With over 350 grapes listed in Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, it’s likely that you have not tried every type out there. Most Americans have heard of typical wines like Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Chianti, and Prosecco. Those are some of the most popular Italian wines in the world, let alone the United States. But, have you tried any lesser known Italian varietals? Below I take you through tasting profiles, pairings, and average prices of white wines such as Friulano, Verdicchio, and Vermentino, as well as red wines such as Barbera, Aglianico and Sagrantino. Gear up your taste buds!
Typically mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc and grown mostly in Friuli-Venezia Guilia and Veneto, this dry white has much bolder fruits with a hint of herbal flavors. There are delicate apricot and honey aromatics and almond and mineral traces are noticed on the palate. Not big on tannin and light-bodied, Friulano appears very fresh and easy to drink. Sometimes, slight oak barrel aging can compliment this wine to bring out even more flavors. There is no need to decant this white, and an average bottle can cost around $17. Friulano pairs well with salads, roasted green vegetables, green beans, artichokes, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Store in the cellar anywhere from 1-5 years or drink right away!
Grown in Le Marche and Veneto, this white also known as Trebbiano, is a standout for its peachy aromas and near oily texture. Best served as an apertif wine, Verdicchio has a mouthfeel of peach, lemon curd, almond skin, and saline. Very low tannins and medium-high acidity balance out this wine. No decanting is necessary as it is light-bodied in nature. It can be stored in the cellar for 1-3 years, and purchased for approximately $18 a bottle. Enjoy this wine on any given night as it is ready to consume, best enjoyed with proscuitto, quiche, marcona almonds, and savory tarts.
Found in Sardinia, Tuscany, and Liguria, Vermentino is a white wine that is offered in both oaked and unoaked styles. Also known as Rolle, Favorita, and Pigato in other parts of Italy, Vermentino offers a complex profile based upon its light-medium body structure, slight sweetness, and medium-high acidity. Low tannins round out the wine, and it is best served from 45-55 degrees Farenheit. The taste profile can best be described with flavors of lime, grapefruit, green apple, almond, and daffodil. Grilled light meats and fish accompany this wine well, and there is no need to decant it. Best served within 1-5 years of cellar storage, a typical bottle costs around $15.
Grown in the hills of Northern Italy, and the most planted red grape of the region, Barbera is an extraordinary value wine. It is often recognized as the inferior grape to Nebbiolo, which is responsible for the great Barolo and Barbaresco wines produced in Piedmont. Barbera stands for “wine of the people” in Italian, and can be enjoyed within 2-4 years of bottling, but is also can be consumed younger with some decanting. Unlike Barolo and Barbaresco which are typically saved for special occasions, Barbera is meant to be consumed every day and has the price tag to do so. This varietal is best served with rich meats, mushrooms, herbs, blue cheese, high tannin foods like root vegetables and braised greens. The light tannins and body of this wine, alongside the high acidity create for a very juicy combination. The fruit flavor profile consists of dark cherries, dried strawberries, plums and blackberries. Other flavors include anise, vanilla, nutmeg, and lavender. Most bottles of Barbera found in your local wine shop are $15 or less, however stores that specialize in Italian wines may also have some higher end Barberas ranging in price.
Southern Italy is home to this hearty grape varietal, often dominating the red wine category in Campania and Basilicata. Inside of these regions, there are 3 areas that have DOCG ratings. To have this rating is pretty impressive, considering that is the highest production rating a wine can receive in Italy. Aglianico is even sometimes called “the Barolo of the South,” which definitely hints at its exceptional quality. This full-bodied, highly tannic and acidic wine is known for its savory flavors and aromas, making it an ideal dinner beverage paired best with dishes such as beef brisket, smoked pork, seared prime rib, venison, oxtail, and roasted mushrooms. Asiago, Pecorino, Cheddar, and Monterey Jack are some examples of cheeses that also match up well with Aglianico. The taste profile of this wine consists of dark fruits like black cherries and spiced plums, with notes of chocolate, leather, smoke, game, and white pepper. Aglianco del Vulture and Aglianico del Taburno are each 100% Aglianico, while Taurasi is a popular Italian blend consisting of at least 85% of the grape. An average bottle of Aglianico is priced anywhere from $15-$50 where Taurasi is more sought after and critically rated, therefore ranging from $25-$90. To enjoy this wine at its best, decant it for about an hour before serving!
As a rare Umbrian grape varietal, Sagrantino is very special and sometimes hard to find in your average wine shop. This dry, very full-bodied and tannic red wine can be finely aged for 10+ years in the cellar. Experts suggest to decant Sagrantino for about an hour, exposing the best flavor profile for the wine. Serve this wine at approximately 60-68 degrees fahrenheit in an oversized red wine glass. The flavor of Sagrantino mostly contains intense black fruit flavors like black cherry, black currant, and blackberry along with hints of plum sauce, licorice, black tea, black olive, and black pepper. Antioxdants in this wine are some of the highest of any red wine! The high tannins and astringency in Sagrantino make it pair will with pizza, pasta, and anything with black truffles. It also pairs well with wild game, braised meats, squab or pheasant, or even a nice steak or lamb. Of course aged cheeses go well too, like most Italian dry reds! You can find a bottle of Sagrantino for an average of $30-$50.
So whether you’re looking for new whites or reds to try, make sure to check out these quality varietals sourced from all over the Italy. If you have had the pleasure to taste these wines, you can also try other excellent white varietals such as Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino, Etna Bianco, Gavi, Soave, and Orvieto just to name a few. Other red wines like Cannonau, Vino Nobile, Rosso Conero, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Gaglioppo, Etna Rosso and Nero d’Avola are worth a try as well!