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Sips and Eats Around the Boot: A Primer to Italian Wines and Pairings #ItalianFWT

Buon Anno! To kick off a new year and a new decade, the Italian Food Wine Travel bloggers are sharing advice about Italian wines, specifically how you would introduce a friend to Italian wines. Jeff of Food Wine Click! is hosting; read his invitation here. That seems a very broad topic, so there should be plenty to learn.

If you are reading this early enough, feel free to join our live Twitter chat on Saturday, January 4th, at 8 o'clock (Pacific time). You can follow the hashtag #ItalianFWT and be sure to include that if you chime in so we can see your tweets. In the meantime, here's the line-up of articles from the bloggers...

All our blog posts will go live between Friday Jan. 3 and Saturday morning Jan. 4.  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.

Around the Boot
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For my January #ItalianFWT contribution, I decided to create as comprehensive a primer as I could on Italian wine - along with food pairings. So, whether you've only just begun to explore Italian wines or are an expert, I hope you'll find something new and interesting here.

There are nearly twenty regions around the boot. I'm going to start at the toe and work my way around to the heel, ending with the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Apologies in advance for this Odyssey-long post. But, if you stick with me, I hope you learn something new...or are tempted to track down wines from these areas.


I have been to Calabria, actually a handful of times, but it's always been more of a pitstop on my way to and from Sicily versus a region that I explored on its own. I will have to change that one of these days.

Calabria is the Italian region that occupies the toe of the Italian boot. A peninsula bounded by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, Calabria is separated from Sicily by the narrow Strait of Messina. Calabrian wines reflect the coastal climate. Its Cirò DOC produces mostly red wines based on the tannic Gaglioppo grape.

Gaglioppo is one of the grapes that is cultivated there and winemaking has been in the area since the time of the ancient Olympic games. So, logic followed that Gaglioppo had Greek origins, but recent DNA tests indicate that the grape exhibits a close genetic relationship between Sangiovese and ten other Italian grape varieties. So, it's a distinct varietal that includes several parent grapes.

I have only tried one Gaglioppo. You can read about that in my Braised Beef Cheeks over Garlic Gnocchi + Statti Calabria Gaglioppo 2015.

There are a few white wines produced from Greco Bianco and Montonico Bianco. Other varieties include Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese.


The region of Basilicata, in Italy is at the instep of the Italian "boot," bordering Campania to the west, Apulia (Puglia) to the north and east, and Calabria to the south. Its capital is Potenza. Characterized by extremes of temperature and terrain, its most famous is the full-bodied black grape Aglianico grape where it was first introduced by the Greeks in the 6th and 7th centuries. The varietal also goes by Aglianico Del Vulture, Aglianico, or Taurasi and has different characteristics in the different wine-making regions. While the wines from Campania tend to have more earthy tones, the ones from Basilicata are more fruit-forward.

I think that Aglianico shares some of my favorite characteristics of Barolo - think violets, anise, and truffles. It's rustic, earthy, and tannic. And this bold, native-fermented version is gorgeous with notes of cherry and pepper. Other varieties include Fiano, Greco Bianco, Malvasia Bianca, and Moscato.

I recently posted Italy Meets Argentina: Empanadas de Carne + Azienda Bisceglia Terra di Vulcano Aglianico del Vulture 2016 for December's #ItalianFWT event. And back in 2018, I poured and shared notes about the Feudi di San Gregorio Aglianico Rubrato 2014, though that bottle was from Campania and not Basilicata.


Speaking of Campania, this region is most known for Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast. Familiarity with the region's wines has been on the rise in the United States, as interest in volcanic wines grows. For red wines, the DOCGs you are likely to encounter are Taurasi DOCG and Aglianico del Taburno DOCG which are both based on Aglianico. For white wines, you will most often encounter Fiano di Avellino DOCG and Greco di Tufo DOCG, based respectively on the Fiano and Greco grapes. Other varieties include Caprettone, Falanghina, and Piedirosso.

In 2016 we focused on volcanic wines; you can read my post Scorched Terroir and Explosive Wines. For that, I had poured The Villa Dora Vesuvio Rosso, a red wine from Vesuvio made from Piedirosso and Aglianico grapes and Villa Dora Vigna del Vulcano Bianco Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, a white wine made from Coda di Volpe and Falanghina.


Lazio is home to the capital city of Rome. And for reasons beyond my comprehension, I do not have a single post about wines from Lazio. I lived there for over a year; you would think I would have written something. However, the region has a reputation for easy-drinking, youthful whites such as those produced in the Frascati and Orvieto DOCs. And those are not the wines I typically purchase. I will have to remedy my lack of post soon. Mi dispiace moltissimo! Other varieties in the region include Cesanese, Merlot, Sangiovese.

While my blog lacks wines from Lazio, since I learned to cook in Rome, there is no dearth of Roman recipes to be had. My favorites: Pizza Con Patate, Supplì al Telefono, and Stracciatella alla Romana.


