There’s perhaps no country in the world more dedicated to its wine production than Italy. It boasts accolades like being the most prolific producer of wine and birthing some of the first wine regions on the planet.
A jaunt to the beguiling vineyards and wineries of Italy is a must on any wine lover’s bucket list. Until you can explore them in person, here are some of the top Italian wine varieties to try at home, along with a few food pairing recommendations.
The taste of Sangiovese can be hard to pin down. Despite its origins in Tuscany, the Sangiovese grape is found in regions throughout Italy, all of which lend to distinct flavor profiles.
No matter which variation you try, expect to pick up on notes of cherry in this medium-bodied blend. Other flavors can include violet, tobacco, roses, and black-skinned fruits.
Sangiovese is a versatile companion to many dishes like pizza, hard cheeses, grilled steaks, and roasted vegetables.
Aglianico is a robust, full-bodied red wine that hails from Campania and Basilicata in Southern Italy. This tannic, acidic blend is best aged and transmits flavors of pepper, leather, smoked meat, black cherry, and more.
Pour yourself a glass of this unique blend while indulging in dishes featuring BBQ sauce, beef stew, pecorino, and portobello mushrooms.
Feel like Italian royalty with a bottle of Barolo, known as the Wine of Kings. Crafted from the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo hails from Italy’s Piedmont region. High in both acidity and tannins, this wine blend must be aged for 18 months in wood barrels and at least three years total to earn its classification.
Common flavors in Barolo wine include tar, rose, and raspberry. Pair Barolo with truffles, parmesan cheese, prime rib, and meat ragu.
Exclusively produced in Sicily, Marsala is a fortified wine (one that is mixed with a distilled liquor) mostly used for cooking. This wine variety can also be enjoyed as a sweet digestive drink, like port or sherry.
With hints of brown sugar, vanilla, tamarind, and apricot, a glass of Marsala is best served after dinner, with astringent vegetables like asparagus and brussel sprouts, or with dessert, particularly dark chocolate.
Originally from the northern Emilia-Romagna region, Lambrusco is a sweet, sparkling red wine named after its namesake grape. Lambruscos come in two different categories: dry or secco, and semi-sweet or semisecco.
Its variety in flavors, which can range from fruity berries to acidic mandarin, makes it a versatile wine that pairs well with many foods. You can never go wrong drinking a fizzy glass of Lambrusco as an aperitif, along with a serving of Parmesan cheese and a plate of charcuterie that includes salami, prosciutto, and mortadella.
Montepulciano is a medium-bodied wine made in the eastern Abruzzo region of Italy. It tends to have a deep burgundy color, high tannins, and strong notes of bold flavors like oregano, pepper, and blackberries.
While it goes well with anything, it pairs best with hearty meals like pasta with a rich ragu sauce, an indulgent rack of lamb, or any grilled steak.
Read: Tuscan Food to Try
Toast any special occasion with a glass of bubbly Prosecco, a sparkling white wine produced in the Fruili and Veneto regions in northeast Italy. While there are many bottles out there that claim to be Prosecco, real Prosecco wines are only those that are made with at least 85% of the thin-skinned white Glera grapes of that particular region.
Prosecco is a highly acidic, medium-bodied wine that often features refreshing notes of melon, peach, pears, and white flowers, and can range from extra dry to sweet.
Its lightness of flavor helps Prosecco pair well with just about anything. Drink some of the drier styles of the wine with a salty focaccia or a plate of seafood, while the sweeter varieties go well with dessert, biscotti, and buttered popcorn.
It’s never too early to start daydreaming about your next Italian vacation. Until then, try a few of these wines at home and find out which one is your favorite so you’ll be ready next time you visit la bella Italia.