Italy is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, and drinking wine forms a large part of Italian culture. Although the Nebbiolo and Sangiovese grapes are king, there are over 350 grape varietals used, and in fact, each region perfects its wine to complement local cuisine.
One key to drinking Italian wine is understanding the different regions (there are twenty). Although many wines are concentrated around Piedmont and Tuscany, three of the most famous wines are known as the Killer Bs, or Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello di Montalcino:
Brunello di Montalcino, roughly translated as “small dark one”, is grown in vineyards about 75 miles south of Florence in the Tuscany region. A clone of the Sangiovese grape, the wine was awarded the DOCG designation more than thirty years ago, and it is one of Italy’s most famous and expensive red wines.
Barbaresco is made with the Nebbiolo grape and produced in the Piedmont region, in Langhe to the east of Alba, not too far from Rome. The vineyards in and around the town of Barbaresco are responsible for nearly half of all production, while many of the area’s major wineries are in the town itself. According to wine reviewers, this wine tends to be light red but very well structured and aromatic, and like the Brunello di Montalcino, it gained a DOCG award in 1980.
The DOCG-designated Barolo wine is also produced in Piedmont from the Nebbiolo grape, but it has the distinction of often being described as the greatest of Italy’s wines. Its production zone extends over several communes in the province of Cuneo in south-west Alba. Designed as a wine for aging, Barolo is noted for its ability to take on a rust red tinge. Tasters also sometimes note aromas of tar and roses, although there has been controversy over aging the wine in wooden casks versus the use of newer oak barrels.
If you are keen on Italian wine or want to learn more, visit the wine country and enjoy some of the world’s oldest and most complex wines that are beautifully matched with Italian cuisine.