In our last blog post, The Fine Art of Italian Wine, we gave an introduction to Italian wine-making culture. Today, we explore the wine regions that shape Northern Italy. We share the "classic wines" of the 7 major Northern Italy wine regions as well as "classic food pairings" that both define and bring flavor to each region. Ready to understand why Northern Italy has developed such an excellent reputation of producing some of the best wines in the world? Sit back, grab a glass, open a bottle and read on.
Classic Wines: A small region of Northwest Italy bordering France, Val D’Aosta is the smallest wine region in Italy and produces some excellent wines. In this gorgeous region, steep, high elevation vineyards produce a variety of grapes in the shadow of Mt. Blanc and the Alps, including both reds such as Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Gamay, as well as whites like Moscato and Petite Arrvine. One of the most popular wines, and especially enjoyable after a day on the slopes, is the sparkling Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle Spumante. For a truly indulgent experience, try the exotically perfumed Chambave Muscat Fletri, a dessert wine made from the Moscato Bianco grape.
Classic Pairings: The cuisine of this mountain region includes dishes such as polenta,,hearty stews and local meats, Along with the region’s famed Fontina cheese, be sure to sample the reds of the town of Donnas, made from the Nebbiolo grape. Being lighter in style, they deliver red fruit notes and a tartness to balance the richness of the cheese.
Relais Sant'Uffizio vineyards produces Barbera Del Sant’Uffizio and Chardonnay Del San’Uffizio, Asti, Italy; Piedmont region
Classic Wines: Its name meaning “at the foot of the mountains,” Piedmont has long been considered the Burgundy of Italy and is certainly one of the country’s most important regions for the vine. With sixteen separate DOCGs, its contribution is massive.
Three major red grapes are Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. Dolcetto, which means “sweet little one,” produces light and fruit-driven wines; look for the producers Chionetti and Ca’ Viola. Barbera is the most planted red grape in this region and fabulous with most Italian foods due to its wondeful freshness. Barbera can produce some amazing wines for a great value. Both Vietti and Prunotto make good examples. Braida di Giacomo makes Bricco dell’Uccellone, which shows Barbera’s far more serious side.
The two stars of Piedmont are certainly Barolo and Barbaresco from the Nebbiolo grape. Barolo is a wine of stunning depth, richness, and structure. There are so many great producers that it is difficult to narrow them down to just a few, but here are some to look for: Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Giacomo Conterno, Ceretto, Bruno Giacosa, Giuseppe Mascarello, Elio Altare, and Aldo Coterno.
If Barolo is king, then Barbaresco is queen. As a rule it also produces a lighter wine. Most of the producers listed above make Barbaresco wines as well, but one of the finest is Angelo Gaja. The Produttori del Barbaresco, a cooperative founded by the town’s priest in 1958, makes consistently great wine. The first white DOCG was Cortese di Gavi. These wines are popular for their great mineral notes.
Piedmont also produces quality sparkling wine. Asti/Moscato d’Asti DOCG is made from the Moscato Bianco grape. It is the largest DOC producer in the whole of Italy.
Classic Pairings: Barbera is tremendously versatile. It classically goes with regional wild game, such as rabbit, and with the lighter Piedmontese cheeses. For richer stewed meats, a bold Barolo can be a strong, yet pleasant, enhancement.
Vineyards overlooking the Ligurian Sea; Liguria region
Classic Wines: This region follows the coast of Northwestern Italy. Perched above the aqua Ligurian sea, the staggering heights of the cliff-side vineyards instantly inspire respect for the courage of the winemaker and awe for the beauty of this area’s geography. The Vermentino-based whites are light and refreshing, with a hint of green herbs. These delightful wines are perfect for sipping, whether on a leisurely boating excursion or on the terrace after a day spent hiking the Cinque Terre, feet up, glass in hand, watching the sun melt into the ocean.
Classic Pairings: The bright herbal notes of the Vermentino-based whites also make them a great match for the special pesto found throughout this region.
Wine Cellar Villa Principe Leopaoldo, Ticino, Italy; Piedmont, Lombardy and Switzerland regions
Classic Wines: One of the most important DOCGs in this region is Franciacorta, whose wines are made in the same method as Champagne. A number of them compete on quality, including the Ca’ Del Boscos’s prestige cuvee, Annamaria Clementi, which is made only during a perfect grape-growing season. It is one of the finest expressions of the sparkling style. Bella Vista makes a vintage dated bottling called Satèn, which means “made from white grapes.” This bottling is 100 percent Chardonnay, and offers a wonderful show of depth. Citrus fruits, peach blossoms, and a golden honey finish are on full display.
Classic Pairings: Franciacorta’s Bruts pair perfectly with cured meats or dry cheeses. For a richer dish, like risotto, try one of the Satèn styles.
Hotel Ciasa Salares, Terrace - Alta Badia, Dolomiti; South Tyrol region
Classic Wines: On the geographical boarder of Italy and Austria, this region is a wonderful cultural fusion of these two countries, and the German influence is clear. Home to some of the world’s best Pino Grigio, Alto Adige serves up truly excellent Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon blanc. Valle Isarco, a subzone of Alto Adige, shows promise with its Veltliner, Silverner and Kerner. Whether skiing, biking, hiking, rock climbing or sightseeing, after a full day enjoying all the Dolomites have to offer you may prefer something with a little more body. In which case, Franz Haas produces a “Schweizer” Pinot Nero that is ripe and opulent without sacrificing precision.
Classic Pairings: Speck, a local specialty, pairs well with a Sauvignon or with a Pinot Grigio. A crisp Pinot Nero’s bright acidity will cut through the doughy texture of gnocchi, leaving a perfect marriage of flavors.
Grapes during harvest from the Grottnerhof Winery at Hotel Turm in the Alto Adige, Dolimiti, Italy; Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region
Chalet Del Sogno - Mountain Experience Hotel, Ferrari Winery, Dolomiti Di Brenta; Trentino region
Classic Wines: The Veneto region conjures up visions of gondolas, but equally well-known are the wines produced just outside of Verona. Amarone della Valpolicella is one of the most interesting wines in Italy, and Masi, Alligrini, Tedeschi, and Giuseppe Quintarelli are just a few of its many great producers. For whites, make sure to sample Soave Superiore DOCG, made from Garganega-based blends. The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG produces the other of Italy’s famous sparking wines. Sipping a glass while sitting at one of Verona’s medieval fountains is a wonderful experience. While in Venice, you must visit your hotel bar or a nearby café and order a Bellini, the signature drink of Venice. You may even try one in Harry’s Bar, where the drink, Prosecco with a dollop of sweet fruit puree, was created.
Classic Pairings: Prosecco is a great food wine, being light and not too heavily sparkling. Pair it with cured meats, polenta in light sauces, and Venetian-style finger sandwiches.
Classic Wines: Bordering Slovenia, this region is known for crisp, bright whites that should be drunk young. The region’s most noted native white varietal is Friulano, delightful with notes of delicate fruit Alternatively, two DOCGs are Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit and Ramandolo, both of which produce lovely sweet dessert wines using native grapes.
Classic Pairings: The famous Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP is perfectly matched with a glass of the native Friulano, whose bright fruits cut right through the richness and salinity of the ham.
Have a favorite wine Northern Italy? We’d love to hear your experiences. We encourage you to explore a variety of wines to find your own preference, through truly, the best way to understand Italian wine culture is to experience these wineries first-hand. We know with wines and travel are all about personal preferences, and that one size does not fit all. We offer fully customizable Italian wine tours so you can tailor the Northern Italian wine experience to your style and taste.