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Best Italian Wines: Buying Guide For Top Rated Italian Wines

Italian wine

franco salzillo arriaga |

Italian wine is wide and varied. Winemakers in the country produce wine with hundreds of unique varietals in an impressive range of climates, from the warm island of Sicily to the cold valleys tucked deep within the Alps.

There’s no doubt Italian wine is amongst the most exciting on the planet, but some wine styles are just more interesting than others. Where to start? Here’s a list of the best Italian wines, a complete Italian wine buying guide for the top-rated Italian wines, wine regions, best Italian wine vintages and a few bottles you don’t want to miss. Here’s the best Italian wine in no particular order. Did your favourite made the list?

1. Barolo and Barbaresco

Italian winemakers make extraordinary wine in all styles and colours, but the country is better known for its reds. And amongst all reds in the country, it’s hard to find one more alluring than the one made with Nebbiolo in the regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, up north in Piedmont.

Barolo and Barbaresco are some of the best Italian wine regions, not only because they deliver age-worthy and robust expressions of Piedmont’s foggy hills but also because each shows a distinct side of the noble grape. Wine made with Nebbiolo has a structured palate and a bouquet redolent of tar and roses.

Wines to try:

Prunotto Barolo Classico 2017

Sottimano Barbaresco Fausoni 2018

2. Piedmont’s Barbera and Dolcetto

Piedmont’s Nebbiolo is genuinely one of Italy’s finest, but the Italian wine region offers much more. Piedmont is much more than age-worthy, contemplative wine; you’ll find in the wines made with Barbera and Dolcetto authentic libations for everyday enjoyment that will rise to the occasion on memorable dinners.

Barbera is the most planted variety in Piedmont, and it produces medium-bodied red wines brimming with black fruit aromas, without a doubt amongst the top-rated Italian wines. Dolcetto is much more approachable; the ‘sweet little one’ produces easy-to-drink, fruity red wines — this is Piedmont’s youthful side!

Wines to Try:

La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Ca’ di Pian 2014

Elvio Cogno Dolcetto d’Alba Mandorlo 2017

3. Moscato d’Asti

We’re not done with Piedmont just yet. The region is the source of some of the most extraordinary reds in Italy. Still, winemakers in the town of Asti have a different specialty — sweet, fizzy wine made with Moscato.

Whether it’s spumante or frizzante, Asti wines are always fun and celebratory. Peachy, floral and with the loveliest honeyed palate balanced by mouthwatering acidity, Asti is quite a treat! The sweetest wines in the area have their own appellation, Moscato d’Asti, and they’re up there with the finest sparkling wines on the planet. Sweet wine has a place on the table, by the way, especially when they’re Italian.

Wines to Try:

Marcarini Moscato d’Asti 2020

4. Trentino Alto Adige Pinot Grigio

Italy stretches North into the impenetrable Alps. Here, winemakers grow grapes in the narrow valleys and mountain passes. German and Austrian influence is clear in Trentino Alto Adige, and you can experience it in the wine.

Amongst the fantastic white wine that tastes like the Alps, you’ll find Pinot Grigio, a Burgundian grape that found its way to Northern Italy to become a thing of legend. Peachy, fruit-forward and beautifully balanced, the wine made with the gray grape is versatile and crowd-pleasing delicious. And although today you’ll find Grigio from many winemaking countries, the Italian version is still the most prized.

Wines to Try:

Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio 2019

5. Valpolicella

Follow the Adige River from the Alps, and you’ll find Verona, the largest city in Veneto and Romeo and Juliet’s hometown. Overlooking the town, a gorgeous half-moon of vines is the source of fabulous red and white wine. The most illustrious whites go by the name of Soave and are made with Garganega. The reds are labeled Valpolicella.

Valpolicella wine is made with Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara, and you’ll find it in a wide range of styles, from approachable Valpolicella to the towering Amarone Della Valpolicella — one of the boldest wines in the world.

Wines to try:

Pieropan Soave Classico DOC ‘La Rocca’ 2018

Pieropan Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2016

6. Prosecco

Prosecco plays a significant role in the Italian lifestyle — it’s the perfect aperitivo and a beautiful compliment for the country’s salads, cured meat, seafood and fresh cheese. The sparkling wine is only made with Glera grown in the verdant vineyards around Veneto, and it is, hands down, the most famous fizzy wine in Italy.

Not all Prosecco is created equal. Inexpensive bottles are ideal for pool parties and casual get-togethers. On the other hand, the most exclusive bottles labeled Conegliano Valdobbiadene, and Superiore di Cartizze are amongst the most delicate sparklers in the market.

