Italian Red Wines


Italy means “Wine” in French. No, not really but wine is definetly closely associated with the country and is potentially mostly famous abroad for its precious red wine with Barolo, Amarone, Chianti, Montepulciano, Primitivo from Puglia and Nero D’avola from Sicily. However, there are hundreds and hundreds of red grapes and styles in Italy and those above are just some examples. This post will try to dissect the red grapes and provide some guidance in terms of styles, grapes and regions.

Famous Italian Red Wine Grapes

(no particular order)

Sangiovese – The National Grape

This is Italy’s most planted grape and is grown in most places in Italy and especially is famous from Tuscany for example in the famous Chianti. It tends to have high acidity, high tannins, medium body and flavours of cherry, plum, violet, blackberry and is often oaked which often is portrayed in cedar and vanilla tones.

Nebbiolo – Piedmont’s Treasured Tannic Wine

This grape is strongly associated with the Piedmont region in the northwest part of Italy and makes for example the Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Carema and Ghemme-wines while the two first ones are the most famous (and expensive). The name comes from the foggy look on the berries as they mature. Nebbiolo produces light-colored red wines which often are hightly tannic with rose-scent and then it changes into a more orange colour and show violet, herbs, truffles, tobacco and prune aromas and flavours. The high tannins and acidity is what causes many to age it to soften the wines up and add complexity to the flavours. Nebbiolo seldom leaves its home in Italy as the grape is quite difficult to manage and especially so outside its home.

Read related post  Tempranillo (Grape)

Aglianico – Vulcanic Tannic Wine from the South

Originally thought to have come from Greece but is now mainly in Campania and Basilicata and is sometimes called the Barolo of the South as it has the ability to become complex wines just like Barolos in the north. Some of the most desired areas are from vineyards around the old volcano Monte north of the city Potenza. As above mentions would suggest, it tends to be full bodied, high tannin with good aging potential and is better for rich meats such as lamb and is often mixed together with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Its signature color is a deep garnet (our wine colour graph is located here).

Barbera – High Acidity, Low Tannin from the North

Barbera has its home in the Piedmont region in Northern Italy and usually have a deep colour, low tannins and a distint high acidity which is noticeable. It provides a rich dense flavour. It works well with fat food and dark meats. The Braida estate changed the view of Barbera from a less serious wine to something that would be immitated with french oak barrels and lowering the yields to make a more dense wine.

Nero D’avola – Dark Coloured Full Body Wine from the South

This grape is probably the most famous grape from Sicily and is named so because of its very distinctive dark colour and Avola is a historical city in Sicily. This grape is usually developed into a full body grape and bear some similarity to Syrah and you can usually get good value for your money here. Common flavours are black cherry, black plum, licorice, tobacco and as you would expect, tannins are high.

Read related post  Straw-, Raisin-, Passito- and Late Harvest Wine

Dolcetto – Easy Drinking from the North

Dolcetto means more or less “little sweet one” as it is low in acidity, softer taste and has its home in Piedmont where Barbera and Nebbiolo usually gets all the fame. Dolcetto ripens before Barbera and Nebbiolo and is often grown in areas that is unsuitable for these two other grapes. It works best in rich soilsand should usually be had relatively soon after the vintage (1-5 years). Often has intense aroma of liqoures, blackberries, cherries and violet. Medium body.

Montepulciano – Medium Body from the Centre

Montepulciano is both a medieval city, a grape and a style of wine. Why not confuse it all!? Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made mostly by sangiovese-grapes while the montepulciano-grape is mostly planted in Abruzzo, Lazio, Marche, Molise among other region. It is rarely planted in the northern areas of Italy and usually produces deep aromas and deeply coloured wines with herbal notes such as oregano, pepper and smoky tobacco. It is medium body with decent acidity and high tannins.

Please be aware that this list is growing and being updated as the site grows and we hold more wine events.

Famous Red Wine Blends

(no particular order)

Chianti – Made from Sangiovese

Valpolicella – A blend using Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara

Bardolino DOC – A region in Veneto producing wine with the same grapes as Valpolicella and also allows Rossignola, Barbera, Sangiovese in any combination up to 15%. The wines are similar but different as Bardolino contains less Corvina and more Rondinella.

Read related post  Verdicchio (Grape, Italy)

Supertuscans – These are high quality wines using french grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon which were not allowed under Tuscan appellation law. Some of the famous names for supertuscans are Tignanello, Sassiaia and Onelaia that starts from 100£ bottle and updwards.

Please be aware that this list is growing and being updated as the site grows and we hold more wine events.

Related links

Italian Red Wine Tasting (4 wines tasting review)

Marche Wine Region Map (Central Italy)

Third party links 

Jancis Robinson – Barbera

Vinepair – Barbera


This is a post made to expand with time. The idea is to get a quick overview of Italian red wines rather going into deep detail.