With national tourism day right around the corner, we thought we’d take a look at a country that combines some of the best tourist destinations in the world, with some of the most famous vineyards in the world.
Wine is, of course, a central part of Italian history and culture and viniculture has had an active part in shaping the Italian countryside.
While the cultivation of grapes and making of wine is done across the country, Italian wine-growing areas are far from homogenous and today we’ll be looking at five of the most famous Italian wine regions we think you should know about.
Situated in the scenic Po River Valley, the northern region of Piedmont sits between the heights of the Italian Alps to the north and the warm coastline of the Mediterranean to the south.
The warm air coming in off the Mediterranean and then rising into the colder foothills of the Alps produces a lot of the region’s trademark fog, which plays its own role in the local viniculture.
The Piedmont region is rightly famous for producing some of Italy’s most famous red wines, specifically Barolo and Barbaresco. The Nebbiolo grape used in both of these wines actually ripens faster in Piedmont because of the local fog layer.
Barolo in particular, has developed quite the reputation amongst wine loves for its richness and distinct liquorice and truffle notes, which means it pairs well with the hearty red-meat-based local cuisine.
While Nebbiolo might be the most famous grape grown in the region, it certainly isn’t the only one. Barbera and Dolcetto are also grown in large amounts and used to make more day to day wines.
The wine produced from the Barbera grapes has a range of rich fruit flavours and a light mouthfeel, while Dolcetto wines are famous for the balance, both in terms of tannins and acidity.
While Piedmont might be justly famous for its wine and food, that’s not the only thing to do there. The region is dotted with well preserved Roman and medieval ruins, has stunning countryside and plays host to the amazing city of Milan.
If you’re an art lover, then the Castello di Rivoli hosts one of the largest art collections in the world, with works by modern artists such as Maurizio Cattelan and Francesco Vezzoli sitting next to more traditional masterpieces by Renoir and Kandinsky.
Alongside the production of wine, Piedmont is also the home of vermouth, with the traditional Italian aperitivo being invented in Turin in 1786. The city is still a centre for aperitivo culture and has a thriving food scene based around bitter aromatic drinks paired with complimentary small plates.
Arguably one of Italy’s most recognizable regions, Tuscany is famous for its rolling hills and stunning wine estates.
With a wine production of over 40 million hectolitres each year, Tuscany is the most productive wine region in all of Italy.
Famous for its Chianti wines that are dark red with a rich flavour, visitors will also find some world-famous white wines from this region too, such as Vin Santo or Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
As well as being Italy’s most productive wine region, Tuscany is also its oldest, dating back to the 8th century BC and the ancient Etruscans, who were wine-loving wine merchants.
The presence of the Sangiovese grape, coupled with the local terroir, gives wines from Tuscany their uniquely complex, earthy and fruity tones.
Of course, wine isn’t the only reason to visit Tuscany, it’s also one of the most famous tourist destinations in Italy, and for good reason. The countryside of Tuscany is famously beautiful and cities like Florence, Siena, Lucca and Pisa showcase some of the most stunning architecture in the world.
This is perhaps unsurprising as the region has given birth to artist talents such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Leonardo da Vinci.
Tuscany is also known for its hilltop villages such as San Gimignano, Volterra, Cortona, and Montalcino. These quaint little townships on top of a hill, or into the side of a mountain, and boast amazing views of the Tuscany countryside. Some, such as San Gimignano, have a distinct winemaking culture of their own.
The Vernaccia di San Gimignano is, of course, the region’s most iconic white wine, famous for its crisp citrus notes. Tuscany also produces the sweet Vin Santo, Made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, Vin Santo is often accompanied by biscotti or cantucci for dipping.
Of course, no visit to Tuscany would be complete without visiting the regional capital of Florence, home to some of the most world-renowned masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture.
The city’s Galleria dell’Accademia houses iconic artworks such as Michelangelo’s David sculpture while the world-famous Uffizi Gallery allows visitors to see artworks such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and da Vinci’s Annunciation up close.
The crowning glory of Florence is, of course, the Duomo cathedral, whose iconic terracotta-tiled dome was built to the architectural plans of Brunelleschi and whose bell tower was designed by Giotto.
Less well known than Tuscany or Piedmont, Veneto is still one of Italy’s wine-producing powerhouses and is home to some of the most famous wineries in Italy.
While Veneto might be best known as a producer of sparkling Prosecco, it also produces some notable red and white wines.
The primary wine-producing region in Veneto is Valdobbiadene and the primary local grape varietal is Glera.
From the warmer climates of the areas around Lake Garda come fruity, berry-filled red wines such as Amarone, Bardolino, and Valpolicella.
Whereas the cooler climate of the foothills of the Italian Alps produces crisp citrusy white wines such as Soave, which is made primarily from Garganega grapes.
The presence of so many rivers and lakes in the region also makes Veneto one of the country’s top fishing destinations, with a wide variety of fish available on restaurant menus across the region.
One of the main draws to the region is, of course, the city of Venice. Built across a group of 118 small islands, the city of Venice is famous for its art, architecture, canals and for being the capital of the Republic of Venice for over a millennium.
