Italy’s Best Wine Destinations
Italy’s Best Wine Destinations
Italy’s Best Wine Destination is more than most expect. Italy is the world’s largest wine producer, home to wines that include Prosecco, Primitivo, Montepulciano and Chianti. With such scope and variety, wine travel in Italy bears all the fruits of a trip bound for success, with gorgeous scenery, food and history in tow. But where to begin? We’ve picked out five of the country’s best spots for a well-deserved glass.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Barbaresco is one of the great wines of the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy. Historically it was called Nebbiolo di Barbaresco (Nebbiolo being the grape it’s made from) and was used by the Austrian General Melas to celebrate his victory over the French in 1799. Only in the middle of the 19th Century was the wine we know today vinified into a dry style.
This aristocratic red was awarded its DOCG classification in 1980. Its vineyards are situated in the Langhe, on the right-hand side of the Tanaro river and extending from the area northeast of Alba to the communes of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, as well as San Rocco Senodelvio (once part of the Barbaresco municipality but now part of Alba). The dominant variety grown is Nebbiolo, but Dolcetto and Barbera also play a part. The vines are generally grown on limestone-rich marl soils. similar to the Tortonium soils of the Barolo and La Morra areas in Barolo, at 650–1300ft (200–400m) above sea level on very steep, “pre-alpine” hills. They are situated on south-facing slopes for best exposure.
Similar to its more famous sibling Barolo, Barbaresco is made from 100 percent Nebbiolo and shares its cult status as one of the finest wines in the world. However, there are several differences between the two. Barbaresco has a slightly maritime climate: warmer, drier and milder than its neighbor. This means its grapes tend to ripen earlier than those in Barolo. As a result, the wines are less tannic and more approachable at an earlier age. However there is still plenty of acidity and tannins to make this an ageworthy red. Barbaresco is characterized by its rich, spicy flavors and perfumed sweetness and is considered more elegant and refined than its counterpart, which is a more robust and longer-lived red.
Regulations stipulate that Barbaresco must have a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent and undergo two years of aging, one of which must be spent in wooden barrels. For the added designation of riserva, the ageing increases to four years, with one of those years in wood.
Bolgheri is a relatively young yet prestigious Italian appellation located in the Maremma on the Tuscan coast just to the south of Livorno, and named after a town in the north of the region. It is known mainly for deeply coloured, supple yet ageworthy red wines, usually based on the Bordeaux grape varieties. The winemaking zone features sloping coastal vineyards close to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
As recently as the 1970s, the area had little reputation for wine production, regarded elsewhere in Tuscany as something of a swampy zone producing fairly nondescript white wines and rosés, and better suited to other farming, in contrast to the prime Tuscan vineyards further up in the hills. Then, in 1978, in an infamous blind tasting arranged by Decanter Magazine, the 1972 vintage of a largely unknown wine called Sassicaia, made at Tenuta San Guido estate of the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, beat a number of top Bordeaux wines. Wine had been been made at Tenuta San Guido in a rather rustic fashion for personal consumption for some years previously, and only commercialized from the 1968 vintage, but this early example of a more polished version made by legendary winemaking consultant Giacomo Tachis led to an awakening of interest in the region.
Sassicaia’s name (“stony field”) alludes to the banks of gravel in the area, reminiscent of vineyards in the Graves and the Haut-Médoc, which inspired the French wine loving Marchese to plant Bordeaux varieties – particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – rather than Sangiovese. In the 1980s, Lodovico Antinori began planting on his neighboring Ornellaia estate. An area of clay within this estate was planted with Merlot and became the separate Masseto property. The sunny, dry and breezy climate of Bolgheri and the stony soils with clay patches have attracted further vineyard expansion mostly focusing on red Bordeaux varieties.
Until the current DOC regulations were laid down in 1994, Sassicaia and the other Super Tuscan wines produced here were usually sold as Vino da Tavola or Toscana IGT. Today a Bolgheri Rosso, Rosso Superiore or Rosé may be made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or a blend combining one or more of these, and/or up to 50 percent of Syrah or Sangiovese. Other red grapes such as Petit Verdot may account for up to 30 percent. Wines made from other grape varieties or nonconforming blend percentages are classified as IGTs. Earlier DOC regulations prevented monovarietal wines from being produced as Bolgheri Rosso, and some examples such as Masseto are also still labeled as Toscana IGT. Since 2013 Sassicaia has its own subzone DOC – expected to become a DOCG in due course – whose rules reflect the wine’’ typical 85-15 composition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The white wine grape most often used in Bolgheri Bianco is Vermentino, which may account for up to 70 percent of the wine. Sauvignon Blanc and Trebbiano Toscano may contribute up to 40 percent, and others no more than 30 percent. There are separate Bolgheri Sauvignon and Bolgheri Vermentino DOCs that must contain 85 percent of the headline grape variety. Many white wine examples are relatively light, crisp and refreshing, though there are some examples of barrel-matured whites.
Wine tourism in the area gained a considerable boost with the opening in 2017 of the World Wine Town, designed by Oscar-winning art director Dante Ferretti and located in Casone Ugolino, a former 16th-Century farm in Castagneto Carducci in the heart of the DOC zone. As well as the the MuSeM Sensory and Multimedia Wine Museum, the complex features restaurants, shops wine and cookery schools and conference facilties.
Corte Franca is a collection of brightly-colored rickety stone buildings, and it serves as a great base to explore the wider Brescia province and its vineyards, all far removed from the usual tourist hubbub. The area has numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, who plate up dishes like spaghetti with lake prawns and tomato confit, or local cheeses with rose jam. Views of the crystalline Lake Iseo are the perfect accompaniment to a glass of crisp Franciacorta, all possible when you stay at La terrazza sulle vigne.
Up in Lombardy, you’ll find the class newbie of Italy’s wine regions, Franciacorta and the town of Corte Franca. Producing wines complete with Chardonnay and pinot Nero grapes, it’s the sparkling wine, the subtle Franciacorta, that makes the headlines. While often overlooked for its well-loved cousin Prosecco, this is a sparkling wine that’s closer to Champagne and is unassumingly good, perhaps because the very first bottle of it was only produced in 1961.