Ciao bella! I am a lover of all things Italian – the culture, the art, the cuisine and of course the wine! With a viticulture that dates back thousands of years, few countries are as steeped in wine tradition and heritage as Italy. Though I adore Italian whites and bubblies (I’ll be there in a Prosecco!!), my heart lies with the country’s remarkable range of red wines.
Before I highlight my current favorites out of 90+ Cellars’ impressive collection of Italian reds, a little 101 is in order. With 20 distinct regions, countless sub-regions, and over 2000 grape varieties, not to mention 4 classification tiers of quality, trying to understand Italian wines can be a lesson in confusion. Yes, even us wine pros need the occasional refresher every now and again for those belli vini Italiani!
What’s in that Bottle?
Chianti, Barolo, Barbera… you’ve likely heard these names but what are they exactly? Similar to France, most Italian wines are identified by their region or appellation , not by the grape’s name. So Chianti is an area in the region of Tuscany and the wines produced there are comprised mainly of the Sangiovese grape.
Key Three: With no disrespect to any other regions in Italy, the three that produce some of the world’s most renowned wines are:
Piedmont: where Barolo, Barbera d’Alba, Moscato d’Asti, Langhe and Barbaresco wines hail from, to name a few.
Tuscany: home to Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.
Veneto: the land of Prosecco, Suave and Amarone della Valpolicella.
Here’s a quick rundown of my top picks from the 90+ Cellars wine portfolio. Saluti!
Forget about those straw-covered bottles reminiscent of the 70’s, this is a Chianti in another class altogether! Medium-bodied and dry, it has Sangiovese hallmark aromas of cherry, plum and spice with a little earth and leather in the mouthfeel… sipping this with a rustic thick-crusted pizza is all I can think about!
note: this is a “Riserva” which for a DOCG Chianti means that it has aged a minimum of 2 years in the bottle before release. This particular wine spent 1 year in barrel and 2 years in bottle.
One of my all-time favorite 90+ reds and a hidden gem at that! Cherry and raspberry on the nose with a little stewed tomato, ripe plum and chocolate on the palate. With bright acidity, this is a wine born to be paired with food. A big plate of spaghetti Bolognese, a hearty meatloaf or cherry tomato pie would all be heavenly. Soooo easy-drinking!
A luscious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Barbera this is a smoky, sultry wine. Loaded with black fruit, a little cedar and tobacco notes. Smooth and velvety, this wine is impossible to resist! Light a fire on a chilly night and get cozy with a big glass!
Nebbiolo is famous for its “tar and roses” notes and this wine delivers. It may sound strange but they work together beautifully. Add in a little blackberry and spice, and you have a fun finesse-filled wine! Delightful with a big plate of risotto with porcini or a savory roast.
A wine for a king! Barolos are considered by many to be the finest wines Italy produces. (This is subjective of course!) A real stunner, the Lot 26 is the Nebbiolo grape at its finest. Elegant, dry and full-bodied it has aromas of roses and cherries with a bit of leather on the palate. Notes of truffles. Trust me when you drink this you’ll feel like royalty. Treat yourself to a sumptuous prime rib or beef tenderloin with this beauty!
Try 3 of our favorite Piedmont selections and save 25% with our Piedmont Pairing Trio!
This season 90+ Cellars is introducing 2 more collectors series Barolos from the Crus of Serralunga d’Alba and Bussia to their portfolio. Lots 139 and 140 are can’t miss wines especially going into this holiday season. Wines from Bussia result in a gentler texture while preserving weight and structure while Serralunga d’Alba presents a powerful array of flavors starting with red tree fruits, and evolving into an earthy savoriness.
Fun Fact: traces of 6,000-year-old wine were recently discovered on ancient pottery in a cave in Sicily! It has been long thought that wine production in the area began around 1300 to 1100 BC but this would mean it began in the 4th century BC. This takes the term “old world” to a whole new level!
*DOCG, *DOC, *IGT…What, What???
Perhaps you’ve noticed a strip of brown or blue paper wrapped around the neck of a bottle of Italian wine with DOCG or DOC written there along with a bunch of letters and numbers. Or seen the words “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” printed on the label. Mystifying? Yes. There are four tiers for classifying Italian wine quality. Here’s the breakdown:
- DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita): Try saying that three times fast! The highest classification, these wines are the best of the best for quality and go through the most rigorous tasting procedures to ensure they meet extremely high standards of production. The “Garantita” basically means it’s an official guarantee that this wine is what it says it is.
- DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata): A broader term for high quality wines, they meet the same criteria for DOCG but the regulations are a bit more relaxed. The strip of paper encircling the neck of a DOCG or DOC bottle is not just a certificate it’s a seal to prevent counterfeiting. (Try our DOC Lot 50 Prosecco!)
- IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica): This classification was created after DOC and DOCG, basically it’s for winemakers who can’t quite meet the criteria of the top two but are still making outstanding wines. Super Tuscans are usually classified as IGT wines.
- VdT (Vino da Tavola): Simply put: table wine. But don’t dismiss this classification, some of the nicest Italian wines I’ve tasted were VDT. Simple, straightforward, delicious!