A land whose beauty encompasses everything from rugged mountains and craggy coastlines to white-sand beaches and stunning turquoise seas, Southern Italy is home to a rich wine history, as well as contemporary wines that show great promise. To conclude our series on The Fine Art of Italian Wine, we reach the southern end of Italy to explore the wines of Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia. From the Falernian wines, a favorite of ancient Romans, to the beloved but evasive Aglianico del Vulture, join us as we share the classic wines of the six-major Southern Italy wine regions as well as classic food pairings that both define and bring flavor to each region.
The superior Sea views at Punta Tragara, Capri, make it the perfect spot to appreciate the fine regional wine of “Capri di Scala Fenicia!”
Renowed as the birthplace of pizza, spaghetti, and Mozzarella di Bufalo, this region denotes the true beginning of Southern Italy. From the nobility of Naples to the ruins of Pompeii, Campania is home to some of the most famous cultural and archeological sites in the country. Since ancient times, Campania has been celebrated for its agricultural productivity, and its volcanic soils grow some of the best produce in Italy including the famous San Marzano tomatoes.
Classic Wines: Campania has a long, rich history with the vine. Ancient Romans celebrated whites from the Falernian region, praised in ancient texts for its ability to age beautifully. Today, the Falerno del Massico DOC produces Falanghina, a blending grape used to create refreshing wines with a lovely floral bouquet. For vini rossi, the red grape Aglianico has become a distinguishing varietal of inland Campania. The best Aglianico wines come from the Taurasi DOCG and Aglianico del Taburno DOCG. Skilled producers Mastroberardino and Feudi di San Gregorio soften the intense tannins of this variety with a minimum of three years of aging.
Classic Pairings: A breadbasket of fruits and vegetables, from stonefruits to citrus, Campania is also known for its famous cheese, including Pecorino, Marscapone and Ricotta. Italian food would not be the same without Campania’s celebration of nightshades, from spaghetti topped with pommarola,, caprese, and of course, parmigiana di melanzane. The food reveals distinct influences by the various civilizations that have visited these shores throughout the centuries
A slice of Neapolitan pizza is a bucket list achievement. Pair the big flavors and tannins of Aglianico with From baked pasta dishes to meat-topped pizza, or try a full-bodied, intense white from the Fiano di Avellino DOCG with insalata caprese.
Guests can enjoy local Puglian wines al fresco at Il Melograno
Also known as Apuglia, this region comprises the “heel” of the Italian boot. Set along a broad expanse of coastline, this region full of enjoyable beaches and charming coastal towns, whose relatively flat terrain makes it an ideal place for biking. Dotted with massive olive trees, wheat fields, and sprawling vineyards, this region is the primary source of Italy’s culinary staples: olive oil, bread and wine.
Classic Wines: Primitivo, genetically proven to be a cousin of America’s Zinfandel grape, is rich, soft and easy drinking. Try Accademia del Racemi’s Primativo.
Classic Pairings: Primitivo has the perfect amount of intense black fruit, a delightful compliment to pizza rustica, or perhaps Puglia’s famed Orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta, sautéed with pancetta, ricotta and cauliflower.
Surrounded to the north and east by Puglia and the Ionian sea, to the south by Calabria, and to the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and Campania, Basilicata has a stark mountain scenery with excellent vacation possibilities. From the lakes of Monticchio, to the sandy shorelines, this terrain contains many places of interest, particularly for those travelers with a zest for adventure. The woodlands and meadows produce bountiful amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals and splendidly fragrant herbs.
Classic Wines: Basilicata is the third smallest region in Italy in terms of population, and it produces very little wine. However, the Aglianico del Vulture Superiore was granted DOCG status in 2010, and is considered one of the best red wines in Southern Italy. Known for its complexity with aging, the revered quality of this wine combined with its limited production means this wine has garnered something of a cult following. Wines labeled “Riserva” have been aged a minimum of five years, two of them in wood.
Classic Pairings: The aged Aglianico has enough body to stand up against the popular local delicacy, a pork sausage known as lucanica, and it has a cleansing dark fruit finish. A young Aglianico pairs well with local cheese and cured meats.
Coastal town and Vineyards San Nicola Arcella, Italy; Calabria region
Calabria encompasses the tip of Italy’s peninsula, bordered by Basilicata to the north, extending down between the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian seas. Its most populous city is Reggio, which sits on the toe of the boot and is separated from Sicily by the straight of Messina. The inland area is scattered with small, picturesque villages embracing the hills that slope down to meet the water, along with attractive citrus plantations and olive groves. Calabria has extraordinary landscapes encompassing rugged mountains, infinite wheat fields, and dazzling clear seas. Here is the region with one of the most unrestricted coastlines beaches in Europe.
