For over 4,000 years, wine has been produced in Italy, and in large quantities also. In fact, Italy is the largest producer of wine in the world (ahead of France and Spain), accounting for 19% of global wine production in 2018.
Mostly because of the climate of Italy, the country is regarded as the perfect place for viticulture (the cultivation of grapes) and winemaking in turn. It also boasts over one million vineyards and about 1.73 million acres (702,000 hectares) of land under vineyard cultivation.
Listed below are some of the most popular or best Italian red wines, or grape varieties used to make such. There are eleven (11) grape varieties explained in this article and some are used to make wines bearing the same name.
As you read, you will learn about the origins of the wines and wine grapes, why they are so popular, their tasting notes and scents, alcohol content (percentage by volume), and how they are best paired with both local and international food.
Like French wines are protected under Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) laws, Italian wines are legally protected using labels in a classification system peculiar to Italy. There are four of these classifications: DO, IGT, DOC, and DOCG.
This system was introduced in 1963, overhauled in 1992 to match new European Union laws, and then registered with the EU in 2011. “DO” stands for Denominazione di Origine, which is English for “designation of origin”. It is rarely used.
“IGT” is an acronym for Indicazione Geografica Tipica, meaning “indication of geographical typicality” in English. Created in 1992, it refers to high-quality wines, known as Super Tuscans, that do not meet the requirements of DOC or DOCG designations. It labels them with their place of origin.
“DOC” stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata which translates to “controlled designation of origin”. This classification recognizes wines that satisfy certain standards and are produced within specific regions.
Some of such standards are grape varieties to be used, harvest yields, minimum aging time, and minimum alcohol content. Wines labeled DOC or DOCG must be sold in bottles with a maximum capacity of 5 liters (170 US fl oz).
“DOCG” is Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Italian for “controlled and guaranteed designation of origin”. It is the highest classification in Italy. All DOCG wines are analyzed and tasted by a judgment panel licensed by the government before their bottling.
To prevent manipulation after the analysis and tasting, approved wines have a numbered governmental seal stamped across the cap or cork. The first wines to receive DOCG status were approved in 1980.
The first three DOCGs, approved in July 1980, were Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Barolo. The fourth was Barbaresco, approved three months later in October 1980.
Popular Italian Red Wines
Aglianico is a full-bodied but dry red wine native to and found almost exclusively in the regions of Campania and Basilicata in Southern Italy. Aglianico wines are made using a red wine grape variety bearing the same name.
Aglianico may also be called Agliatica, Ellenico, Ellanico, Gnanico or Uva Nera. It is known for the richness and fullness of its flavor, good aging potential, and capability to retain high levels of acidity even when grown in hot climates.
These wines are typically garnet-red with a fruity scent, fading to tones of orange or yellow-orange and becoming more intense in aroma after sufficient time in the bottle. They show musky berry flavors with firm tannins.
Aglianico grapes are popularly blended with other grape varieties in Campania, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, to make some IGT wines. Despite being fairly high in acidity, this grape variety is late-ripening and strong.
With an alcohol content of about 15.5% alcohol by volume, some wines made with Aglianico grapes include Campania Aglianico (like Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico Rosso Irpinia), Taurasi DOCG (Mastroberardino Radici Riserva for example), Aglianico del Taburno DOCG and Aglianico del Vulture.
Aglianico wines may be brilliantly paired with chili and meat dishes like chicken with paprika sauce, barbecued lamb, rabbit stew, barbecue beef, smoked pork, beef brisket, buffalo burgers, beef stew, prime rib, and oxtail.
2. Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG
Also simply called Amarone, Amarone della Valpolicella is a rich Italian DOCG dry red wine made from partially dried red grape varieties such as Corvina, Rondinella, and other approved red grape varieties.
This wine is native to the zone called Valpolicella in the northeastern Italian region of Veneto. The Italian word “Amarone” translates to “great bitter” in English and was originally used to distinguish this dry wine from the sweeter Recioto wine produced in the same region.
Amarone is well known for its very strong, powerful flavor. It is rich, syrupy, and dry in taste. It offers flavors of black cherry, brown sugar, and chocolate, and additional flavors of molasses and fig as it ages.
The acidity level of this wine is usually medium to high. This acidity is balanced with a relatively high alcohol percentage of about 15 to 16% alcohol by volume; the legal minimum is 14% alcohol by volume.
Amarone pairs well with red meat like dishes like braised beef, roast beef (stracotto di manzo) and donkey meat stew, duck, lamb, venison, liver and onions, rich pasta, and cheeses like Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort, and other blue cheeses.
