The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wines

Italy -- the second largest wine-producing country in the world, and one of the most exciting scenes of discovery for wine enthusiasts, with the wide variety, uniqueness, and quality levels of Italian wine.

That being said – there’s so much wine produced in the country that it can be complex and confusing to understand. And because there’s so much excellent wine – both old and new – it can be difficult to write a comprehensive guide in the constantly changing wine landscape.

Yet, this is our “ultimate” guide in terms of simplifying the major Italian wine regions, and giving you the insider handbook to the most notable Italian wines to try when delving into the scene

Before we dive in, here’s a quick overview on understanding Italian wines in general, especially when it comes to naming and classification

A Note on Italian Wine Names: Grapes vs. Region

a bottle of Chianti wine, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian wines

For Italian wines, the name you see on the label is either: 

  • The region or town that produced it – NOT the grape varietal, OR
  • A combination of both grape varietal and the town or region it hails from

For example, a Chianti wine is named after the wine region of Chianti, in the larger region of Tuscany in Central Italy, but the grape it’s made from is mainly Sangiovese. 

On the other hand, a Barbera d’Alba is made from Barbera grapes, from the town of Alba, combining the two.

Understanding the Quality Levels of Italian Wines

a bottle of Barolo wine, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian Wines

After the name of the wine, you’ll see an indication of its quality level: DOCG, DOC, IGT, or “Vino.” 

These titles mean that the producer adhered to a set system of winegrowing and winemaking rules to achieve the designation, which often means it will be higher quality (and likely a bit more expensive). 

Here they are in order from highest quality/most strict rules to lowest quality/least strict rules:

DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)

The best and most strict quality level for producers, specific to each region. Not all DOCGs are equally great, however. The designation doesn’t always “guarantee” quality wine, but that standards for growing and vinifying are certifiably at the highest level. 

Just so, it’s important to know (or have an expertly-curated selection from those who make it their job to know) the producers with the best wines per region, regardless of quality level. 

DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata)

Most classified Italian wines are DOC, which adheres to a less strict set of regional standards for winemaking. Some of the best valued wines for price and quality can be found here.

IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)

This is a relatively new quality level, denoting that a wine is from a region but does not adhere to the traditional DOCG or DOC rules for grape varieties and vinification. 

This level was created due to vintners wanting to experiment with grapes and winemaking techniques outside of the normal regional restrictions, such as with “Super Tuscan” wines, which are made with international varietals (typically not allowed under DOC/DOCG rules).

Vino / Vino da Tavola

These are more basic and inexpensive wines. They’re typically not very distinct or complex, but can be good for easy drinking. 

Other Italian Wine Naming Terms to Know

Many Italian wines will have their own unique, regional quality ranking systems separate from the DOCG/DOC system, often based on aging requirements or other quality rules. 

A good example of this is the Chianti wine region in Tuscany, which groups Chianti wines into “Classico,” “Riserva,” and “Gran Selezione” designations, all depending on both the sub-zone they are from and/or the time they are aged. 

Some Italian wines will also be labeled “Superiore.” The meaning varies for each region, but generally indicates that stricter winemaking practices were adhered to, and that the wine has a relatively higher alcohol content (again, not necessarily higher quality). 

Now that you have a grasp of how Italian wine is organized in general, we’ll dive in with the best Italian wines, and food pairings to go with each, from each of the major Italian wine regions:


stacked wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the Emilia-Romagna wine region, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian wines

The first thought one has of Emilia-Romagna is usually ruby-red Prosciutto di Parma, warehouses full of lumbering wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Balsamic vinegar. The top culinary hub of Italy, this north-central region is also the third largest producing wine appellation by volume.

Though most of its wines are more everyday-drinking, table wines, many excellent examples of refreshing, fizzy Lambrusco (not the cheap, sickly sweet, tart, bulk-produced style, mind you) and regional white wines made from Malvasia stand above the rest. 

