Northern Italy's Most Exciting Wines
Northern Italy is a great starting point if you're looking to shake up your wine drinking routine and experience new varieties, regions, and styles.
The sheer volume of native grapes in Italy means endless new grapes to become acquainted with, but there are also familiar names if you want to ease into it.
We start in Piedmont where Nebbiolo reigns king. This high tannin, high acid red grape is responsible for the Barolo and Barbaresco and also makes tasty, more budget-friendly wines from the Langhe DOC. Nebbiolo is one to deposit in the cellar and save for later. Trust us, your patience will be well-rewarded.
With time, the grape's naturally high tannins will mellow out while the wine itself grows increasingly complex. Classic Nebbiolo notes include cherry, roses, potpourri, tar, and truffle. On the topic of truffles, it's the go-to pairing for the famous white truffles of Alba which come from the surrounding area. Nebbiolo may be king of Piedmont, but the region is home to other treasures.
For everyday enjoyment, Barbera will never lead you astray. Ripe and fruity, with black cherry, blackberry, and strawberry aromas and flavours, Barbera makes high acid, low tannin wines which are brilliant with pizza and anything covered in tomato sauce. Though not as famous as Sangiovese, believe it or not, Barbera holds the number three position for Italy's most planted grape varieties.
Despite reds being the main focus of Piedmont, there are a few outrageously good whites made in the region. Fans of warm climate Chardonnay should make it a point to sample Arneis. Wines made from this grape tend to be dry yet rich, full of stone fruits like peaches and apricots with a generous helping of pear. A tasty pairing with creamy risottos and pasta, white meats, chicken, and fish, Arneis is a lovely mid-week white that won't disappoint.
Over in the Veneto, we start to see an even wider range of styles. Dry and sweet, sparkling and still. The most notable wines here come from Valpolicella. These reds are mostly made from the Corvina grape and include famous names like Amarone, Valpolicella, and Valpolicella Ripasso.
Amarone is held in the same esteem as Barolo. This dry, full-bodied red is made from grapes which have been partially dried on straw mats, concentrating their flavours to yield a phenomenally complex and rich wine.
Ripasso is an incredible wine which is rather unique. After fermentation completes, the wine is passed back through leftover pomace (grape skins, pulps, and stems) from Amarone production. The result is a much richer, more complex Valpolicella that has some of that richer Amarone character.
For white wines, nothing ranks above Soave. Widely planted throughout the Veneto, Garganega stars as the main grape of this wine. Most versions are dry, but sweet versions are also made. The dry versions are a good place for Sauvignon Blanc fans to get their feet wet.
The Glera grape is responsible for everyone's favourite budget bubbly, Prosecco. This sparkling wine is made in both the Veneto and Friuli. While it's a brunch staple, Prosecco does the trick as an aperitif with light bites or simply as something refreshing to sip. Unlike traditional method sparkling wines like Champagne, Prosecco is made using the tank method, which preserves the fruity apple, pear, and honeysuckle aromas we associate with this particular wine.
Known for its white wines, Trentino's cool climate is perfect for mineral-driven white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but the region is most famous for its world-class Pinot Grigio. If you're a fan of Aussie versions, be sure to try Trentino's Pinot Grigios. Their citrusy, slightly peachy styles are a winner with seafood and poultry and are a superb way to cool down when the temperature starts to creep up.
Of course, there are plenty more exciting wines available to try in northern Italy. Let the few we've highlighted here serve as a jumping off point for your Italian wine exploration. These wines are a spectacular way to not only get to know some of the best Italy has on offer but also serve as an excellent way to broaden your palate. Who can argue with that?