Central & Southern Italy's Top Wine Regions To Try Today
As we move south through Italy, away from the alpine influences found in the north, the climate becomes truly Mediterranean. Vines stretch out across rolling hills in regions such as Tuscany, Abruzzo, Puglia, Campania and Sicily where grapes are sun-drenched and ripened to perfection. Each of these regions lays claim to centuries of winemaking expertise – this know-how is evident the first time you sample their wines. But high quality doesn't need to come with a massive price tag - one of the hallmarks of central and southern Italy's wine regions are the stellar values you can find.
Now that's something every wine lover could get used to.
One of Italy's most recognisable wine regions, Tuscany is home to the Sangiovese grape and famed red wines Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, some of the finest wines in the entire country. Its vineyards are scattered across the region's many hillsides and these slightly higher elevations help provide a balance between the hot, sunny days under the Mediterranean sun and cooler evenings. These cool evenings help grapes to hold onto their natural acidity and inherent flavours, ultimately make more harmonious wines.
As far as the quality here goes, Tuscany ranks in the top three for the most DOC/DOCG level wines produced. While it's known for Sangiovese red wines, there are terrific white wines made in Tuscany, as well as reds made from international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Moving south, we skip over Lazio to arrive in Campania on the Italian west coast surrounding Naples. Here the striking outline of Mount Vesuvius looms on the horizon. As you can imagine, Campania is a volcanic region and its volcanic soils are one of the defining characteristics of the region's terroir. Like Tuscany, Campania sees blazing daytime heat mitigated by cool evenings. It boasts a plethora of styles and grape varieties, including some of Italy's best white wines, made from local grapes like Fiano, Greco, and Falanghina. The ancient tannic red Aglianico grape is considered by some to be one of southern Italy's greatest red wines. Regardless of colour, Campanian wines are the ideal partners for the world-renowned Napoletana cuisine.
Over to the east lies Abruzzo, a lesser known region worth getting to know. It's in a sweet spot – the Adriatic Sea cools vineyards inland while the Appenines mountain range, running north to south centrally through Italy, blocks incoming storms from the west. But the region still receives a decent bit of rain coming off the Adriatic Sea. This rain, along with the plentiful sunshine, gives Abruzzo everything it needs to make easy drinking, well-balanced, fruity wines. Montepulciano tops the list for most planted and produced red grape (not to be confused with the town of the same name in Tuscany), while Trebbiano is the major white.
Fans of generous, fruity reds should pay attention – you'll quickly fall in love with Puglia. The 'heel' of Italy is one of the biggest wine producers in the entire country. It's also the leader for fantastic wines available at unbeatable value. Because it's so hot and sunny down here, grapes encounter few problems with ripening. This means lusciously fruit-driven wines with bold flavour and sometimes high alcohol levels. Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) is a big red grape variety down here, as is the delectable Negroamaro.
The wines of Sicily are as unique and rich as its food and regional culture. Like Campania, Sicily's soils are largely volcanic and considerably contribute to terroir in the island's vineyards. The warm, dry climate and moderating breezes help keep diseases at bay, allowing winemakers to experiment with organic viticulture. Both reds and white wines are made here, with white grape varieties like Grillo and Catarrato surpassing red in terms of overall plantings. Sicily alone has nearly as much vineyard area as the whole of Australia. This is predominantly in the north-east of the island, yet fantastic quality can be found in the west - Mount Etna and Vittoria. Look out for the locale red grape, Nero d'Avola, for a lovely medium body wine or increasing ly Nerello Mascalese in Mount Etna red wines. In the past, Sicily's reputation was for so-so to low-quality wine but in recent decades, this has changed in a big way. Today, many critics and wine lovers alike laud Sicily as a region to watch for exciting new wines.
With the ideal climate for viticulture, central and southern Italy need to be on your wine radar. This is especially true if you love a good bargain but don't want to miss out on great flavour. It's the perfect intersection of quality and taste – what more could you ask for?