Notable Wines

  • Lambrusco (Lightly Sparkling – Frizzante – Dry to Sweet Red)
  • Malvasia (Dry White)

Pairing Ideas

  • Lambrusco & Charcuterie, especially with Prosciutto, Bresaola, Salami, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano 
  • Lambrusco & Barbecued Tri-Tip or Barbecued Italian Sausages
  • Malvasia & Grilled Shrimp with Tagliatelle Cacio e Uova

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

a city in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian wines

Photo Credit: © Nicola Simeoni / Shutterstock

This region, commonly called just Friuli, is part of the Tre Venezie along with the Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige regions. All three are former provinces of the Republic of Venice; today, the term refers to these three collectively as the northeast corner of Italy’s wine regions, as they comprise the area. Together these regions produce most of Italy’s exceptional white wines

Friuli-Venezia Giulia itself lies east of Veneto, sharing a border with Slovenia. Excellent white wines, especially from Friulano and Pinot Grigio, are most notable here, even though more reds are produced by volume (such as “international” varieties Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay). 

Notable Wines

  • Friulano (Dry White)
  • Ribolla Gialla (Dry White)
  • Pinot Grigio (Dry White)
  • Schioppettino (Dry Red)
  • Verduzzo di Ramandolo (Sweet White)
  • Picolit (Sweet White)

Pairing Ideas

  • Friulano & Prosciutto, Honeydew Melon, and Fresh Figs
  • Friulano & Roast Chicken seasoned with Salt, Pepper, Thyme, and Rosemary
  • Schioppettino & Beef Ragù with Penne Rigate
  • Pinot Grigio & Tomato, Cucumber, and Feta Salad


 Serralunga d’Alba, in the Piedmont wine region, an Italian wine region, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian wines

The Piedmont region is home to some of the most legendary Italian red wines, which bear the names of their appellations: Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape. Barolo in particular is known as the “wine of kings, and king of wines” for its complexity and ageability.

Home to the highest number of DOCGs for any Italian wine region, Piedmont is situated at the foot of the Alps in the cool Italian northwest, of the coolest parts of Italy. This climate allows the powerful Nebbiolo grape to retain a high acidity; coupled with naturally high tannins and a powerful body, aged Barolo is like no other wine, featuring unique notes of dried red fruit, rose, earth (even tar), and mushrooms.

The region is home to other high-quality reds and whites, however, from Barbaresco, another austere, powerful Nebbiolo-based wine, to Barbera and Dolcetto, two less tannic, and more accessible reds, as well as crisp whites from the Gavi appellation, and lively sparkling wine such as Moscato d’Asti and the ruby-red Brachetto d’Acqui.

Notable Wines

  • Nebbiolo | Barolo (Dry Red)
  • Nebbiolo | Barbaresco (Dry Red)
  • Barbera | Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba (Dry Red)
  • Moscato d’Asti (Full Sparkling – Spumante – Sweet White)
  • Dolcetto | Dolcetto di Dogliani, Dolcetto d’Alba (Dry Red)
  • Cortese | Cortese di Gavi, especially “Gavi di Gavi” (Dry White)
  • Arneis | Arneis di Roero (Rare, Dry White)
  • Brachetto | Brachetto d’Acqui (Sparkling – Spumante or Frizzante – Sweet Red)

Pairing Ideas

  • Barolo & Agnolotti del Plin, Stuffed with Braised Beef and Cabbage in a Butter-Sage Sauce
  • Barbera & Mushroom Risotto Arancini
  • Moscato & Baked Brie with Strawberry Jam, Dijon Mustard, and Chopped, Roasted Pistachios
  • Brachetto & Chocolate (*N.B. - Brachetto is one of the few wines to make a truly good pairing with chocolate – be sure to try!)

SingleThread | Curated Piedmont Selection:


the island of Sicily, the wine region of Sicily, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian wines

Photo Credit: Balate Dorin, Getty Images

Sicily is both Italy’s largest island, the most southern appellation, and of the warmest Italian wine regions. HIstorically important for the production of Marsala, a fortified white wine made from Grillo and other blending grapes, the island produces several indigenous and international varieties.

One of the most up-and-coming and of highest quality is the indigenous Nero d’Avola, often blended with Frappato, especially of note in the islands only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The island is home to other rare varieties such as Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, which make up interesting red blends from the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna in the Etna DOC. 

