Italian wine is famous the world over—in fact, it's the world's most popular and most consumed wine. But "Italian wine" is not a homogenous category. There are more than 350 types of grapes grown in Italy, which produce hundreds of different types of wine. And while there are designated wine regions of Italy, the reality is that almost the entire nation—except for its dryest or most inhospitable mountainous reaches—is a wine region. Vines grow everywhere in Italy, from the volcanic soils of Mount Etna to the terraced slopes of the Alps to the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Wine plays a central role in Italian culture, and for many travelers to Italy, no visit is complete without a vineyard tour and wine tasting. We've listed here some of the major wine regions of Italy, with information on the top wines produced there and some recommended vineyard tours.
Most vineyards require reservations for tours, so before you just show up hoping to tour the cellars and vines and sample some wine, either make an appointment or confirm that the winery accepts walk-ins.
Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano...the list of famous red wines from Tuscany is long and prestigious. With hundreds of wineries and a keen eye toward marketing, Tuscany is one of the best-organized regions in Italy for winery visits. While its Sangiovese-based reds are the best known, several find white wines are produced in Tuscany, including Trebbiano, Vermentino, and Vernaccia.
The Antinori Chianti Classico winery offers a flashy, multi-sensory introduction to the region's wines. High-end Castello Banfi is in an actual castle surrounded by 7,100 acres of vines. Another option is to hit communal tasting rooms in towns like Montalcino and Montepulciano, where you can sample and purchase wines from many different area vintners.
Wines from the northern Piedmont (Piemonte) region are among the most acclaimed in Italy. It's best known for its bold reds but also produces some excellent white wines. Among reds, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Nebbiolo are the heavy hitters, but for every-day (and more affordable) drinking, medium-bodied Barbera goes down smoothly. Notable whites are Gavi, Chardonnay, sparkling Asti, and sweet Moscato.
Hilly, green Umbria is known for its Orvieto Classico white wines from nearby the town of the same name. Made primarily from Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes, Orvieto Classico is light and pairs well with antipasto platters. Red Sagrantino di Montefalco hails from the hills near Montefalco and is typically dry and barrel-aged. For winery visits, Custodi and Palazzone both make highly regarded Orvieto Classicos, and the latter has lovely views of Orvieto. Orvieto Food and Wine Tours offers tours and tastings both in the city and in the surrounding countryside. For tours near Montefalco, Gusto Wine Tours is highly rated, but there are many other great Montalcino wine tours.
Grapes love the warm and arid climate of Sicily, where wine has been produced for at least 6,000 years. Nero d’Avola is the island's most predominant red grape, grown to produce the fruity, spicy wine of the same name. Planeta is one of Sicily's best-known producers of Nero D'Avola and has a well-developed wine tourism program. COS is an organic winery near Ragusa, offering wines made from D'Avola and other grapes. Around Mount Etna, known as Mama Etna, to those who live in her shadow, mineral-rich soil produces complex grapes, particularly red Nerello Mascalese and white Carricante. Taste the fruits of both at Barone di Villagrande wine resort near Milo, on the slopes of Etna.
Veneto, the region of Venice, Vicenza, Verona, and Padua, is best known as the land of Prosecco, the famous Italian sparkling wine that has surpassed champagne as the world's best-selling bubbly. The scenic Strada del Prosecco wine road winds past Prosecco wineries, with Bastia and Marchiori both worthy stops.
Prosecco isn't the only star of the Veneto. Soave is a dry, still white wine produced in the hills around Verona. Coffele runs a wine shop with tastings in Soave town, while the Cantina Soave is a consortium of several participating vineyards. Read here for more about what to do in the Soave region.
Emilia-Romagna, in north-central Italy, is considered the country's culinary heartland and the source of some of Italy's finest cured meats, such as prosciutto, salami, and culatello, as well as cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, regarded as the "King of Cheeses." The regional wine that most often washes down these foods is Lambrusco, a sparkling red favored for its effervescence that balances the fat content of cheese and salami.
Most Lambrusco is produced around Modena. In the city, Chiarli winery offers a variety of tasting and tour options. Also near Modena, fourth-generation vintner Paltrinieri offers daily tours by reservations. In Nonantola, a suburb of Modena, Gavioli Antica Cantina offers tours and tastings without reservations, plus a 6,000 square-meter wine museum.
The northern Italian region of Lombardy (Lombardia) includes the cities of Milan and Bergamo, plus all or parts of lakes Garda, Como, and Maggiore. Among the many wines produced in the region, two of the most important and celebrated are both grown in its Alpine reaches. The first is Franciacorta, a sparkling white that is considered superior to Prosecco—bring a bottle of Franciacorta to an Italian dinner party, and you're sure to be well-received. Red Valtellina is made from Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Rhaetian Alps, near the border with Switzerland.
The far northern Alto Adige is one of Italy's smallest and most challenging wine-growing regions, with vines planted in gravity-defying rows along the sides of deep valleys. Yet the area produces some of Italy's most exceptional white wines. Pinot Grigio is the most commonly produced here, but fragrant Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer are two wines to try here. Fruity red Schiava wines are lesser-known but excellent, with some of the same characteristics of red Zinfandel.
The regional capital of Bolzano makes an excellent base for exploring this compact region. In Termeno, south of Bolzano, Cantina Tramin has a modern tasting room in which to present its celebrated Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, and coveted Pinot Bianco wines. In the small town of Caldaro (Kaltern), Cantina Kaltern is a great place to try Schiava and other regional reds.
The Abruzzo region of south-central Italy is off-the-beaten-path for many visitors. Still, those who take the time to explore this lesser-known region are rewarded with lovely, uncrowded cities, impressive mountains, forests and national parks, a long stretch of Adriatic coastline, and two important wines. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a medium-bodied red made from grapes of the same name, while Trebbiano d'Abruzzo is the region's dry, aromatic white made from Trebbiano grapes.
Near Chieti, Cantina Maligni produces noble red wines and offers well-regarded cellar tours and visits. Also near Chieti, Cantine Nestore Bosco offers informative tours and tastings of their Trebbiano and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo vintages. For organized tours, BellaVita Experience presents highly-rated wine tours in the Teramo province of Abruzzo.
Puglia, the region composing the heel of Italy's boot, is best known for its conical-shaped trulli dwellings, centuries-old olive oil, and great beaches. It's also one of Italy's most significant wine-producing regions, known for some excellent red wines made mostly from Negroamaro and Primitivo grapes, which thrive in Puglia's warm and sunny climate. Negroamaro grapes create the dry red table wine Salice Salento, while Primitivo grapes make a more sophisticated yet still easy-to-drink table wine of the same name—it's quite similar to Zinfandel.
Near Taranto, Amastuola Masseria Wine Resort offers a range of tasting and tour experiences suitable for both wine novices and experts. South of Taranto, Tenuta Emera invites guests to join in the grape harvest, depending on the time of year. Farther south, in the province of Lecce, Mottura has a popular tasting room and wine tours.