3. Barbaresco DOCG
Barbaresco is a red Italian wine produced in the Piedmont region and specifically in the communes of Barbaresco, Treiso, and Neive, plus the area of San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. This wine is made with a variety of grapes called Nebbiolo.
It was granted DOC status in 1966 and was the fourth wine to be granted DOCG status in 1980. It is often compared with Barolo, another distinct but similar wine from the Piedmont area made with Nebbiolo grapes.
By DOCG regulations, Barbaresco wines must have at least 12.5% alcohol by volume although most are closer to 13.5%. They also must be aged for at least 2 years prior to release, mandatorily spending a minimum of 9 months in wooden barrels.
Barbaresco wines aged for 4 or more years are considered riservas (reserve wines). They are usually aged at least 5 to 10 years (and sometimes even up to 20 years!) before consumption, as they are extremely tannic and tight in their youth.
Barbaresco wine typically has flavor notes of cherry, truffles, fennel, and licorice. However, as the wine ages, it may begin to develop smoky notes and more earthy and animal flavors such as leather and tar.
Traditional regional Italian choice foods and rich meat dishes featuring earthy, smoky flavors pair well with Barbaresco wines. Some of such foods are braised meats, risotto, blue cheese, prime rib roast, veal chops, duck in mushroom sauce, venison stew, and pasta.
4. Barbera d’Asti
Barbera d’Asti is a dry red wine made from the Italian wine grape variety called Barbera. Barbera is believed to have originated in Monferrato in central Piemonte, Italy. As of 2000, it was the third most planted red grape variety in Italy.
Regions notable for the production of the Barbera grape variety include Argentina, Australia, California, and Monferrato. The grape produces good yields and is known for its deep color and low tannins.
Because of its color, the Barbera grape variety is a value blending grape. It was historically used in the Barolo and Barbaresco regions to add color to the natural light wines made from the Nebbiolo grape.
Barbera d’Asti is a full-bodied wine well known for high levels of acidity, low tannins, and deep color. It has tasting notes of strawberries, sour cherries, and raspberries; young wines of this type may also have intense aromas of blackberries.
It is a deep ruby color with a pink rim. Using oak barrels to store the wine during fermentation may influence its flavor and profile. The taste of barrel-influenced Barberas tends to be rounder and richer, with more notes of plum and spice.
Wines fermented in older or more neutral oak barrels tend to have more vibrant aromas and notes of cherry. The alcohol content of most Barbera wines is about 13 to 15% alcohol by volume.
They pair well with rich fatty or high tannin dishes like dark meat, mushrooms, herbs, and blue cheese, higher tannin foods like root vegetables and braised greens, and pasta with meat, and tomato sauces like bolognese.
5. Barolo DOCG
This is another type of Italian red wine. With origins in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, Barolo is a red DOCG wine also made from the Nebbiolo grape like Barbaresco. It is considered one of the best red wines in Italy.
Barolo is produced in the Italian province of Cuneo, in the communes of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Cherasco, Diano d’Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, Novello, Roddi, Serralunga d’Alba and Verduno.
Noted and considered one of the best Italian red wines for their aging ability, the aroma of Barolo wines is often described as that of tar and roses. They typically take on a rust-red tinge as they mature.
According to DOCG requirements, Barolo must be made entirely from Nebbiolo grapes and aged for at least three years, of which at least a year and a half must be in wood. The flavor of these wines is affected by the oak of the barrels in which they are stored.
Wines that are aged for at least five years before they are released may be labeled as Riserva. Barolo wines are relatively high in tannins and acidity, with a minimum alcohol content of 13% but up to 16% alcohol by volume.
As a powerful, tannic wine, Barolo needs to be matched with foods of similar weight. It is not paired with light dishes low in protein but with meat dishes, any heavy pasta, and rich risotto, especially in Piedmont.
Its tannins and acidity allow it to pair splendidly with rich, flavorful, and high-protein foods such as cottage pie, osso buco, prime rib, rib eye steak, roasted goose, veal chops, and venison stew.
6. Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
One of the best Italian wines is Brunello di Montalcino, a red DOCG Italian wine produced in the vineyards around a town in the Siena province called Montalcino. They are made with grapes originally called Brunello.
“Brunello” is an Italian diminutive of “Bruno”, which in English means “brown”. The name was given locally in Montalcino to Sangiovese grapes when they were believed to be an individual grape variety grown in this region.
Sangiovese and Brunello were determined to be the same grape variety in 1879 and so Brunello grapes were and are called Sangiovese. Brunello is used to mean, under DOCG requirements, wine made with Sangiovese grapes alone.
