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Major Italian Red and White Wines

see also, part 1: of Introduction to Italian Wine

by Tynan Szvetecz
Major Red Grapes

There are over twenty major types of red grape varieties in Italy, but we can start with what are arguably the most important three:

Sangiovese (san joe VAE sae) - Planted in plenty throughout the country, particularly in Tuscany and Umbria, this is the major grape of Chianti and the popular Super-Tuscan wines. Medium in body, the grape typically carries strong tannin, high acidity and flavors of herbs and cherries.

Nebbiolo(nehb be OH loh) - Specific to the Piedmont region, this grape makes two of Italy's most notorious wines: Barolo and Barbaresco. These wines are a shoe-in for anyone building a cellar because they age particularly well. The grape is full-bodied with high acidity and strong tannin, invoking flavors of strawberries, mushrooms, tar and truffles.

Barbera (bar BAE rah) - This grape runs neck and neck with Sangiovese as the most planted in the country. It is a lighter grape with little tannin and high acidity. The fruit flavors tend to be more pronounced than in other varieties and as such it is an excellent summer red and great on its own.

Important Italian Whites

Pinot Grigio(pee noh GREE joe) - The Italian version of Pinot Gris, this white grape has won widespread acclaim all over the world. Though not as rich as its French counter-part, it carries flavors of peach with a high-acid, minerally quality.

Trebbiano (trehb bee AH noh) - Though undeniably common in Italy, it has also suffered from casual growing habits. It is primarily known for producing inexpensive whites that are crisp and bland. It is a wine that at best pairs well with food, particularly shell-fish, and rarely can be enjoyed on its own.

Tocai Friulano (toh KYE free oo LAH no) - Fans of Pinot Grigio tend to be pleasantly surprised by this grape. With characteristic Italian crispness and acidity, it can also carry rich and full textures that are more complex than is typical for whites. It grows primarily in the Friuli region.

Verdicchio and Vernaccia - These grapes have some of the same body, crispness and acidity as Trebbino, but with a bit more spunk. Richer flavors and aromas including hints of lemon and sea air are common. They are typically un-oaked.

One could spend a lifetime learning all there is to know about the dozens of grape varieties grown in Italy, particularly when you explore how they are best paired with foods from their respective regions. Further articles will explore some of the rules governing wine production in Italy, including how to sift your way through wine labels, but having a familiarity with the major grapes listed above will form a firm foundation for discovering the distinctive personalities of Italian wine!

About The Author
Tynan Szvetecz is an editor for, an international wine directory that is helping explore the spirit of wine for a new generation.

Recommended Reading
Italian Wines 2007:
A Guide to the World of Italian Wine for Experts and Wine Lovers
by Gambero Rosso and Slow Food Editore
The world's most complete guide to quality Italian wines,  published by Gambero Rosso and Slow Food Editore.
Over 16,000 wines are reviewed, selected by a team of more than 120 tasters under the direction of GR and SFE.
Also includes a useful series of appendixes about award-winning wines in the past and the best producers.
The guide also pays special attention to wineries that are sensitive to the environment and to achieving naturalness in their products.
More information
See also:
Italian wine label rules
Italian wines
Italian wine regions
Introduction to Italian wine
Major Italian red and white wines
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