Three Noble Red Grapes that Help to Navigate the Italian Peninsula – #ItalianFWT

Happy New Year. This will be my first post of 2020 and it is fitting that it should be part of the #ItalianFWT blogging circle which this month is dedicated to introducing Italian Wine to a curious friend. Nothing could be more up my alley since I’ve spent 23 years studying Italian wine formally, 12 working in it and even more drinking it. That said, I, like everyone else, am an endless student of Italian wine since there is so much to know and so much to learn.

Jeff 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 host of topics. I’ve decided to write about three main grape varieties that you must be familiar with and which can help you navigate all of Italy. Italian has hundreds of known grape varieties and many more that are being discovered or rescued from obscurity every year.

The three that I chose are the main noble grapes that separate Italy into three distinct geographical areas: North – Central – Southern Italy. Sure some of the grapes are grown far from their area of origin but for a beginner, this is an easy way to divide up the country and sound a bit knowledgeable when ordering a wine.

First up is Nebbiolo which makes some of Italy’s most stunning wines including Barolo, Barbaresco, Valtellina Superiore wines and Sfursat as well as Nebbiolo DOC and Langhe DOC wines. These wines tend to come from Piedmont and Lombardy although there is also fantastic Nebbiolo grown in the Valle d’Aosta.

What does a classic Nebbiolo taste like? It depends on where it’s from but generally it has gorgeous deep red and black fruit with a hint of floral violet notes, some bramble undertones and integrated tannins. It usually has great acidity, if well made it will have a long elegant finish with a slight bitter note. Everytime I drink Nebbiolo, I think elegance and finesse, two words that sum up a well made and pleasing wine to me. There are so many amazing producers to mention that I will just say try as many as you can and pick your own favorites. It doesn’t have to be a $100+ bottle of Barolo, Valtellina has great values, Gattinara, Ghemme and other DOCG regions in Piedmont are under the radar and under valued.

Our second grape takes us to Tuscany, my first great Italian love and a place I feel imminently at home in. Sangiovese grows in many parts of Italy including in Lombardy on Lake Garda and in some parts of the South but it is Central Italy where it reigns supreme – Tuscany, Emilia, Umbria, Abruzzo, Le Marche, Lazio, among others. Sangiovese is actually the most widely planted grape in Italy.

It is probably also the first Italian grape that most people have tried, it their first wine was a Chianti. What does Sangiovese taste like? It is a burst of bright cherry flavors with dusty earthy notes, great acidity and at times mouthwatering tannins, depending on where it is made. There is huge variety within Sangiovese depending on whether it is 100% Sangiovese, blended with indigenous or international grapes, with or without oak treatment, how long and what type of wood is used. Like all wines, there are a myriad of different expressions of this grape. It is an incredibly food friendly wine and calls out for a pasta with tomato sauce or bean dish for those on plant based diets and a bistecca alla fiorentina for those still eating meat.

The third grape variety hails from Southern Italy and is Aglianico. While my graphic is of Campania, Aglianico grows very well in Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria, Molise as well. Aglianico is a late ripening grape, which makes it a good one for a variety of styles including ones that use dried grapes. It is usually the last grape to be picked.  Aglianico has good acidity and firm tannins. The aromatics of the grape tend towards blueberry, cherry, chocolate, coffee and smoke notes. I also find it has a real peppery and spicy note. I think it is a sexy grape variety and one that still needs to be discovered by many. Great producers hail from all over Southern Italy and you can’t beat the price, at times as economical as $20 a bottle.

Since this is a 101 session, I am going to stop here. Three great grapes that separate Italy into three areas: Nebbiolo in the North, Sangiovese in Central Italy, Aglianico in Southern Italy. For 101 part II we will add white grapes and some other amazing red wines but for now, using these three varieties, you can navigate Italy and a wine list.

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.

  • Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Sips and Eats Around the Boot: A Primer to ItalianWines and Pairings”
  • Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Introducing the Diversity of Italian Wine”
  • Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Ringing in the New Year with Loved Ones and Prosecco
  • Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings shares “Sharing Lugana DOC – Winter Whites With Friends
  • Marcia at Joy of Wine shares “The World of Italian Wine: Where Do I Begin?
  • Gwen at Wine Predator shares “4 To Try in 2020: Italy’s Franciacorta, Fruili, Chianti, Mt. Etna
  • Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Why the Wines and Food of Custoza DOC are Some of Veneto’s Many Pleasures”
  • Susannah at Avvinare shares “Three Noble Red Grapes that Help to Navigate the Italian Peninsula”
  • Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “What exactly IS this Italian grape?”
  • Jen at Vino Travels shares “The Beginnings to Understanding Italian Wine”
  • Kevin at Snarky Wine shares “Cutting Your Teeth on Italian Wines”
  • Katarina at Grapevine Adventures shares “3 Grapes to Get a Beginner’s Taste of Italian Wine”
  • Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Italian Wine 101 Cheat Sheet”
  • Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Italian Wine 101 – Start Your Journey Here”


  1. What a great post in simple terms taking about what are undoubtedly, Italy’s there’s greatest red grapes! Thank you for talking about nebbiolo in Valle d’Aosta also since it is an important area for this noble grape but really not as well known. Cheers!

  2. Super intro with division of the country and picking a grape from each. Tagging onto Marcia’s comment, my favorite Nebbiolo are from Valle d’Aosta and Valtellina. When you talk about what you get for the cost, these areas are top!

  3. Great description of the three great red grapes 🙂 So true that Aglianico still needs to get the attention it deserves. And people need to stop referring to it as the Nebbiolo of the south. Rather Nebbiolo is the Aglianico of the north in my opinion. 😉

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