Italy has hundreds of grape varieties, both indigenous and international. Even if you’ve experienced wines from all over the country, if you keep tasting, you’re certain to encounter yet another variety you’ve never heard of. It’s part of Italy’s charm, in fact, that a single country boasts such diversity in terroir, style, and kinds of wine. Don’t despair, though. You can cover much of the country’s array of wines by learning a few of the most important grapes. It’s important to know that in Italy, as in France and Spain, many wines carry the name of the region or area where they’re produced, rather than the grape variety, as is typical in the U.S.

Man Picking Grapes for Italian Wine Making

Sangiovese – If one grape had to be selected to represent the country, it would without a doubt be Sangiovese. It’s the most widely planted grape in the country and is the foundation of Chianti, of Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. Sangiovese isn’t an inky, brooding wine; rather, it’s medium-bodied and great acidity is one of its hallmarks.

Montepulciano – The second most widely planted red grape in Italy, Montepulciano finds its loveliest expression in Abruzzo, on Italy’s eastern, Adriatic coast. It’s deep and dark in color, producing hefty reds as well as stunning rosé wines.

Nebbiolo – Sangiovese may reign supreme in Tuscany and other parts of central Italy, but in the northwest – the Piemonte region – Nebbiolo is king. Like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo isn’t a big bruiser of a grape. Its wines – Barolo, Barbaresco, and often Langhe Rosso – are bright, complex, earthy, and exceedingly ageable. They might not be Italian wine for beginners, but they’re so worth exploring.

Pinot Grigio – Northeastern Italy’s cooler climate is ideal for Pinot Grigio – that versatile, go-with-everything grape. The best Pinot Grigios hail from Trentino-Alto-Adige and from the Veneto, as well as from Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Glera – Though you may not have heard of Glera, you’ve probably enjoyed it. Glera is the grape that goes into Prosecco, and what’s life without bubbles? Glera is widely planted in the Veneto in northeastern Italy.

Trebbiano – Trebbiano is another of the most widely planted grapes in Italy, and it has a number of different varieties grown in regions all over the country. Trebbiano is a white grape, and though it’s frequently blended with other grape varieties and can be fairly pedestrian, it can also make lovely, expressive wines if it’s handled and made with care.

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You could spend a lifetime sampling Italian wine and never taste it all. The sheer number of grapes, winemaking styles, and wine-producing regions may seem intimidating, but trying as many as you can find is certainly a pleasurable pursuit.

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