Exploring Italy’s most famous wine regions is perhaps one of the best things to do on a European vacation. The country produces some of the finest wines in the ‘old world’, but it can be incredibly difficult to understand what sets the different types apart, especially considering there are 350 registered Italian wine grapes. Each region of Italy specialises in its own distinct type of wine, and some have been producing wine since as far back as the second century BC.
In recent years, Italian wine has enjoyed a succession of great vintages, with fine spirit merchants Justerini & Brooks claiming that the state of the industry has “never been better”. This increasingly high quality has led to a rising international demand, consequently leading to a booming tourist industry. According to figures from 2017, a quarter of all tourists in Italy visited for its food and wine that year. There are a number of dedicated wine routes around Italy, providing the perfect opportunity for you to sample some of the delicious varieties available around the country.
Strada del Prosecco, Veneto
Prosecco has skyrocketed in popularity over the past decade, contributing significantly to wine becoming one of Italy’s most valuable export products. Enjoyed everywhere from wedding receptions to dinner parties, Prosecco is cheaper than Champagne, but provides the same quality. The difference in price between the two famous sparkling wines comes from the less exclusive nature of Prosecco—any sparkling wine that uses a minimum of 85% of the Glera grape (the ‘Prosecco’ grape) can be called a Prosecco.
Fans of the bubbly wine can head to Strada del Prosecco in Veneto or, as it’s more commonly known, Prosecco Road. The northeastern region generally welcomes visitors to its capital, Venice, while the rest remaining relatively tourist-free. The Strada runs between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, making up a 33-kilometre route of vineyards, cantinas, churches, and medieval fortresses, some of which you can stay in during your trip.
Along the route, you’ll be able to take in the stunning scenery along the steep cliffs while sampling the various sparkling wines produced in the region. Although Prosecco is primarily produced in Italy, a more focused growing area is situated along Strada del Prosecco, and its hills are known to produce some of the most concentrated wines, known as Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG.
Indeed, the finest terroir for Prosecco is located just outside of Valdobbiadene, in a microregion lying just 265 acres west. Considered one of the world’s best, the Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG wine is one of just a few to boast the highest designation of quality amongst all Italian wines. These wines must all pass an evaluation, analysis, and tasting by an official, government-licenced committee before they can be bottled.
Strada del Vino e dell’ Olio Chianti Classico, Tuscany
Beyond its reputation as the home of Hannibal Lecter’s tipple of choice, the Chianti region boasts its own wine road leading from Florence to Siena, and offers a number of vineyards with samples on offer. The wine Strada runs largely along the Chiantigiana road, which passes through Greve in Chianti, then on to Panzano, Castellina, and Fonterrutoli, before finally reaching Siena. This route crosses over with smaller roads which connect larger towns to small villages and castles, and let you take in plenty of sights over a few days.
While you can stick solely to the vineyards along this trail, it’s recommended that you stop off at the restaurants and inns en route to get a real idea of Chianti’s specialities. The most common traditional product from the region is, of course, the wine. The Chianti Classico DOCG can be produced from pure Sangiovese grapes, or be blended with other red grapes from the region. Wines produced here are the only bottles that are allowed to feature the “Black Rooster” symbol, which simply acts as a marker for specific Chianti Classico regulations. If the rooster is surrounded by a red circle, it’s guaranteed to be a Chianti Classico, while a gold circle indicates the wine is Riserva, a slightly higher grade.
The region also produces a dessert wine, known as Vinsanto del Chianti Classico DOC, which is produced from grapes that have been dried before being pressed. The liquor, made from white Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, is left to age for around five years in small wooden barrels and is commonly served with biscotti.
Another common product you’re likely to come across during your travels through the area is Olio Extra Vergine di Olivia DOP Chianti Classico—or simply extra virgin olive oil from Chianti. This oil is produced from the cold-pressing of specific olives grown within the region, known as Frantoio, Correggiola, Moraiolo, and Leccino. It’s characterised by a deep gold or green-tinged shade, and is a staple across the area.
Strada del Sagrantino, Umbria
One of the lesser known wine roads, this charming trip through Umbria offers up a range of vineyards, farms, restaurants, and oil mills for you to explore. If you’re not part of a dedicated tour of the trail, each winery is clearly marked with purple signs to guide you along the Strada. The wines available in Umbria are predominantly red, with Sagrantino grapes featuring heavily, however, their whites are not to be missed either. The village of Orvieto, in particular, is known for its easy-drinking whites, including Procanico, Verdello, Drupeggio, Grechetto, and Malvasia vines. This area accounts for around 70% of the entire DOC wine production in the Umbria region.
Many vineyards and wineries in the region welcome tours and tastings, often pairing each wine with a selection of Umbrian cheeses and cold cuts. One standout vineyard is the Barberani winery, situated just outside Orvieto. Here, you’ll find crisp whites with a Grechetto grape base, as well as Sangiovese rosés, known as an Amore.
The Sagrantino trail features heavily on social media, thanks in part to the fall foliage challenge. This simply encourages users to upload their snaps of the autumnal foliage around the vineyards with the hashtag #stradadelsagrantino. Visitors to the Montefalco town can visit the Museum Complex of San Francesco, where the Statuto Comunale spells out the various offences and punishments for breaking the laws which protect the vines and wine production.
Strada del Vino dell’Etna, Sicily
Known as the Wine Route of Etna, the region is known for being situated on Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna. The volcano often spews ash and steam, while in some cases, can even threaten to pave over the DOC’s vineyards with a lava flow. The vineyards, however, have a rich heritage, with some being well over 100 years old. Many vines in Europe were completely destroyed in the late 1800s by phylloxera—a microscopic bug that attacks the roots of grape vines, eventually destroying the plant. However, thanks to the volcanic soil around Mt Etna, which is resilient to the bug, the vines managed to survive this epidemic.
The area’s two standout red grapes are Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, which are both considered rare. Its reds make for light to medium-bodied wines, ideal for pairing with lighter meats and roasted tomatoes and peppers, as well as with spices like oregano, thyme, coriander, and sage. Its unique terroir helps to create these rare wines, which have contributed to the rising interest in Italian wines. Only 40 years ago, these same vineyards were barely operational, and many growers had left the region for a career in a more stable industry. The locals stayed behind to continue making wine before oenologist Salvo Foti helped restore the region’s ancient vineyards.
The live volcano helps create a much more visceral experience for visitors to this wine trail, and the area boasts a rich culture with stunning architecture. Cottages formed from lava stone are common, and many wineries are family-owned and run, allowing them to provide a more personalised service during wine tours and tastings. Often, the local Sicilian cuisine will also be served alongside the famous and rare wines, such as pistachios, honey, and granita, with the stunning natural landscapes forming the perfect backdrop.
We’re very proud to bring you this feature in association with Justerini & Brooks. For more inspiration for wine lovers, please pay a visit to our food & drink page.