On our continuing quest to explore Italy and its renowned wine regions through our series on The Fine Art of Italian Wine, we move south to explore the wines of Central Italy, an area that embodies all the qualities we would consider quintessentially Italian. From the sun-drenched vineyards of Tuscany, to the lively coastal towns of Marche, Central Italy is a gourmand and wine lovers paradise, home to some of the world’s great cheeses, pastas and outstanding local viticulture. Join us as we share the classic wines of the seven-major Central Italy wine regions as well as classic food pairings that both define and bring flavor to each region. We recommend reading with a map in one hand and a glass of Chianti Classico in the other.
Classic Wines: Known for its diverse cuisine landscapes, this region is a wealth of historic towns, scattered between the Adriatic coastline and Apennines Mountains. Home to culinary destinations such as Bologna, Parma and Modena, this region is celebrated for it’s fantastic culinary offerings and rich cultural history, still tangible today as one wanders the walled cities, medieval fortresses and stone houses. The diversity of the soil and climate allows for an incredible cornucopia of viticulture.
This region has become known for its Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine, which unfortunately has produced a sea of poor-quality sparkling wines that have tarnished the region’s reputation. However there are producers are diligently breaking through the stigma. Albana di Romagna is Italy’s first white DOCG and while its quality can vary, the passito (a generic term meaning made from dried grapes) wines show great promise.
Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto is the area’s second DOCG, producing dry, lively, crisp whites made from the Pignoletto grape, and Cleto Chiarli produces some stunning wines as well. Their “premium” bottling is well regarded and is the fabulous food wine. A visit to this picturesque winery, with its Old World charm and unmatched hospitality, is the perfect day trip; the area is very visitor friendly, dotted with many other wineries at which you can enjoy lunch or tastings.
The region also produces some good international varieties like Tenuta Palazza’s Magnificat Cabernet Sauvignon, which is top notch. A great way to get a thorough overview of this massive region’s offerings is to visit Enoteca Regionale Emilia-Romagna in Dozza. Here, you can sample most of the wines produced in the region—and in the basement of a medieval castle to boot.
Classic Pairings: Emilia-Romagna’s gastronomic feats are internationally acclaimed, and the characteristically rich pastas and cured meat products of the northern area of the region are perfectly balanced by the aromatic herbs and perfectly roasted meat and vegetable skewers.
Lambrusco is the perfect match for Prosciutto di Parma, but can also exquisitely complement a Parmesan-stuffed tortellini. The wines are incredibly versatile in their ability to complement food.
Castello Di Tornano Winery & Relais showcases the Sangiovese grape in a variety of wines, Gaiole in Chianti; Tuscany Region
Classic Wines: The most well-known, and perhaps visually recognizable Italian region, Tuscany is distinguished by rolling hills covered in vines and olive trees come to mind. Appropriately, Tuscany has had a long history of wine fame, dating back to Dante’s famously written praise of the Vernaccia grape, from San Gimignano.
Yet many Americans will remember when Tuscan wines were considered something of a joke—every table in every so-called Italian restaurant throughout the U.S. would feature a straw-covered bottle of bland red wine, ironically named “fiasco.” Since then, however, winemakers have been removing mass producing vines in favor of smaller quality plantings. Sangiovese, the red grape of Tuscany, is responsible for most of the region’s great wines. Although the Chianti DOCG has been expanded fairly dramatically, the Classico region still produces top notch Chianti. Be sure to look for the black rooster signifying the Classico designation. Brunello di Montalcino produces big, bold expressions of Sangiovese that can age for decades, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG is also a Sangiovese-based wine that is slightly more delicate, and it pairs well with lighter pasta dishes. Bolgheri produces great international varietals.
As the only white DOCG in Tuscany, Vernaccia di San Gimignano produces crisp, fruity whites from the Vernaccia grape. Vin Santo, which means holy wine, lives up to its name. It’s a high-alcohol dessert wine produced from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes whose vines were traditionally hung vertically from the towers of the estate, allowing the wind to blow through and dry out the grapes. Modern producers use circulation fans that achieve the same results, and the result is a sweet, honey- and almond-flavored amber liquid that is indeed heavenly.
Classic Pairings: Tuscany’s approach to food has always been one of simplicity, founded on a love of wine, olive oil and bread. Vegetables combined with fish, beans, and meats grilled over and open fire are regular fare on the Tuscan table. One such dish is Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a thickly cut steak seasoned only with olive oil, salt and pepper, traditionally matched with a Chianti Classico. A quintessential Tuscan culinary experience and is a must try.
