese and enjoy Chianti Classico, check out something different with the wines of southern Tuscany from the Maremma and Bolgheri. The morellino di scansano grape is popular in southern Tuscany and is a clone of sangiovese. Some of the other prized wines of Italy made of clones of the sangiovese grape are those from Tuscany including Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino, but these are more costly. In Umbria there is Montefalco Rosso, which is a blend of mostly sangiovese and sagrantino. Another well-liked grape is montepulciano, from the Abruzzo region. If you seek out monetpulciano try to look for those of Colline Teremane.
Your top whites of central Italy would be vernaccia, vermentino and the wines of Orvieto, which are a blend of trebbiano and garganega. Vernaccia di San Gimignano is one of my favorites of central Italy for whites.
There is a lot of value in the wines of the south and a good balance of offerings between red and white. Regions like Puglia, Campania and Sicily are producing quality wines at competitive price points.
There are lots of reds to consider from the south. The counterpart to Piedmont’s nebbiolo wine we discussed earlier is the aglianico grape of Campania or Basilicata: A bold wine with lots of complexity. Puglia is home to the primitivo grape, which is related to zinfandel. Lastly, for reds, there are the grapes of Sicily with the most popular being nero d’avola, which provides great value. Some of the most talked about wines of Italy right now hail from the volcanic region of Mt. Etna, mainly the nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccino grapes. Yes, grapes grow on volcanic soil and are very interesting to try!
For southern Italy, some of my favorite whites are from the Avellino province of Campania. These white grapes consist of Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo and Falanghina. In addition to Campania, Sicily has the interesting grapes grillo and insonica, both worth seeking out.
This is just a sampling of what Italy has to offer. It’s amazing the variety available and many folks aren’t even aware of. Hopefully this list gets you thinking and exploring more of what Italy has to offer. If you’re buying gifts for Italian friends and family you may want to buy them a wine of the region they’re from.
You can email me on my website, Vino Travels, and I’m happy to help offer suggestions. I’ll also be writing about wines of the holidays on my site too so check it out throughout the month. Enjoy your holiday season and drink well!