Classic Wines: The vast majority of wine produced in Calabria is red. The most planted grape is Gaglioppo, which is used in the production of reds and rosatos. The legend is that this is an ancient variety brought over from Greece, but recent DNA evidence proves it is genetically linked to Sangiovese. This grape is the base of Cirò, a hot-weather red with nice acidity and spiciness. Although very little whites are made, the DOC of Melissa produces nice wines from the Greco grape.
Classic Pairings: The whites from Melissa such as Greco pair nicely with the popular eggplant dishes of the region, as does Cirò Rosso.
Sommelier, Giancarlo Marena at Pietramare Natural Food Restaurant, Praia Art Resort, Crotone, whimsically serves the finest Calabrian wines paired with meals that are nothing short of a delight to all the senses, beautifully plated and perfectly delicious.
San Domenico Palace Hotel in Taormina clings atop terraced vineyards and Ionian Sea, Sicily region
Cavanera Etnea's vineyards at the base of Mt. Etna, Sicily
The largest Island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has an important artistic and historical heritage and abounds with many wonderful places of interest. From the archeological treasures of Agrigento to Europe’s highest, active volcano, Mt. Etna, there is no shortage of exciting cultural and natural sites in Sicily.
Classic Wines: Sicily is one of Italy’s largest wine producers in terms of volume. Despite this output, and its history of great food and olive oil, Sicilian wines have never had a great reputation. Perhaps its best-known is Marsala, a fortified wine that was likely introduced to a broader audience by English explorer John Woodhouse during his 1773 expedition to the island. While fortified wines were popular throughout Europe at the time, today Marsala is mostly regarded as a cooking wine to those who live outside Italy. For that reason, contemporary winemakers have great difficulty shaking this negative and often unfair reputation.
Still, there are some impressive wines coming out of Sicily. For whites, look for white blends of grecanico and chardonnay from producer Planeta. For vino rossi, try the Faro DOC blends from Palari. Interested in Marsala? The unfortified Vecchio Samperi from DeBatoli has a brilliant acidity and dried fruit flavors. One area to keep an eye on is Mt. Etna. Although it is extremely difficult and dangerous to grow grapes so close to an active volcano, these vineyards are producing some mind-blowing wines. Sicily also boasts a host of native grapes, such as Nero d’Avola, a grape with similar characteristics to Syrah, that make nice wines, and the international varietal IGTs are typically of the most consistent quality.
Michelin Chef Martina Caruso of Hotel Signum, Salina Island, selects the freshest local ingredients each day and transforms them into the finest Aeolian dishes along with extraordinary wines from local boutique vineyard to Italy’s most renowned producers at Ristorante Signum.
Classic Pairings: The black fruit flavors and full-bodied weight of Nero d’Avola pairs well with may of the meat specialities of the region. Vitello al Marsala (veal marsala)is a local favorite that showcases the culinary benefit of Marsala wine; the grape enhances veal dishes without overpowering the flavors.
Beaches back up to vineyards on Sardinia's coastline
Situated in the middle of the western Mediterranean just twelve kilometers from Corsica, Sardinia is the second largest island in Italy. Modern-day Sardinia has become a beloved holiday site for both affluent Italians and travelers from abroad. If your ideal holiday includes countless beautiful sandy beaches, small islands with turquoise seas, and some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery, you cannot beat Sardinia’s western coast.
Classic Wines: The island of Sardinia is known for its Spanish grapes. The most prevalent red grapes are Cannonau, in Spain called Garnacha (Grenache), and Carignano (Cariñena). For whites, the dry Vermentino is the star of the show. The island’s only DOCG is Vermentino di Gallura. Further inland, Cannonau produces spicy, full-bodied reds. A real treat is the fortified dessert wine Vernaccia di Oristano by the Attilio Contini winery. They have long had a reputation for producing amazing wines, and their Vernaccias are unrivaled.
Classic Pairings: Vermentino is the traditional accompaniment for the spicy fish soup called burrida. It quells the spice and plays upon the delicacy of fresh seafood flavors. Vermentino is a fabulous food wine, its aromas of herb and melon go well with most Sardinian seafoods.
Familiarize yourself with the rest of Italy's wine regions and continue your exploration of the classic wine regions of Northern Italy and wine regions of Central Italy.
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 it is all about personal preferences, and that one size does not fit all. We offer fully customizable Italian wine tours so you can tailor the Southern Italy wine experience to your style and taste.
Inspired by the aromas, tastes, and sights of Southern Italy's wine culture? Take the first steps towards planning your luxury Southern Italian wine tour by calling us at (888) 770-8048 or filling out our contact form. We can't wait to hear from you!