Montalcino was granted DOC status in 1968 for the making of Brunello wines. It was then the first wine region of Italy to receive DOCG status in 1980. It is one of the best-known and most expensive wines in Italy today.
Because of the thick-skinned Sangiovese berries, Brunello di Montalcino has bold fruity flavors with earthy notes of espresso and tilled soil. When aged for longer, the wine tastes of dried figs, cherries, hazelnuts, anise, and chocolate.
The wine is high in tannins and acidity. It has a minimum alcohol percentage of 12.5% alcohol by volume. It pairs well with both Italian and international dishes as long as they are heavy and preferably if they are meat dishes.
Some foods that pair well with Brunello di Montalcino are steak and game with mushroom sauces, tomato sauces, rich stews, rich pasta dishes, pot roast pheasant, red meat in general, truffles, and powerful cheeses.
7. Chianti DOCG
Chianti wine is any wine produced in the Chianti region of central Tuscany. Sangiovese is the dominant grape variety used in its production, and there are certain strict rules under DOCG regulations concerning wine.
Chianti Classico is a wine from a classic zone within this wine region. Chianti Classico wines must be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Basic Chianti requires only 70% Sangiovese grapes at a minimum.
Since 2006, Chianti Classico has allowed only red grape varieties in its production. Sauvignon may be used entirely, or some other approved red grape varieties like Cabery Sauvignon and Merlot may make up the remaining 20%.
The minimum alcohol level of Chianti Classico is 12% alcohol by volume and it must be aged for at least 7 months in oak. Riserva Chianti Classicos must be aged for a minimum of 2 years at the winery, with at least 12.5% alcohol by volume.
Basic Chianti allows a maximum of 10% white grapes. The blend for it has been 75 to 100% Sangiovese, up to 10% white grapes like Canaiolo, Malvasia, or Trebbiano, and up to 20% of any other approved red grape variety since 1996.
The minimum alcohol level for Chianti is 11.5% alcohol by volume. This wine is high in tannins, medium-bodied, and with a simple, earthy aroma. Cherry, strawberry, dried herbs, balsamic vinegar, and smoke are common flavors it contains.
Some foods that pair very well with Chianti wines are pizza, tomato, and meat-based pasta dishes, foods that are made with salsa verde, Pecorino cheese, Tuscan olive oils, salami, bean soups, and chickpea soups.
Corvina, also called Corvina Veronese or Cruina, is an Italian red wine grape variety grown almost exclusively in the Veneto wine region in the northeastern part of Italy. Only about 19 hectares of it are planted in Argentina.
Corvina is most famous for being key, alongside Rondinella, a key constituent of Valpolicella wines. It is generally used in the making of dry wines. It is also well known for having a sour cherry flavor and lacking color and tannin.
These grapes are blended with other grape varieties and used to make Bardolino, Amarone, and Recioto. Wines made from Corvina grapes tend to be bright red or light crimson in color and lighter bodied.
The naturally high acidity of the grapes usually results in Corvina wines that are quite sour with slightly bitter notes of almond and sour notes of cherry at the finish. Other flavors are cinnamon, chocolate, and green peppercorn.
Some wine producers used barrel aging to give the wines more structure. They usually have an alcohol content of 13.5 to 15% alcohol by volume. Some notable DOCG wines that are considered Italy’s best are made from Corvina.
Some such wines are Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, Bardolino Superiore DOCG, Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG, Valpolicella DOC, and Valpolicella Ripasso DOC. On its own, Corvina goes well with lighter local cuisine.
Corvina wines may be paired with: spicy seafood stews, grilled salmon, antipasti, bruschetta, rich stews, grilled vegetables, ham, salami, pizza, pasta, risotto, spicy and rich soups, hamburger, chicken, lamb, veal, and fattier fish dishes.
This wine is very food friendly as it pairs well with many types of food. It is perfect with grilled food (especially meat), tuna, fresh pasta with duck sauce, glazed pork, barbecue, steak, cheeses (Asiago, Montasio, and Piave), roasted meat, and Polenta dishes.
Dolcetto (translated from Italian to mean “little sweet one” in English) is a soft and fruity black grape or red wine grape variety that is widely grown only in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy.
Wines produced from Dolcetto grapes are almost always dry. They can be tannic and fruity with moderate levels of acidity. They are typically meant to be consumed young, in the first two or three years after their release as varietal wines (made principally from one grape variety and bearing its name).
Dolcetto is a medium-bodied red wine considered light and easy. It may also be drunk after years of maturation. It has flavors known for black cherry, licorice, prune, and a bitter almond finish due to the grape’s tannic nature.
