The Star Grape Varieties of Central & Southern Italy
There are quite literally hundreds of grape varieties adorning the hilly vineyards of central and southern Italy. It would be all too easy to happily lose yourself exploring new wines from regions you've never heard of, sipping on all sorts of hidden treasures. The problem is that this approach can be a bit hit and miss, especially if you prefer certain styles of wine over others.
To help you discover your next new favourite wine, we've highlighted some of the top picks from Italy's warmer climes and a few suggestions of what to try based on your go-to varieties.
Love Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio? There are a few Italian white wines you need to be drinking. Fiano, Greco, and Vermentino are all native to Italy and have the same satisfying, crisp, mineral quality as these favourite familiar white wines. Both Fiano and Greco are local to Campania, around Naples in the south-west, where they thrive in the rich volcanic soils of the region.
Fiano is more aromatic than say, Pinot Grigio, and has hints of fresh flowers, spices and honey. It has been cultivated in the region since the days of the Roman empire.
Greco is equally ancient. Some believe it may have been brought over by the ancient Greeks (hence the name). This grape tends to display loads of peach and apricot, lemon zest, and can become more herbal with age.
Finally, we come to Vermentino. Found across the French and Italian Mediterranean coastlines and on the island of Sardinia, Vermentino is a must-try for every white wine lover out there. It's a variety capable of surprising complexity while still being accessible to the anyone who simply loves a brilliant, refreshing wine. Think of Vermentino as Italy's answer to Sauvignon Blanc. It's a mineral-driven citrusy wine with bright acid, a touch of apple, pear, and even white peach in riper areas.
Thirsty for something even more unusual? Look for the floral Pecorino from the Marche and Abruzzo. Sicily's Catarratto will satisfy cravings for something more full-bodied and Chardonnay-like. In fact, it's often blended with the international French grape to make lovely, lemony wines.
Italy's reds have helped establish the country as one of the Old World's best wine producers for centuries. The classic wines of central and southern Italy include Sangiovese, Aglianico of Taurasi fame, Montepulciano, Primitivo and the Sicilian wonder, Nero d'Avola.
Sangiovese may have made its name as the cornerstone of Tuscany's Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but the red grape has spread out and across the entirety of Italy. Its characteristic red berries, sour cherries, and slight herbal notes help make for vibrant wines in their youth. Thanks in part to its high acid and tannins, Sangiovese is able to age for many decades, during which time the aromas and flavours will give way to leather, tobacco, spice, and dried purple flowers.
Like the white Greco, Aglianico is thought to have been brought to Italian shores by ancient Greek settlers and people have loved the full-bodied, bold, cherry, plum, and smoke flavours for millennia. Now, how's that for a vote of confidence?
Almost as widely planted as Sangiovese is Montepulciano. Not to confused with the Tuscan town of the same name, this grape is used in Abruzzo to make a smooth, easy drinking wine which is often best enjoyed in its youth. This herbal, earthy red is balanced out by cherry flavours and will go with your favourite meat and cheese dishes.
Continuing south, for a juicy, rich wine exploding with ripe berry flavours, the Primitivos of Puglia will never let you down. You may actually already be acquainted with this grape – many of us know Primitivo as Zinfandel which is particularly loved by US wine drinkers.
Nero d'Avola aka the 'black of Avola' is one of Sicily's major red grapes. Local to the southern part of the Boot, Nero d'Avola is responsible for some of Sicily's most well-known and easy to drink reds. This grape has found fame in the McLaren Vale in South Australia given a similar climate so enjoy hunting this easy-drinking wine.
But it's not just local grapes you'll find across Italy. International varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz/Syrah and Chardonnay have become important fixtures in Italian winemaking, especially in Tuscany and Sicily where they are blended with local grapes. Pick up a bottle of any one of the wines on this list and you'll find you can enjoy them effortlessly. These wines delicious enough to become a talking point the next time you're hanging out with your wine-loving mates. They may even replace your old favourites!