Wines to Try:

Canella Prosecco Brut Valdobbiadene DOCG 2018

7. Chianti

Chianti is one of the most attractive reds in Tuscany — it goes back to the early 1700s and it’s a specialty in the rolling hills dotted with cypress trees between Florence, Siena and Pisa.

Sangiovese plays the leading role in Chianti, complemented by Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. The wine is rustic and structured; it’s a cherry-scented delight with hints of undergrowth. And it’s not only the wine’s history and tradition that’s exciting here but the extraordinary quality across all Chianti wine styles, especially the superb Chianti Classico. Try Chianti from one of the best Italian wine vintages of the last few years, 2016 or 2018, and taste the classic wine style in all its glory.

Wines to try:

Castello Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2018

8. Vinsanto

The Chianti region might be heaven for red wine lovers, but winemakers here are also known for their extraordinary Vinsanto or holy wine. This delicacy is made with dried-up Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes and can be dry (secco), medium sweet (amabile) or attractively sweet (dolce).

Vinsanto wines are legendary, and you’ll find similar versions of the ancient, fortified wine around the Mediterranean Basin. Vinsanto del Chianti, though, is considered amongst the best. The intensely flavorful wine is unique in flavor and style — there’s just nothing like it.

Wines to Try:

Isole E Olena Vin Santo del Chianti Classico DOC

9. Brunello di Montalcino

Chianti might be the most famous rendition of Sangiovese, but Brunello is its purest form, and the wine is divine. Montalcino is a small Tuscan village. Although winemakers have practiced viticulture in the region for centuries, it wasn’t until 1870 that the 100% Sangiovese wine, now called Brunello, came to be.

This big, bold and age-worthy red wine is up there with the finest reds on the planet, and the finest examples can be expensive. A more affordable version called Rosso di Montalcino is youthful and more approachable.

Wines to try:

Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2014

Costanti Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2018

10. Naples’ White Wines

Naples is the spiritual home to pizza, and that alone is reason enough to fall in love with the coastal city. What you might not know is that producers around Naples, or better said, the region of Campania, grow a trio of beautiful white grapes that you won’t find anywhere else: Fiano, Greco and Falanghina.

Greco is mineral and citrus driven, Fiano is floral and Falanghina has an attractive honeyed richness. Together, they offer an impressive set of white wines for all food pairings and occasions.

Wines to try:

Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2019

Villa Matilde Falanghina IGT 2018

Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo DOCG 2019

11. Vermentino di Sardinia

No Italian wine buying guide would be complete with the refreshing white wines of Sardinia. The island is home to some of the most exquisite reds made with Cannonau (Grenache), but Sardinia’s whites have the most significant wow factor.

You’ll find Vermentino on France’s southern coast as well, where the grape goes by the name ‘Rolle.’ Still, the grape thrives in Sardinia, and it is here where it has reached its fullest potential. Aromas of peaches and lemon peels over a mineral palate make the wine perfect for serving with Mediterranean seafood specialties.

Wines to try:

Pala Stellato Vermentino di Sardegna 2018

12. Sicilian Nero d’Avola

Sicily is home to one of the most exciting cuisines in Italy, including an impressive collection of grapes and wine styles. One of the most popular local wines that has gained recognition worldwide is made with Nero d’Avola.

This inky, concentrated red wine has black fruit aromas and a rustic palate that just tastes like southern Italy. Nero d’Avola is perfect for grilled meat but will also shine with Sicily’s hearty pasta, like the famous Pasta alla Norma. And if you’re in for a thrill, try a blend of Nero d’Avola and Syrah — that’s something special right there.

Wines to try:

Morgante Nero d’Avola 2018

13. Etna Rosso

Sicily has more than one unique wine style. Perhaps the most exclusive comes from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano that’s as dangerous as suitable for viticulture. Here, producers make red wine with lesser-known grapes, including Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, and the wine is of the highest quality — it’s gorgeous!

Etna Rosso has similarities to the thin-skinned Pinot Noir, making it one of the most elegant and refined red wines in the country; there’s nothing like it. If you’re into silken-smooth palates and cherry-scented bouquets, Etna will not disappoint.

Wines to try:

Pietradolce Etna Rosso DOC 2018

Italian Wine Is Truly Unique.

Italian wine comes in all colours, flavour profiles and sweetness levels — the country loves its grapes, and they’ll make wine in every corner of the ‘big boot.’ There’s no easy way to define Italian wine; from big and bold reds to luscious dessert wines, the Italian wine repertoire is larger than life!

If you want to experience Italian wine and learn more about it, be prepared for quite a ride. You can enjoy a different bottle of Italian wine every day of your life, and you’d still have a long way to go! The best part? You’ll never get bored with Italian wine.