The grapes may be used exclusively to make some DOCs and DOCGs. In this case, the alcohol content is usually 10 to 13% alcohol by volume. Most of such wines have two levels: the standard version with a minimum of 11.5% and the Superiore with a minimum of 12.5% alcohol by volume.
Examples of exclusive Dolcetto wines are Dolcetto d’Acqui DOC, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, Dolcetto d’Asti DOC, Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG, Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba DOC and Dolcetto d’Ovada DOC.
Dolcetto grapes are also blended with other grapes to make other wines. Some are Colli Tortonesi Dolcetto, Golfo Del Tigullio, Lago di Corbara, Monferrato Dolcetto, Pineronese Dolcetto, Riviera Ligure di Ponente Ormeasco (requires a minimum of 95% Dolcetto), Rosso Orvietano and Valsusa.
Dolcetto wines pair well with spaghetti and meatballs, pasta bolognese or pasta with mushrooms and meat sauces, baked ziti, veal Marsala, bruschetta, chicken barbecue, pizza, ribs, roast chicken, salumi, lasagna, sausages, and burgers.
10. Etna Rosso DOC
Etna Rosso DOC is an Italian red wine made in Etna DOC, a zone in the wine region of Sicily. This wine is made from two types of Nerello grapes. A minimum of 80% of Nerello Mascalese grapes is required and a maximum of 20% of Nerello Mantellato, also called Nerello Cappuccio.
This ruby red wine is dry and medium-bodied, able to be stored for up to 5 years. As it ages, it acquires a granite streak. It has an intense and berry-like aroma, with a warm, robust, full, and well-balanced taste.
By DOCG guidelines, a variety of winemaking techniques are allowed in the production of Etna Rosso. However, a minimum alcohol content of 12.5% alcohol by volume is required. The same grapes are also used to make another wine, Etna Rosato.
Some foods recommended trying with Etna Rosso wine are pork, a variety of pasta dishes, grilled or roasted white meat, sausages, poultry, salmon, tuna, tomato sauces, and bucatini with tuna.
11. Gattinara DOCG
Gattinara is another red Italian wine produced from Nebbiolo grapes with DOCG status, making it a high-quality wine. It is produced in the commune of Gattinara, located north of the province of Vercelli within the Piedmont wine region of Italy.
A minimum of 90% of Nebbiolo grapes, known locally as Spanna, must be used to produce Gattinara wines. Up to 10% of Bonarda di Gattinara and a maximum of 4% of Vespolina grapes may be used as well.
Gattinara wine is consumed fairly young after being aged in wooden barrels for two years. It also ages well and is long-lived. If the wine is a riserva, it is aged for three years in wooden barrels and another two years in the bottle.
Gattinara wines are as good and of high quality as Barolo and Barbaresco. All the same, they tend to be lighter-bodied with more earthy flavors than Barolo and Barbaresco. They are juicy with aromas of wild cherry, raspberry, leather, and mushroom.
The alcohol level of Gattinara is typically moderate, about 12.5% alcohol by volume. This powerful red wine goes best with strongly flavored dishes, like white truffles, spicy pasta dishes, savory meat-based dishes, and aged cheeses.
Lambrusco is an Italian wine grape variety principally used in the making of Lambrusco wines. The grapes and wine originate from four zones in Emilia-Romagna and one in Lombardy.
The most highly rated Lambrusco wines are the slightly sparkling (frizzante) wines which are typically drunk when they are young. Lambrusco was once the largest-selling imported wine in the United States.
Lambrusco grapes have also been used to produce wines in white and rosé styles. There are eight DOC wines made primarily from Lambrusco grapes such as Colli di Parma Lambrusco, Colli di Scandiano e Canossa Lambrusco, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco Mantovano, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, Modena Lambrusco, and Reggiano Lambrusco.
Wines made from this variety of grapes come in varying levels of dryness or sweetness, from secco (which means bone dry or dry), amabile (referring to off-dry or sweet wines), and dolce (which classifies wines that are very sweet).
Lambrusco wines are very popular for their high acidity and berry flavors. They possess sweet fruity and flowery aromas of blackberry jam, cherries, mandarin orange, orange blossom, strawberries, violets, and watermelon.
They are light, bubbly, and frothy wines. Different wines are made by blending Lambrusco wines from the various DOC regions. These may then be exported to the United States and sold under the IGT designation “Emilia”.
Lambrusco’s high level of acidity is balanced by a low to medium alcohol level of about 10 to 11.5% alcohol by volume. Served lightly chilled, it pairs well with bold food like cheeses, meat dishes, and savory Asian cuisine.
Some foods to try with a Lambrusco wine are grilled chicken, lamb, hamburgers, steak, ramen, Asian orange chicken, Korean barbecue ribs, Pecorino cheese, Parmigiano cheese, pork, other red meats, and other hard cheeses.
