If you love Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, or Pinot Grigio, then you’re certain to enjoy the hundreds of other indigenous grape varieties cultivated across Italy’s famed growing sites. While hitting the classics is always a reliable option, diving into a new grape variety can open your eyes to a whole new perspective of the country’s viticultural scene. Not sure where to begin? Start with something similar to what you already know you love and branch out from there. Here are some starting points:
Aglianico – Love inky, full-bodied reds? Then Aglianico is just the ticket. This dark-skinned grape is cultivated in southern Italy, primarily in the Campania and Basilicata regions. Notes of black fruits, cracked pepper, smoked meats, licorice, and leather dominate the wines’ flavor profiles — think Northern Rhone meets Southern Italy. These wines are marked by medium to full-bodied flavors, high acid, and high levels of tannins.
Ciliegiolo – For wines with a bit more of a quaffable nature, check out Ciliegiolo. The grape gets its name from the Italian word for ‘cherry,’ which lends itself to the wine’s light and fruit-forward flavor profile. Ciliegiolo wines are mostly produced in Umbria and Tuscany, the latter of which makes bolder and more structured expressions. These wines are juicy, high in acid, and noted with flavors of white pepper, wet soil, and of course, red cherries. If you love Sangiovese, New World Pinot Noir, and/or Gamay, this is the grape for you.
Primitivo – This dark-skinned Puglian variety is big, boisterous, and screams to be served with equally rustic cuisine. The grape most likely arrived in Italy from Croatia, located just across the Adriatic Sea. Primitivo is also believed to be related to and/or the same thing as Zinfandel, though that’s a whole ‘nother story. However, if you enjoy classic California Zin, it’s almost certain that you’ll love Primitivo — think of it as Zinfandel’s more rustic, countryside cousin. These wines are flavor-packed, intensely colored, and marked by high levels of tannins and alcohol.
Sagrantino – If you love your reds as dry as possible, then Sagrantino may just be your new favorite grape. This dark-hued variety is central Italy’s claim to red wine fame and is mostly cultivated in Umbria, particularly around the town of Montefalco. When produced varietally, Sagrantino-based wines usually show smoky flavors of black cherries, pine, and leather, with generous amounts of oak typically used in the vinification process. Lay these bottles down in the cellar to let them integrate for a bit, though if drinking young, pair them with something equally robust — think skirt steak, rack of lamb, or hearty pizzas.
Negroamaro – Negroamaro is somewhat of a Goldilocks variety, in that the wines are generally just right. Not too light and not too austere, these medium-bodied reds are produced in the heart of Puglia (most notably Salice Salentino) and are marked by medium levels of tannins and ample acidity. Notes of red fruit, baking spice, and earth lead to crowd-pleasing flavor profiles that pair well with a variety of foods. Pair with classic #SundaySupper favorites and let the good times roll.
Garganega – If you love floral, fruit-driven whites, then Garganega is a great fit. This variety finds its home in Italy’s northerly Veneto, where it provides the backbone for the region’s famed ‘Soave’ wines. Notes of baked apples, almond skin, and white blossoms dominate these easy-drinking wines, which are perfect for pairing with seafood pastas and fresh cheeses. Think of it as Pinot Grigio on steroids!
Fiano – This southern Italian wine grape is mostly planted in Campania and is used to make high-quality bottlings that are perfect for pairing with Mediterranean-inspired snacks. Fiano-based wines tend to show nutty flavors of honeyed stone fruit, tropical fruit, beeswax, and white flowers. Think of these wines like smokier bottles of Loire Valley Chenin with an Italian flare. These bottles are some of the best bang-for-your-buck bottle options coming out of Italy.
Grechetto – For a true taste of central Italy, look no further than Grechetto. The grape, which is mostly cultivated in Umbria and Lazio, produces medium-bodied wines marked by flavors of nectarines, melon, wildflowers, and crushed rocks. For vegetarian fare that can be tricky to pair, the variety of flavors and acid found in Grechetto can be just the trick.
Verdicchio – This Marche-based white variety is one of central Italy’s most commonly planted grape varieties, yet it still remains pretty under-the-radar abroad. Marked by high levels of acid and flavors of citrus, green apple, and almonds, these wines are perfect for pairing with prawns, fresh bean salads, and crudité platters. If you love crisp Sauvignon Blanc or salty Spanish Verdejo, this grape is a delicious Italian alternative.
Pecorino – For fans of mineral-driven whites with a heavy sea influence, Pecorino may just be your new favorite wine. This variety is predominantly grown in Italy’s coastal regions of Marche and Abruzzo, where it produces light-bodied, high-acid wines loaded with flavors of white flowers, jasmine, stone fruit, and sea salt. These wines are perfect for at-home happy hours outdoors, especially when served alongside fresh seafood, fried appetizers, and — you guessed it– Pecorino cheese.