Cheat Sheet

Italian Wine For Dummies

From Italian Wine For Dummies by Mary Ewing-Mulligan, Ed McCarthy

To enjoy Italian wine, all you have to do is drink it. But if you want to get just a bit under the grape skin, you can explore the major varieties of Italian red and white wines, the grapes they're made from, and how to say their names.

Major Italian White Wines

Italian white wines come in varieties that run from sparkling and sweet to smooth and fruity to crisp and dry. The following list describes each of the major Italian white whites:

  • Asti: Sparkling wine made from Moscato grapes around Asti, in Piedmont. Deliciously sweet, low in alcohol, with pronounced fruity and floral flavors. Usually non-vintage, but freshness and youth are essential to its quality.

  • Frascati: From the Frascati area, south of Rome, and mainly Trebbiano grapes. Dry or slightly off-dry, light-bodied, and un-oaked with crisp acidity and subdued flavor.

  • Gavi: Dry, medium-bodied wine from Cortese grapes in the Gavi area of Piedmont. Typically crisp and un-oaked (sometimes slightly oaky) with delicate notes of honey, apples, and minerals.

  • Orvieto: A generally medium-bodied wine made mainly from Grechetto grapes around Orvieto, in the Umbria region. Dry, crisp, with flavors of pear and apple and a pleasantly bitter finish.

  • Pinot Grigio: Generally light-bodied, dry, and crisp, with subdued aromas and flavors and no oakiness. Made from Pinot Gris grapes, usually in Northeastern Italy. Wines from Collio or Alto-Adige DOCs (controlled origin denomination) are usually the best.

  • Soave: From the Soave zone in the Veneto region, made mainly from Garganega grapes. Generally dry, crisp, un-oaked, and light- or medium-bodied, with subdued flavors of pear, apple, or peach.

  • Verdicchio: Dry, medium-bodied, crisp white with minerally flavor and a sea-air freshness. From Verdicchio grapes in the Marche region.

Major Italian Red Wines

Italian red wines bring up the image of grape-stomping parties that provide fun for the whole village. Fortunately, you don't have to press the grapes yourself to enjoy a bottle of good Italian red wine. The major reds are described in the following list:

  • Amarone: Lusty, full-bodied wine from partially-dried Corvina grapes, in the Veneto region. Dry and firm wine, but its ripe, concentrated fruitiness suggests sweetness. Needs rich, savory foods or flavorful cheeses.

  • Barbaresco: Similar to Barolo, from the same grape in a nearby area, but generally a tad lighter in body and slightly more approachable. Drinks best at 8 to 15 years of age, depending on the producer.

  • Barbera: Varietal wine produced mainly in the Piedmont region. Dry, light- or medium-bodied, with intense berry flavor, mouth-watering acidity, and little tannin. Particularly versatile with food. Many of the best wines are from the Alba or Asti zones.

  • Barolo: Dry, full-bodied, magisterial wine from Nebbiolo grapes in the Barolo area of Piedmont. Has complex aromas and flavors of strawberries, tar, herbs, and earth, as well as a firm, tannic structure. Drinks best at 10 to 20 years of age, depending on the producer.

  • Brunello di Montalcino: Full-bodied, intense, concentrated wine from Sangiovese grapes grown in the Montalcino zone of Tuscany. Dry and quite tannic, it drinks best when it's at least 15 years old.

  • Chianti: Very dry, medium-bodied, moderately tannic wine with lovely tart-cherry flavor, mainly from Sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti area of Tuscany. "Chianti Classico" is often the best. Some wines are good young; wines labeled riserva, and pricier wines, are generally more concentrated and age-worthy.

  • Lambrusco: Most commonly a sweet, fizzy wine with delicious, grapey flavors. Made from Lambrusco grapes usually in the Emilia-Romagna region. Dry and sparkling styles also exist.

  • Montepulciano d'Abruzzo: Generally medium-bodied and flavorful with red fruits and a slightly vegetal note. Lighter examples are smooth and easy to drink; the best wines are concentrated and denser in texture. From the Montepulciano grape, in the Abruzzo region.

  • Salice Salentino: Dry, full-bodied wine from Negroamaro grapes in part of the Puglia region. Generally has somewhat intense aromas and flavors of ripe, plummy, baked fruit, and rich, dense texture. Suitable with robust foods.

  • Valpolicella: Medium-bodied wine mainly from Corvina grapes in the Valpolicella area of Veneto region. Dry, lean, and only moderately tannic, with more or less intense cherry aromas and flavors. Some versions, such as single-vineyard wines, are particularly good.

  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Medium-bodied, dry, and lean, with red cherry flavor, similar to Chianti but slightly fuller. Made from Sangiovese grapes in Montepulciano, in the Tuscany region.

Italian Wine Grapes

Sometimes you know the name of the grape used to produce the nice Italian wine you're drinking because the name of the grape and the name of the wine are the same. But that's not always the case, so if you want to match the Italian wine to the principal grape (or grapes) used to make it, consult the following table:

Wine Type Color Principal Grape(s) Wine Type Color Principal Grape(s)
Amarone Red Corvina, others Lambrusco Red Lambrusco
Barbaresco Red Nebbiolo Montepulciano Red Montepulciano
Barbera d'Alba Red Barbera Orvieto White Grechetto, others
Bardolino Red Corvina, Rondinella, others Soave White Garganega, others
Barolo Red Nebbiolo Taurasi Red Aglianico
Brunello Red Sangiovese Valpolicella Red Corvina, Rondinella, others
Chianti Red Sangiovese, others Verdicchio White Verdicchio
Dolcetto d'Alba Red Dolcetto Vernaccia White Vernaccia
Gavi White Cortese Vino Nobile Red Prugnolo (Sangiovese)

Pronunciation Guide to Italian Wine Names

To fully enjoy your Italian wine-drinking experience, practice with the following pronunciation guide — the syllable in all CAPS is the one to accent. Soon, you'll be speaking Italian like a true wine lover.

  • Amarone: ah mah RO nae

  • Brunello di Montalcino: brew NEL lo dee mahn tahl CHEE no

  • Chianti Classico: key AHN tee CLAHS see co

  • Dolcetto: dohl CHET toh

  • Frascati: frah SKAH tee

  • Lacryma Christi: LAH cree mah CHREE stee

  • Montepulciano: mon tae pull chee AH noh

  • Moscato d'Asti: mo SCAH toh DAHS tee

  • Pinot Grigio: pee noh GREE joe

  • Rosso Cònero: ROHS so COH neh ro

  • Salice Salentino: SAH lee chae sah len TEE no

  • Soave: so AH vae

  • Taurasi: touw RAH see

  • Verdicchio: ver DEE key oh

  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: VEE no NO bee lae dee mahn tae pool chee AH no

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