Although Montepulciano is the name of a wine-producing town in Italy, it is a red wine grape variety planted throughout central and southern Italy. The most notable Italian regions that it is grown in are Abruzzo, Apulia, Lazio, Marche, Molise, and Umbria.
Montepulciano grapes are primarily used in the production of these DOCG wines: Offida Rosso, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane and Rosso Conero, and the DOC wine Rosso Piceno Superiore.
They are known by some other names such as Cordicso, Cordiscio, Cordisio, Montepulciano Cordesco, Morellone, Premutico, Primaticcio, Primutico, Sangiovese Cordisco, Sangiovetto, Torre dei Passeri, Uva Abruzzese, and Uva Abruzzi.
This grape variety is permitted in DOC wines produced in 20 of Italy’s 95 provinces. It is rarely found in northern Italy because of its tendency to ripen late. It is thought to originate in Tuscany and may be related to Sangiovese grapes.
Although Montepulciano is often confused with Sangiovese and they are thought to originate from the same place, the Montepulciano grape does not seem to have any tangible connection to the town of Montepulciano.
The grape is cultivated widely across central Italy but it is not grown in the vineyards around the town of Montepulciano. Fully ripened Montepulciano grapes produce deeply colored wines with moderate acidity and noticeable alcohol content.
Outside Italy, this grape variety called Montepulciano is also grown in Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United States (the states of California, North Carolina, and Texas). Some DOCs and DOCGs that include Montepulciano as a majority of the blend are Biferno DOC, Conero DOCG, Controguerra DOC, Esino DOC, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Terramane DOCG, Offida DOC, Pentro di Isernia DOC, Rosso Conero DOC, San Severo DOC and Tarquinia DOC.
14. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is an Italian red wine produced in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy. It is made from a minimum of 85% of Montepulciano wine grapes and up to 15% of Sangiovese grapes. It was granted DOC status in 1968.
In 1995, the Colline Teramane subzone in the province of Teramo was established as a DOC. In 2003, it was promoted to DOCG status 2003 and the wines from here are known separately as Colline Teramane Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is one of the most widely exported DOC wines in Italy. A lighter Rosato style of this wine was previously covered by this DOC but since 2010 has become Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, a separate DOC.
This wine is typically dry with moderate tannin levels. It is aged for a minimum of 5 months before its release and so is often consumed young. By wine laws, it must contain no less than 12% alcohol by volume.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva must be aged for at least 2 years before release by the maker. This time must include a minimum of 9 months in wood barrels. Its alcohol level must be at 12.5% alcohol by volume.
This deeply colored wine has notes of blackberries, pepper, and spice. It is highly aromatic with earthy notes and a thickness of taste. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo pairs well with savory dishes, meat dishes, pasta variety, and cheese.
Some of these foods are beef brisket, hamburgers (with mushrooms), beef bolognese, tagliatelle, ragu, high-protein pizzas, smoked or barbecued meats, lamb kebabs, lasagna, meatloaf, Pecorino cheese, and dishes with rich tomato based or cheese sauce.
15. Morellino di Scansano DOCG
Another of the best Italian red wines is Morellino di Scansano DOCG. It has its origins in Tuscany, made in and around the village of Scansano in the Maremma region. It is a full-bodied wine.
Morellino di Scansano is made with a minimum of 85% Sangiovese grapes, known locally as Morellino, hence the name. Any non-aromatic grape variety approved by the winemaking authorities of Tuscany may make up the remaining 15%.
This wine was granted DOC status in 1978 and upgraded to DOCG status in 2007. It does not need to age in wood so it is usually consumed young, fresh, and crisp. Riserva wines may also be made, with special rules.
While Morellino di Scansano must have an alcohol content of at least 12.5% alcohol by volume, Morellino di Scansano Riserva must have at least 13% alcohol by volume. It must age for a minimum of two years, with at least one year in wood.
Other Tuscan wines with Sangiovese as their primary grape variety are Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Morellino di Scansano is moderately tannic and so it goes well with foods based on red meats.
Rich pasta dishes, tomato sauces, meat sauce, meat roasts, braised meat, mushroom sauces, grilled vegetables, rich risotto, rich pizza, poultry, hamburgers, sausages, veal, pork, oxtail stew, and lamb are some foods that it pairs well with.
Mature Asiago, Parmigiano, Pecorino, and Provolone cheeses are good options as well. Local Tuscan dishes that are recommended to try with Morellino di Scansano are ribollita, bistecca Florentina (Florentine steak), polenta with black truffle, and grilled portobello mushrooms.
