The 3 Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions You Need to Visit
By: Laura Denby
Everybody knows that Italian Wine Regions like Tuscany, Piedmonte and Sicily produce fantastic wines. But Brunello and Barolo are only two examples of the quality of wine Italy can produce. In a country with hundreds of wine regions and over a thousand indigenous grapes, why not get out there and explore a little? Steer clear of the crowds and plan your next trip to one of these three under-the-radar Italian wine regions:
Sardinia – the “Blue Zone”
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and an autonomous region of Italy located just below Corsica. With a Mediterranean climate and an average yearly temperature of 63 degrees, it’s no question why its’ considered part of the mysterious “Blue Zone.” A concept that describes how people in certain regions live considerably longer and happier lives; the quality of life in Sardinia is remarkable. Slow paced days filled with fresh seafood, handmade pasta and delicious wines are the norm. Sunshine and awe inspiring views don’t hurt either. Filled with hidden coves, scalloped bays, winding mountain trails and white sand beaches it’s a vacation spot that will please the whole family. The best part, it’s not flooded with tourists.
The island is known for some underrated, indigenous wine varietals like Vermentino, Cannonau and Mirto – a traditional liqueur made of macerated berries. Cobble stone streets dotted with enotecas and owners who are eager to let you sample the local gems – this tiny island packs a punch of great local wines that pair nicely with the local fare.
Love sauvignon blanc? Vermentino is a delicate, light bodied white wine that is similar in style to the New Zealand favorite. Perfect for a day at the beach or a warm summer evening, Vermentino pairs nicely with fish, white meats and vegetables. Because the region is somewhat unknown for its wines, you can find some fantastic deals on high quality Vermentino in Sardinia. In fact, nearly half of all Vermentino wine is made in Sardinia – so it’s easy to find a local bottle at a great price. Find out more about this local crisp white wine here.
Cannonau di Sardegna DOC
Cannonau, a full bodied red wine, is the island’s most successful grape. The local version of Grenache, this grape excels in dry, hot climates and as a result makes spicy, fruity reds. Not only are the wines flavorful, they’re also affordable. In Cagliari you can find fantastic, food friendly reds that range from $9-$16. Tasty and affordable, cannonau is also high polyphenols and antioxidants – a heart healthy contributor to that blue zone theory.
Finally, don’t leave Sardinia without tasting the local liqueur, Mirto. Best served well chilled, Mirto is an herbal and spicy “digestivo” made from berries from the Mirto plant. The berries produce a liquor with hints of orange zest, clove and maple syrup.
In Cagliari stop off at Enoteca Cagliaritana, Bella Sardegna and Sapori de Sardegna to taste and learn a bit more about the wine, cheese and meat purveyors of Sardinia.
Abruzzo – the “Green Lung of Italy”
Quality of life and the availability of good wine go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that Abruzzo has one of the highest qualities of life in the world. Clean, crisp mountain air give this region its nickname “the Green Lung of Italy,” and stellar local wines make it a magical wine region to visit. Home to the eponymous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, this region was initially made famous by its less-than-stellar bulk wine past. Wineries throughout the region are looking to change that.
An inexpensive, easy drinking red wine from Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is typically dry, tannic and made up of either 100% Montepulciano grapes or blended with up to 15% with Sangiovese. The appellation achieved DOC status in 1968 and since is one of the most widely exported DOC wines in all of Italy. Despite its bulk wine past, Montepulciano has seen a revival in recent years, and is living up to its potential as a full bodied, versatile and food friendly red.
Known for high yield, undistinguished white wine, Trebbiano’s reputation (unfortunately) precedes it. Accounting for over half of the white grapes planted in Italy, Trebbiano is more often than not a simple, dry, unimpressive bulk wine. But that doesn’t mean it has to be. Abruzzo has been revitalizing Trebbiano in recent years – with wineries treating the grape with the appreciation it deserves. In Abruzzo, we can find fantastic, high quality, oak aged Trebbiano for a relatively low cost. This grape is a shining example of the quality of wine coming out of Abruzzo in recent years.
A light skinned white grape from Italy’s eastern regions, Pecorino is one of Abruzzo’s native varieties. Once thought to be extinct due to low yields, certain wineries in eastern Italy have revolutionized the grape in recent years. Now a highly popular grape in the region, Pecorino makes high acid, high sugar wines that result in high alcohol and a balanced, minerally juice with straw-yellow flecks.
For a taste of Abruzzo, try Masciarelli Wines. An inspiring vineyard in Abruzzo, Masciarelli winery has revolutionized winemaking in the region and has given a new face to wines like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano and Pecorino. For any oenophile looking to escape the crowds of Tuscany, Masciarelli winery is a must-see. Olive oil, grappa, wines and more, the family does it all. Looking to stay overnight? Don’t worry, they have a castle for that. The Castello di Semivicoli, a 17th century brick castle and luxury hotel is the pinnacle of wine tourism.
Trentino Alto Adige – Sudtirol
Looking for a family vacation that combines stunning mountain views, crisp, dry wines and traditional Italian fare? Head north to Trentino Alto Adige. A region bordering Switzerland and Austria, Trentino Alto Adige is an astonishing example of Italian tourism that is just as stunning in summer as it is in winter. Thanks to the world famous Dolomites, Alto Adige is home to some of the world’s most majestic skiing, hiking and nature preserves. But trust us, the food and wine are all you need.
A bicultural region, Alto Adige benefits from Austrian, Swiss and Italian influences, resulting in a unique and vibrant cuisine. The region is renowned for minerally, well-structured and multifaceted wines, and is filled with fantastic wineries to visit. Despite being one of Italy’s smallest winegrowing regions Alto Adige leads in quality with DOC status and unique taste from the Italian Wine Regions.
Pinot Blanc (Pinot Bianco)
Pinot Blanc is a versatile and dependable white grape that produces still, sparkling and sweet wines. In most cases pinot blanc is underwhelming. However, it has the potential to be remarkably dry, minerally and refreshing when treated properly and grown in the right terroir. Thanks to cool, Alpine air, Pinot Blanc thrives in Alto Adige. This light white is the perfect reward after an exhausting day hiking the steep and soaring Dolomite peaks.
While in Alto Adige, the wine to try is Gewurztraminer. The aromatic and spicy Gewurztraminer is known throughout the world and has a prominent place in Alto Adige winemaking. Thanks again to the cool climate, this grape makes slightly sweet and acidic wines that are pleasantly aromatic and complex. With notes of lychee, pineapple and allspice it makes for a lovely dessert wine after a warm and hearty meal.
For the red wine lovers, Schiava is Alto Adige’s famed light red grape. Low in tannins with moderate alcohol content, this red grape makes easy to drink and pleasantly simple wines. Its relatively unknown outside the region, but is a great way to taste a part of local culture. Schiava pairs perfectly with the dense cheeses and cured meats (like renowned Speck Alto Adige) of Trentino Alto Adige.
Hope yo uenjoyed these glorious Italian Wine Regions!