Within Venice, you’ll find several UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as a number of museums.
The Venetian Lagoon, which is the ancient centre of Venice, has been included in the list of ten beautiful seas and lagoon areas chosen by Italy’s Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali.
However, if you’d like to get off the beaten track and away from the admittedly touristy Venice, Veneto has a huge range of other attractions to offer you.
The entire region is dotted with small medieval walled towns, such as Cittadella, Castelfranco Este, Veneto, Conegliano and Marostica that act as miniature time capsules and are a must-visit for history buffs.
Padua is the birthplace of the Palladian architectural style. Pioneered by Andrea Palladio and drawing from the architectural styles of ancient Greece and Rome, the evolution of the style led to Palladio being named the ‘Father of American Architecture’ and gives the city a unique and beautiful look, making it well worth a visit.
If you love literature, Veneto is also the home of Romeo and Juliet, specifically the town of fair Verona. The original tale that inspired William Shakespeare was written by a local, Luigi da Porto, in the 16th century.
Unsurprisingly, Verona now hosts a yearly festival dedicated to the story and the concept of love.
The region of Emilia-Romagna is probably most famous for producing the sparkling and sweet red wine Lambrusco, which is made from the grape of the same name and has a history that dates all the way back to the ancient Etruscans.
However, this region is also home to a number of other wines and foods that are well worth trying.
In terms of cuisine, Emilia-Romagna’s claim to fame is its famous Bolognese sauce, or “Ragù alla bolognese, which is traditionally made with finely minced meat cooked together with tomatoes or white wine and topped off with milk or cream before being served over pasta.
Another famous dish from this area is Parmigiano Reggiano cheese which can be eaten as it is but more commonly grated on top of pasta, soups, steak dishes and even desserts such as panna cotta. Then there’s Prosciutto di Parma ham, one of the most famous cured meats in the world.
Lambrusco might be the most famous red wine from Emilia-Romagna, but it’s not the only one. There are more than 100 DOC and IGT wines produced in this region, made from grape varieties such as Trebbiano, Barbera, Sangiovese and Malvasia.
Some of the more famous wines to come out of Emilia-Romagna are Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Rubicone from Emilia and Forlì from Romagna.
Grasparossa di Castelvetro has a pronounced purple colour and a nose full of violets, fresh plums and black cherries. It’s also the most full-bodied and tannic of the Lambrusco varieties, made to stand up the local specialist of zampone, or stuffed pig’s trotter.
Rubicone used to have a reputation for producing cheap red, but the region has fought back against that idea, producing some excellent rich earth reds with a distinctive tobacco note to them.
The largest of the islands in the Mediterranean, Sicily is a beautiful place, considered the breadbasket of Italy. The food and wine from Sicily are unique and feature lots of seafood as well as spicy sauces, and crisp sweet white wines.
The DOC wines produced in this region are primarily white wine made from the Catarratto grape along with other local varieties such as Grillo and Inzolia. Other notable grapes include Frappato, Catarratto, Nerello Mascalese for reds and Moscato for Marsala.
In terms of sparkling wine production, Franciacorta outshines all others – their methods typically involve secondary fermentation to produce finer bubbles that lie closer on the palate than those coming from elsewhere in northern Italy.
The most famous of the wines produced in Sicily is Marsala. A sweet white made from Moscato grapes is often fortified with brandy and used as a dessert wine or the base for desserts or rich creamy sauces.
However, Sicily’s wine culture is about far more than just Marsala. Sicily also produced Malvasia, a popular sweet wine and Zibibbo, a sweet white that’s produced on the smaller island of Pantelleria.
The island is home to the DOC Carricante, located in Etna which produces crisp dry white wines that are full of character and uniquely Sicilian. Nero d’Avola is the most common red wine in Sicily and is a deep, rich, full-bodied wine with strong tannins and high acidity.
When it comes to spending time in Sicily, the island has much to offer, from the beautiful architecture to its delicious cuisine. One of Sicily’s most iconic tourist destinations is Mount Etna, an active stratovolcano on the east coast of the island.
Etna is Europe’s most active volcano and can often be seen spewing lava and smoke into the sky.
But it’s not all volcanic activity. Some of the best tourist destinations in Sicily include the island’s beautiful beaches, which face the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’re in luck, as Sicily is the home of the cannoli, which is a crunchy, fried pastry shell, filled with slightly sweetened ricotta and a variety of fillings.
Other local delicacies include pistachio, almond and chocolate pastries as well as a number of savoury dishes such as the fried rice balls known as arancini and the fried aubergine stew known as caponata.
The island is rich in history, which you can learn about at the various archaeological sites that lie among Sicily’s rolling hills.
You may also want to visit Taormina for its gorgeous views overlooking Mount Etna and the sea below as well as Syracuse and Noto, two cities boasting impressive baroque architecture dating back to Norman times.
The Wine Country of Italy
As you can see, there is much more to the Italian wine country than just Tuscany, with Sicily, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, and Piedmont offering amazing food, sighs, culture, and most importantly, fantastic wine for you to sample!