Nebbiolo is an Italian red wine grape variety native to the Piedmont region. It is also known as Nebieul. This grape variety is known for being dominantly used in the making of DOCG wines like Barbaresco, Barolo, Carema, Gattinara, Ghemme, Nebbiolo d’Alba, and Roero.
Red wines made from the Nebbiolo grape variety are typically lightly colored but they are very full-bodied. Younger wines may be highly tannic, with scents of tar and roses. Aged and more mature wines are more brick orange at the rim.
Other aromas and flavors develop with age, such as roses, violets, tar, wild herbs, dried fruit, cherries, spice, raspberries, truffles, leather, tobacco, licorice, mulberries, and prunes. Nebbiolo wines may require at least 10 years of aging to balance their tannins with other characteristics.
These highly acidic wines may even be aged for up to 30 years. Barolo and Barbaresco need the most aging as they are the heaviest. Some Nebbiolo-based wines made more recently could also be consumed at younger ages.
The fact that several wines made primarily with Nebbiolo grapes are widely acclaimed notwithstanding, the grape variety is grown significantly less than some other ones in Piedmont.
Nebbiolo-based wines are mostly powerful both in aroma and flavor. Riper ones may contain around 14.5% alcohol by volume. In the Veneto wine region, a small amount of grapes is used to make a Nebbiolo recioto wine.
Another red wine grape variety used to make the best Italian wines is known as Negroamaro. It is native to southern Italy and grown almost exclusively in Salento and Apulia where it produces some of the best red wines, like Salice Salentino.
Its name literally means “black [and] bitter”, and true to this name, the grape can produce wines that are very deep in color. The wines tend to be very agrestic, combining perfume with an earthy harshness of taste.
Negroamaro grapes are used for the sole purpose of making wines. They are mostly blended with other grape varieties like Malvasia Nera, Sangiovese, or Montepulciano. However, some varietal wines are made with them exclusively.
Such varietal wines are red, sometimes Rosato (light red or pink), and usually still. Both red and Rosato versions could as well be frizzante (lightly sparkling). Other names for the grape include Abbruzzese, Albese, Amaronero, Arbese, Jonico, Lacrimo, Mangiaverde, Morese, and Nero Amaro.
Some DOC wines based on Negroamaro are Alezia Rosato, Brisindi Rosato, Galatina Rosso, Leverano Negroamaro Rosso, Leverano Novello, Lizziano, Marino Rosso, Rosso di Cerignola Salice Sentino and Squinzano Rosso Riserva.
IGT wines like Daunia Negroamaro, Puglia Negroamaro, Salento Negroamaro, Salento Rosato Negroamaro, Tarantino Negroamaro, and Valle d’Itria Negroamaro are also made predominantly with these grapes.
18. Nero d’Avola
Nero d’Avola, also called Calabrese, is one of Italy’s most important indigenous wine grape varieties. It is native to Sicily where it is considered the most important wine grape and is named after the Sicilian city of Avola.
Its name translates from Italian to English as “the black grape of Avola”. It is used to make wines of the same name that are medium to full-bodied. The red wines are fruity with a savory edge, sweet tannins, and peppery flavors.
Nero d’Avola wines take on notes of blackberries, prune, black plum, and licorice. Their aroma is often fruity and similar to blackberries. While the younger wines have a juicy plum taste, all are dry, slightly acidic, and warm in taste.
They are cherry or ruby red in color. Their alcohol content ranges usually from 13.5% to 14.5% alcohol by volume. Anise, orange rind, bay leaf, sage, cocoa powder, and Asian plum sauce are some spices that pair well with this wine.
Nero d’Avola is also excellent with steaks, burgers, pork chops, veal, meatloaf, barbecue burgers, lasagna, meatballs, pizza, red meat, bacon, oxtail soup, beef stew, and other meat dishes.
19. Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Primitivo di Manduria is an Italian DOC wine produced from Primitivo grapes. This red wine is native to Manduria which is in the Southern region of Puglia. It is the only Italian wine region that specializes in the Primitivo red grape variety.
Although this wine is dry, it has a sweet version known as Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale. This version is a DOCG, granted its status in 2011. The standard Primitivo di Manduria was established as a DOC in 1974.
Primitivo-based wines require years of aging in bottles or barrels, as they are tannic and intense in flavor and color. The grapes have naturally dark skins and they produce inky wines that are bitter when young.
The blend for Primitivo di Manduria and its Riserva must contain a minimum of 85% Primitivo grapes, in addition to other approved red grape varieties. Other production rules differ slightly.
Regular (Rosso) Primitivo di Manduria mandatorily has a minimum of 13.5% alcohol by volume. It must also be aged for at least 5 months before being released.