Notable Wines

  • Nero d”Avola | Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Dry Red) 
  • Nerello Mascalese | Etna Rosso (Dry Red) 
  • Frappato | Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Rare, Dry Red)
  • Moscato Passito di Pantelleria (Sweet White)
  • Malvasia | Malvasia della Lipari (Sweet White)
  • Marsala (Dry to Sweet, Fortified White)

Pairing Ideas

  • Nero d’Avola & Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
  • Etna Rosso & Sicilian Parmigiana di Melanzane
  • Dry Marsala & Chicken Marsala


the Duomo in Florence, a city in the Tuscany wine region, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian wines

The picturesque rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside and sunny, Mediterranean climate of central Italy are hard to beat for a picturesque getaway – and for numerous quality wine appellations as well, from the subregions of Chianti that radiate out from Florence, Siena, and Arezzo, to the great wines of Montepulciano and Montalcino, to the Tuscan coastal appellations.

The region is also home to the “Super Tuscans,” made apart from varietal-restrictive DOCG/DOC rules – the impetus for the IGT designation, denoting high quality wine from a region, but apart from the traditional systems. These are single-varietal or blended wines made in whole or in part from international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, etc.

Notable Wines

  • Sangiovese | Chianti (esp. Chianti Rufina, Chianti Colli Senesi – Dry Red), Chianti Classico (Dry Red), Brunello di Montalcino (Dry Red), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Dry Red)
  • “Super Tuscan” Producers | Sassicaia (Cab Sauv and Cab Franc), Tignanello (Sangiovese, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc), Massetto (Merlot), Solaia (Cab Sauv, Sangiovese, Cab Franc), et al.
  • Vernaccia | Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Dry White)
  • Vermentino | Vermentino di Bolgheri (Dry White)
  • Vin Santo (Sweet White, sometimes Red)

Pairing Ideas

  • Chianti Classico & Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Grilled Florentine Steak)
  • Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano & Pappardelle Lamb Bolognese
  • Vermentino & Linguine alle Vongole
  • Vernaccia di San Gimignano & Panzanella or Fettunta with Bruschetta and Tuscan Olive Oil
  • Vin Santo & Cantucci


Venice at night from the Grand Canal, in the Veneto wine region, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian wines

Part of the white-wine-famous northeast of Italy, Veneto produces the most wine by volume out of all the regions of Italy. This includes the famous, bubbly Prosecco and some high-quality reds as well, especially from Valpolicella, a blended red wine in several styles and quality levels. Some of the best Valpolicella types come from the appassimento method of drying the grapes for a time before crushing and vinification, resulting in more concentrated or sweet wines.

Notable Wines

  • Corvina, Rondinella, et al. | Valpolicella (Dry Red), Amarone della Valpolicella (Concentrated, Dry Red), Ripasso della Valpolicella, (Concentrated, Dry Red), Recioto della Valpolicella (Sweet Red), Bardolino (Dry Red)
  • Garganega | Soave (Dry to Sweet White) 
  • Glera | Prosecco (Frizzante, Sweet White)
  • Pinot Grigio (Dry White)

Pairing Ideas

  • Amarone della Valpolicella & Braised Short Ribs with Gremolata
  • Soave & Shrimp Scampi with Polenta
  • Prosecco & Pad Kee Mao OR in a Classic Bellini (the Bellini originated here, in Venice)

SingleThread | Curated Veneto Selection:

Try the Best Italian Wines Today from SingleThread’s Premium Online Wine Selections

a gondola in Venice, in the Italian wine region of the Veneto, as featured in the SingleThread Wines wine blog on Italian Wines

The landscape of Italian wines is enchanting, but also vast and complex – choosing a great Italian wine to enjoy can be overwhelming.

Our passion at SingleThread wines is to source the best wines from every region via our years of industry education and experience; you don’t have to worry about choosing the best wines, and have a premium selection of sure quality to choose from. 

Be sure to check out our curated selection of Italian wines, as well as our other premium wine collections from renowned regions around the world.