Italian Wine 101 – Start Your Journey Here #ItalianFWT

Introduce a Friend to Italian Wine with Italian Food, Wine and Travel Bloggers
We’re kicking off 2020 at the #ItalianFWT blogging group with a question: How would you introduce Italian Wine to a curious friend?  My answer follows, and you can get a dozen other suggestions from our links at the bottom of this post. Are you already a fan, or might you be one of the friends we invite to try Italian wine? I’ll wager that one of the ideas from our group will be just what you need to take the leap!

Don’t be in a hurry, there is so much to discover in Italian Wine! map courtesy of

Step Right Up, Italian Wines Ahead
So you’re curious to learn about Italian wines. Lucky you! Here you’ll find everything you need to know for a great start. First, gather a few key facts. Then, you’ll go pick up four bottles at a local wine shop. Don’t worry, you’ll be armed with some good information and we promise to not break the bank. Finally, you’ll bring the bottles home and enjoy them with dinner (or dinners). You can even recruit some friends and turn it into a party!

A Few Key Facts

  • You’ll need to learn some new grape names. Italian Wines are predominately made from indigenous grapes. That is, the famous internationally popular varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are not the major stars here.
  • Are you confused with the way French wines are often labeled by the town or region and not the grape?  Get ready, as Italy uses both place and grape names for their wines.  Even within a region, some wines may be named by the grape and others by the place.
  • There are several different important qualification levels used in Italy, similar to the AOC system in France. The DOC and DOCG labels are especially important and are easy to spot. They are in ascending order:
    • Vino or Vino da Tavola – simple table wine (can be very good quality).
    • IGT or IGP – regional qualification with a variety of approved grapes and few rules.
    • DOC – Denominazione d’Origine Controllata – Specific allowed grapes from a specific geographic region. Many rules regarding the grapes, allowed yield, aging requirements.  The idea is to assure a high level of quality
    • DOCG – Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita – the top of the qualification ladder with even more strict requirements and often annual tasting panels of individual wines to ensure they meet the expectations of the DOCG.
  • Words have meaning. Unlike the US, where “winemaker’s reserve” only means they will charge you more per bottle, words on Italian wine labels have a meaning. They may still charge you more for the bottle, but there is a reason!
    • Classico – many wine regions have been expanded due to popularity. The original, smaller region (usually with better conditions for winegrowing) is often granted a subzone with the “Classico” label.
    • Reserva – typically means the wine has been aged for additional time. Often, one or more years longer.
    • Superiore – this one can have several meanings, all related to being higher than the basic requirements. Sometimes this is higher alcohol, or oak aging where it isn’t required, or a superior part of the region.

An Italian wine label is full of good information once you know the code!

How to Read an Italian Wine Label
Once you know how to interpret the information, Italian Wine labels are very informative.  You’ll know to look for the region or grape + region, whether the wine meets qualifications such as IGT, DOC, or DOCG. Finally, you’ll understand the additional significance of words like Classico, Superiore, and Reserva.

Shopping List for the Wine Shop
You’ll need to locate a wine shop with a decent Italian wine section.  If you can’t find these four wines, you might need to look a little further for another shop with a better Italian focus. You should be able to find bottles of each of these wines for $20 or less in the US.  Keep your newfound knowledge handy as you shop for the following:

  • Sparkling Wine – Prosecco Superiore DOCG.  Look at the different bottles and note prices. Most will come from Prosecco DOC and will be a few dollars less expensive. Ideally, you’re looking for Prosecco Superiore DOCG (you’ll likely see Conegliano Valdobbiadene noted on the label).  Hopefully you’ll find at least one. If you prefer a drier sparkling wine, look for Brut.
  • White wine – Soave Classico DOC. Hopefully you’ll find at least a few bottles available in your shop.  If possible, choose Soave Classico over plain Soave. Both are from the same DOC. However, Soave Classico comes from the smaller, original Soave region which is hilly. Based on popularity, the region was expanded into surrounding flat ground which is not as capable of producing top quality wines.
  • Red wine #1 – Chianti Classico DOCG – Chianti should be easy to find as it’s the most popular and well known Italian wine. You may see some Chianti bottles priced under $10, while some Chianti Classico’s can exceed $30. Those $10 bottles come from large volume producers using grapes from the less favorable general Chianti region. You will likely be able to find at least one Chianti Classico for under $20. This is a wine made from grapes in the originally hilly Chianti classification zone, which consistently produces high quality grapes.
  • Red wine #2 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC or Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC – These wines are the less expensive siblings of the famous Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG wines.  All are made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. They are a great introduction to the grape and often are made by the same wineries producing Barolo or Barbaresco. You’ll need to spend around $18-25 for a bottle in the US.