Riserva wines require at least 14% alcohol by volume. They must be aged for up to 2 years with at least 9 months in a barrel.
The wine is food friendly, positing well with cheddar cheese, tomato-based dishes, and hearty meals. Some of these are grilled vegetable pasta, pizza rustica, lamb curry, spaghetti bolognese, pasta puttanesca, and hamburgers.
Some other dishes that you can have Primitivo di Manduria with are eggplants with pasta and Parmigiano Reggiano or parmesan, gnocchi alla bolognese, pasta alla carbonara, pork ribs, and spaghetti alla carbonara.
20. Rosso di Montalcino DOC
Rosso di Montalcino is a dry and fruity red wine produced in the Tuscan village of Montalcino in Italy. Like Brunello di Montalcino which has the same area of origin, this type of wine is made exclusively with Sangiovese grapes.
In Tuscany, Sangiovese is known as Sangioveto Grosso. Grapes from good harvest years are used to make Brunello and the leftovers are used for Rosso. Harvest grapes from poorer years are then used almost exclusively to make Rosso wines.
Conceived in 1984, Rosso di Montalcino is a more affordable alternative to Brunello di Montalcino. It is an intense red ruby color with an intense aroma and dry, warm taste. It also has light tannin levels.
The primary flavors of this wine include blackberry, red cherry, strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, black cherry, plum, tomato, tea, and violets. The oak it is stored in adds secondary flavors of vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, and tobacco to the wine, bringing out sweeter cherry notes and adding herb flavors.
By DOC regulations, Rosso di Montalcino must be stored for at least 1 year, with six months of that time in oak, before being sold. It however may be stored for up to 5 years. It requires a minimum of 12% alcohol by volume.
The idea of creating this DOC was to create fresher wines from younger vines which would need less aging time than Brunello. This way, winemakers would still be able to make money while waiting for their Brunello wine to age well.
In Montepulciano, Rosso di Montepulciano DOC was created in the same manner to help out producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. Rosso di Montalcino is a full-bodied and vivacious fresh wine.
It pairs well with several foods, like hot dogs, pizza, mature cheese, rich pasta dishes, tomato sauce, mushroom sauce, risotto, sausages, roast chicken, stews, grilled vegetables, cured meat, truffle sauce, veal, hamburgers, pork, and lamb.
Some traditional Tuscan dishes to try with it are ribollita, bistecca Florentina, polenta with black truffle, and grilled portobello mushrooms. Examples of this wine are Fattoria Poggio di Sotto Rosso di Montalcino and Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Rosso di Montalcino.
Sangiovese is a dark-skinned wine grape variety from Italy. It has purple skin and is used to produce red wines. Its name is derived from the Latin sanguis Jovis, which translates to English as “the blood of Jupiter”.
It is native to and is also the most widespread variety of grapes in Tuscany. It is well known in central Italy, and in cities outside central Italy like Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Lombardia, Romagna, Lazio, Sicily, and Valpolicella.
Sangiovese is exclusively used in the production of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Rosso di Montalcino DOC. Some other popular and high-quality wines like Chianti DOCG, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, and Morellino di Scansano DOCG are Sangiovese-based wines.
Some other DOCs and DOCGs that contain Sangiovese grapes are Conero DOCG, Lazio DOC, Montefalco Sagrantino secco DOCG, Rosso Piceno DOC, and Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG.
The grape variety is also called Brunello, Morellino, Nielluccio, or Sangiovese Grosso in Italy. It may as well be used to make varietal wines such as Sangiovese di Romagna and modern Super Tuscan wines like Tignanello.
When Sangiovese-based wines are young, they tend to have fresh and fruity flavors of strawberry and spice. Aging in barrels affects their flavor as they begin to take on oaky and tarry flavors.
These wines are usually deep in color and highly acidic with moderate to high tannin levels. The flavor profile of Sangiovese is that of sour red cherries. The grape variety also possesses an earthy aroma with notes of tea leaves.
Sangiovese is the most planted variety of red grapes in the entire country. Outside of Italy, it is also planted in several places across the world but it is not as popular in those places as it is in central Italy, its homeland.
It gained some recognition in North and South America with the help of Italian immigrants. In Argentina, it was used to produce certain wines that bore certain characteristics resembling Sangiovese-based wines from Tuscany.
It then became popular in California also where it was used as a substitute for the French grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. In Italy, Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape variety.
Cabernet Sauvignon blends very well with Sangiovese but its use was banned in many Italian DOCs. The rise of “Super Tuscan” wines in the 1970s resulted in the DOC regulations being more flexible and allowing Cabernet Sauvignon to be blended with Sangiovese.