Toscana Resort Castelfalfi’s luxury estate, tour historic vineyards and olive groves, sample the wines of Tenuta di Castelfalfi; Montaione, Florence, Italy; Tuscany Region
Classic Wines: This region lies on the eastern side of central Italy, where the hilltops are strewn with scenic towns and castles, many with magnificent views of the sea. Limestone cliffs and rocky coves differentiate this area of the Adriatic coast, and the art and architecture draw visitors from across the globe. Marche is home to a host of small, local wineries whose products are a pleasant surprise to those who may not be familiar with the several DOCGs of the region. Two of the most highly regarded are Matelica Riserva and Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva. They produce nuanced, age-worthy versions of the Verdicchio grape, characterized by its clean, intense, dry taste . Conerro Rosso Riserva DOCG produces reds from the Montepulciano grape, and a smaller percentage of Sangiovese. It’s often aged in new French oak barrels and shows intense character; full-bodied with concentrated color and powerful aromas.
Classic Pairings: In Marche, pastas reign supreme, particularly tagliatelle with a vegetable, fish or meat sauce. Fortunately, the Verdicchio grape’s great crisp nature lends itself to pastas as a vibrant contrast.
Classic Wines: Located in the middle of Italy, Umbria is the only region in the central part of the country without a coastline. Often referred to as “the green heart of Italy,” the medieval towns and lush, green, rolling hills are home to some fantastic wines. The most renowned wine of this region is Orvieto, a crisp, light white made from Grechetto and Trebbiano Toscano grapes—which also produce the majority of the wine in the region as a whole. One of the highest quality reds is Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. Sagrantino is a highly tannic grape that is also high in alcohol. It is a stubborn little fruit that demands patience: it should be aged a minimum of three years prior to release. It takes even longer to come into its own, but it’s worth the wait.
Classic Pairings: Sagrantino is difficult to pair with food because of its strength. However, mazzafegati, or wild boar, has an assertive enough flavor profile that the wine and food complement each other without a power struggle.
Chef Giuseppe Di Iorio and staff of Palazzo Manfredi’s Michelin Star Aroma Restaurant pair the finest wines with top cuisine, Rome, Italy; Lazio region
Classic Wines: This populated region encompasses Rome, which is one of the major consumers of the white wines of Lazio. Malvasia and Trebbiano Toscano are the majority of wine produced, designed to be consumed young and characterized by acidity and lightness that perfectly pairs with local cuisine. Surprisingly, red accounts for less than a quarter of production. Frascati Superiore and Cannellino di Frascati were awarded DOCG in 2011, and some of the best wines produced are from the Falco Estate, but they are from international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone, a Trebbiano-based blend noted for its colorful origin story, is the most well-known wine in Lazio, apparently discovered when a traveling bishop charged his aide with finding the best wine in the region. Upon finding it, the aide wrote “here it is!”—“est!”—three times on the door of the inn where the wine was served. We don’t know where that inn is today, but grab a bottle and sit in front of the Trevi Fountain instead - Ii may provide clarity and peace.
Classic Pairings: The light bodied whites made from Trebbiano are lovely accompaniments for the traditional bruschetta of the region, or really any of the seasonal produce grown throughout the countryside. Enjoy with artichokes in the spring, mushrooms in autumn, and luscious figs and watermelon in the summer months.
Classic Wines: Along with Molise, this region forms the “ankle” of Italy, hugging the southeastern seaboard with expansive sandy beaches. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane is the region’s only DOCG, and the wine here made with the Montepulciano grape. The Montepulciano grape is prolific, characterized by a lovely ruby color and softer tannins than many Italian reds. The two most quality-minded producers are Edoardo Valentini and Emidio Pepe.
Classic Pairings: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a rustic and soft red wine with a slightly tannic finish. It is highly aromatic, with pepper, spice, and earthy notes. When pairing it with the spicy, aromatic dishes of the region, often flavored with pepperoncini, it is possible to achieve peace in the chaos of flavors.
Classic Wines: Molise is a region that is covered in mountains. It produces very little wine, the vast majority of which is not DOC quality. There are four DOCs: Pentro de Isernia, Tintilia del Molise, Biferno, and Molise. Biferno is the best known, producing both reds and rosatos.
Classic Pairings: The rosato, a blend of Montelpulciano and Aglianico, is a great match for the region’s traditional smoked and spiced dishes.
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 its all about personal preferences, and that one size does not fit all. We offer fully customizable Italian wine tours so you can tailor the Central Italian wine experience to your style and taste.
Inspired by the aromas, tastes, and sights of Central Italy's wine culture? Take the first steps towards planning your luxury Central Italian wine tour by calling us at (888) 770-8048 or filling out our contact form. We can't wait to hear from you!