Prosecco DOC, DOCG
Prosecco sparkling wines are made from the Glera grape. The secondary fermentation is conducted by the Charmat method, which means the carbonation occurs in a large sealed tank. This method is different from the traditional method used for Champagne. This produces a wine which is very fresh and preserves the direct fruit characteristics. Prosecco is less complex than Champagne, but you’re sure to ensure the fresh, fruit forward nature of the wine. A second benefit to the Charmat method is that it is less expensive to produce, so Prosecco is an affordable treat! Want to learn more? Take a look at my recent post on Prosecco Superiore, here.

Soave Classico
Soave is a very nice mid-weight white wine made from the Garganega grape. Nice and dry with aromas of ripe pears and little or no oak influence. You may notice a touch of bitterness in the finish (think almonds), which is a good thing! The Italian palate appreciates a touch of bitterness, so the wine reflects that taste. If you’d like to learn more, try my prior post dedicated to Soave Classico with a delicious pairing, here.

Chianti, Chianti Classico
Chianti is a light to medium bodied red blend made from the Sangiovese grape blended with a variety of other allowed grapes. You might smell ripe red cherries and an earthy, non-fruity aroma which might remind you of leather. Most Italian wines have very lively acidity, they are meant to be consumed with food. So by all means, get some food for your Chianti! Anything with tomatoes, such as pizza or pasta.  Another classic to to pair Chianti with a rare steak. If you’d like to learn more, jump to a prior Italian Wine 101 post focusing on Chianit, here.

Langhe Nebbiolo DOC or Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC
Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba are all red wines made in the Langhe subregion of the Piemonte region in Northwest Italy. All are made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba are typically made in an easier drinking style. Think of these as wines to enjoy while you wait for your Barolo to mature! The wines are pale red in color with bright acidity and moderately astringent tannins (compared to much more aggressive tannins found in young Barolo and Barbaresco). They are also an easy way to see if you enjoy Nebbiolo wines as they are often available for under $20 in the US. If you find Nebbiolo is your thing, you might enjoy a prior post of mine here.

A Dozen Great Ways to Invite a Friend

Take a look below, you’re sure to find some great advice for digging in to Italian wine. Why not join our chat to learn even more?  Just search for #ItalianFWT on Twitter and tune in 10-11am CST on Saturday Jan. 4.  We’d love to hear what you think.




22 Responses to “Italian Wine 101 – Start Your Journey Here #ItalianFWT”
  1. joyofwine says:

    Jeff, great idea with the labels and some of the terms!

  2. Good thought on showing how to read a wine label! Thanks for hosting. This was a challenging event for me…way too much to say about my favorite country’s wines.

  3. culinarycam says:

    Good thought on showing how to read a wine label! Thanks for hosting. This was a challenging event for me…way too much to say about my favorite country’s wines.

  4. crynning says:

    What a terrific primer, Jeff!! This article is a keeper! CinCin!!

  5. Lynn says:

    Just enough info yet easy to understand. Great label info on your photo… there really is just so much when it comes to Italian wine! Nebbiolo is my thing but haven’t had one from Alba yet, need to fix that soon.

  6. A very informative, fun and practical read Jeff! I love how you suggest four bottle to try as an introduction. Well done!

  7. Pinny Tam says:

    Great wines you have picked! I like all of them, especially Nebbiolo! Also great intro on the Denominazione.

  8. wendyklik says:

    So many wines. So little time. Thanks for such a comprehensive overview Jeff and for hosting this topic. Happy New Year.

  9. Nicole Ruiz Hudson says:

    Such an informative and easy to understand post. I love your diagrams for understanding an Italian wine label – very helpful.

  10. Great graphics and its so important to understand that to get started. Nice selections on some suggestions.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] at Food Wine Click! shares “Italian Wine 101 – Start Your Journey […]

  2. […] from Food Wine Click has done a fantastic primer on the topic which you can find here. Others whose blog titles and links you can find at the bottom of this piece will be posting on a […]

  3. […] Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Italian Wine 101 – Start Your Journey Here” […]

  4. […] Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Italian Wine 101 – Start Your Journey Here” […]

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