Super Tuscans are high-quality red wines with origins in Tuscany that do not comply with DOC or DOCG rules. As a result, they are given the lower classification of vino da tavola (table wines). In 1975, the first DOC permitted to blend Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese was Carmignano.
Sangiovese-based wines are usually medium to full-bodied, with medium to high tannin levels and alcohol levels of 12 to 14% alcohol by volume. They pair brilliantly with tomato-based foods, meaty dishes, pasta dishes, and heavy cheeses.
22. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG
Last on this list but equally considered one of the best red Italian wines, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a DOCG exclusively produced in the vineyards surrounding the Italian town of Montepulciano.
It is not related to and should not be mistaken for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, another great Italian red wine made from a different grape variety known as Montepulciano and in east-central Italy’s Abruzzo wine region.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made with a minimum of 70% of Sangiovese grapes which are known in the region as Prugnolo Gentile. Added to the blend are 10 to 20% of the red Canaiolo Nero grape and small amounts of other local varieties like Mammolo.
This blend is then aged for 2 years, with a minimum of 1 year in oak barrels by DOCG regulations. Vin Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva is aged for a longer period of time: three years.
Montepulciano gained DOC status in 1966 for the making of several reputable wines (like Brunello di Montepulciano). In July 1980, the DOCG status of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was authorized, making it one of the first three DOCG wines.
Although it is often overshadowed by and less popular than other Tuscan wines like Brunello di Montepulciano DOCG, Chianti DOCG, and even Super Tuscans, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is one of Tuscany’s most renowned red wines.
Its primary flavor notes include cherry, dark berries, plum and strawberry, and dark berries, with subtle spicy and earthy notes. It possesses floral and fruity aromas of dried plums, cherries, and violets with possible notes of tobacco and earth.
The time the wine spends in oak barrels adds to its smells of wood and sweetness. It is medium-bodied, with medium plus levels of tannin, and highly acidic. Its taste has also been described as fresh, vibrant, round, and refreshing.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano must have an alcohol level of between 11.5 and 14% alcohol by volume. Like most other Italian red wines, it goes well with both locally Italian and international dishes.
It pairs best with classic Italian dishes, spicy Asian cuisine, and meat dishes. Some of these dishes include pizza with red sauce, barbecue, red meat, stewed meat, grilled meat, lamb, and pasta with red sauce.
The versatility of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano allows it to also pair with seasoned, spicy, and savory cheeses, ragu, lamb, mushroom filet, and spiced desserts or desserts enriched with dried fruit and plums.
What is Italy’s best red wine?
Barolo is considered the best red wine in Italy and is even considered the king of Italian red wines. Barbaresco comes a close second. Of the Italian red wine grape varieties, Sangiovese grapes are considered the best.
What is the most popular wine in Italy?
Barolo is the most popular wine in Italy as well as the best. Barbaresco is almost equally popular, and so are Chianti, Amarone di Valpolicella, and Brunello di Montalcino.
What is the king of Italian wines?
Barolo is considered one of the best wines in the world, called the king of Italian wines. It is sometimes even referred to as the king of wines in general, of wines across the world.
Italy is the largest producer of wine and the fifth highest wine-consuming country in the world. The country produces some of the world’s most reputable white and red wines. Above is a list of twenty-two (22) of the best Italian red wines and wine grapes.
The country boasts of over 310,000 wineries, 695,000 hectares of land serving as vineyards, 7.67 million tons of grapes harvested, 5.66 billion liters and 7.56 billion bottles of wine produced and 37% of exported wine annually, according to Amfori.
There are twenty (20) winemaking regions in the Republic of Italy corresponding to the country’s 20 administrative divisions. These regions are subdivided into provinces and there are 172 winemaking zones in these provinces.
The winemaking regions of Italy are: Abruzzo, Aosta Valley (Valle d’Aosta), Apulia (Puglia), Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli Venezia Guilia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardy (Lombardia), Marche, Molise, Piedmont (Piemonte), Sardinia (Sardegna), Sicily (Sicilia), Trentino-South Tyrol (Trentino-Alto Adige), Tuscany (Toscana), Umbria, and Veneto.
Of the 20, the 5 regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, Sicily, Tuscany, and Veneto are most known for the production of wine. Over 350 grape varieties are authorized in these regions, with about 1,283 types of wine produced in Italy.
Viticulture (the cultivation of grapes and grape vines) in Italy dates back thousands of years ago. To learn even more about Italian wines or wines in general, you can check Wikipedia’s page on Italian wine, Wine Folly, or Cards of Wine.