Beginner's Guide to Italian Wine Tasting

bottle of red and bottle of white

Whether you are hosting an Italian wine tasting party or just want to know more about the different types and flavor characteristics of wine from Italy, this easy to read guide will help you with the basics of Italian wine.

Italian Wine Is All About the Rosso's

As far as Italian wines go, the reds dominate the market. Yes, there are a few whites, but red wine is what Italy is known for. The following is a relatively short list of the many different types of red Italian wine:

  • Amarone - A good Amarone should be full-bodied and velvety and well balanced. The flavor characteristics are that of dried dark fruit with a hint of oak and vanilla undertones.
  • Barbera - Medium to full bodied and full of bright, forward fruit flavors. Barbera has mellow tannins and a traditionally high acid content.
  • Barolo - Barolo is a masculine and complex wine. You will find deeply intense dark fruit flavors with hints of leather and tobacco in this wine.
  • Chianti - One of the most well known Italian wines, Chianti displays bright fruit flavors with a few subtle hints of spice.
  • Lambrusco - This "frizzante" or sparkling red wine is light to medium bodied with bright cherry flavor characteristics.
  • Montepulciano - A dry, well-balanced medium-bodied Italian red with lush black cherry flavors.
  • Valpolicella - Slightly jammy raspberry and strawberry flavors touched with a bit of oak and a bit of spice.
  • Sangiovese - Medium to full bodied, Sangiovese is full of ripe raspberry and dark cherry flavors.
  • Dolcetto - This wine displays fruity flavors with licorice overtones.
  • Brunello - This is a big, lush, full-bodied wine full of jammy fruits and just a slight hint of spice. Wondering what it means when a wine is described as chewy? Try a Bruello.

The Bianco's

Italian wine tasting cannot be complete without the white wines.

  • Pinot Grigio - The most well known of all the Italian white wines. Pinot Grigio is dry, light bodied and full of citrus fruit flavors.
  • Soave - Similar to Pinot Grigio but slightly sweeter. Soave displays soft, melon flavors with hints of citrus and a bit of almond.
  • Verdicchio - This medium-bodied white is full of lush pineapple and pear flavors. The high acid content of Verdicchio lends to its crisp flavors.
  • Arneis - A sweet, semi-dry Italian white wine full of lush peach, pear and nectarine fruit.
  • Orvieto - This wine is full of apple, plum and pear flavor characteristics with a bit of earthy undertones.
  • Gavi - This dry white wine is available as a still wine and as a sparkling wine. Gavi displays pear and tropical fruit flavor characteristics.

Some Italian Wine Tasting Suggestions

Now that you know a few of the basics about Italian wine, here are a few suggestions for you to begin your Italian wine tasting.

25 and Under
Year Name Varietal Price Rating
2006 Falesco Sangiovese $15 90 WS
2004 Avignonesi Montepulciano $25 90 RP
2006 Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera $13 90 WS
2005 Allegrini Soave $15 88 WS
2005 Capezzana Conti Contini Sangiovese $10 87 RP
2005 Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico $25 88 RP
2003 Prunotto Barolo $50 93 WS
2006 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio $30 91 RP
2004 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio $20 88 WS
2001 Val di Suga Brunello $50 90 WS

Explore Italian Wine on Your Own

Don't limit yourself to tasting only the wines on the above list. Many Italian wines can be found in every price range imaginable. Keep in mind that the Brunello's and Barolo's are going to be among the most expensive of the bunch. So, take a trip to your local wine merchant, ask a few questions and find the perfect Italian wine for you. After all, wine connoisseurs like Robert Parker know their stuff, but it doesn't mean they have the same tastes as you do. It's okay to branch out beyond wine ratings (they are given here as sort of a guideline to helping you choose) and say "I like this $10 bottle of Sangiovese better than the $50 bottle of Brunello." That's the beauty of wine tasting, there really are no rules.

Beginner's Guide to Italian Wine Tasting