Umbria is bordered by Tuscany to the west, Marche to the east and Lazio to the south. Partly hilly and partly flat, and fertile owing to the valley of the Tiber, its topography includes part of the central Apennines. Completely landlocked, it is the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a common border with other countries. Back in 2015, I paired Roasted Flank Steak with Zucchini-Mint Pesto with an Umbrian Merlot

This tiny central Italian region produces some tannic, cellar-worthy reds from the Sagrantino de Montefalco DOCG. Grechetto, a dry, crisp white, would be the most well known white varietal.
Other varieties to seek out would be Canaiolo, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Trebbiano.


I spent some time in Tuscany during my year in Italy. And I still dream about the porchetta sandwich I had in an alleyway in Florence. Read about those memories here.

There would be no argument in saying that Tuscan wines are the most well-known Italian wines in the United States. It is the home of Chianti after all! Back in November, the #ItalianFWT event was sponsored by Ricasoli and I posted Castello di Brolio Olio e Vino: Schiacciata all'Uva + 2015Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

Tuscany is centrally located along the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west coast of the boot and stretches inland across bucolic hills. For red wines, Tuscany's most famous Sangiovese-based wines are the Chianti, Chianti Classico ,Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino DOCGs thought several wines are labeled as Toscana IGT because they don’t conform to traditional production rules. Other varieties in the region include: Canaiolo Nero, Trebbiano, and Vermentino.

Regarding Tuscan eats, I already mentioned porchetta, but I had my first panzanella in San Gimignano and make seasonal variations whenever I have leftover bread. Case in point: Panzanella di Primavera made with asparagus, fennel, and artichokes; Clash of the Seasons Panzanella where summer collides with autumn made with tomatoes and mushrooms.


Liguria lies, along the coast of the Ligurian Sea, with France to the west, Piedmont to the north, and Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany to the east. This narrow region is bordered by the sea, the Alps, and the Apennines mountains. It focuses largely on white wine varietals with Vermentino and Pigato making up the lion's share of the exports to the United States. The main red wine is Rossese which is found in the fruity, aromatic Dolceacqua DOC. Other important varietals in the region are Ciliegiolo, Dolcetto, and Sangiovese.

Looking back through our #ItalianFWT posts, I somehow missed a Ligurian pairing, but I did share the ubiquitous Carciofi Crudi. Now I'm on the hunt for a Ligurian wine. Soon!


Located in northwest Italy, Piedmont (Piemonte) lies at the foot of the western Alps. The climate is influenced by both the mountain chill and the Mediterranean warmth which creates the perfect growing conditions for Nebbiolo, the black grape responsible for the region’s most famous wines: Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG. Two other red grapes - Barbera and Dolcetto - are also well-known and enjoyed for their more accessible price points.

Piedmont white wines are less common, but Cortese and Arneis grapes are often used. The former is the sole grape in Gavi DOCG, while the latter thrives in Roero DOCG. And you might recognize the sweet fizz that is Moscato d’Asti, made in the Asti DOCG. Other varieties include Brachetto, Freisa, Grignolino, Nascetta, Ruché, Timorasso, and Vespolina

In 2017, I paired Zuppa di Cipolla al Vino Rosso + Bava’s “Gionson” Nebbiolo. And, more recently, I found a trio of wines from Piemonte. 

Valle d’Aosta

Nestled in the Alps, Valle d’Aosta is a unique region of Italy as it's isolated by the mountains and highly influenced by its French neighbors. While many Valdonstani people speak all three languages, Italian and French are the official languages with Valdôtain being a common local dialect.

Valle d'Aosta is Italy's smallest winemaking region in both acreage and case production. Three-quarters of the area's wines are red, made mostly from the Pinot Noir, Gamay and Petit Rouge varieties. There is a white wine that I tried, unsuccessfully, to locate - a white wine made from the indigenous Prié Blanc grape. I'll keep looking. I discovered that very little wine from the region makes it to the United States; I didn't uncover why that is. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear it.

In 2015, I paired Pluot-Glazed Duck Legs and Les Cretes Torrette 2011. The wine was a blend of 70% Petite Rouge and 30% other indigenous red grapes. Other varietals to keep an eye open for are Pinot Nero, Fumin, Moscato, and Petit Arvine.

One of Italy’s largest regions, Lombardy lies in northern Italy and shares a border with Switzerland and is known particularly for its sparkling wines made in the Franciacorta and Oltrepò Pavese areas. The Franciacorta DOCG, along Lake Iseo, is a sparkling wine made in the metodo classico (traditional method) from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero. For red wines, Nebbiolo is the main grape in Valtellina Rosso DOC, Valtellina Superiore DOCG and Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG.
Other varieties of note are Barbera and Croatina

Researching Lombardy’s food specialties, I realized that we eat a lot of them regularly without realizing that they hailed from there. Think saffron risotto, bresaola, and the cheeses. You know I love the cheeses - Gorgonzola, from the town of the same name; Mascarpone (we have made our own mascarpone...forgive the spelling error on the photo, please!); parmesan-style Grana; Robiola soft cheese; and Bel Paese. 

And panettone, from Milan, is one of our favorite Christmas sweets. The Precise Kitchen Elf makes it for us every year. Here's his recipe. In 2018, the #ItalianFWT shared pairings with Valtellina wines. I posted Short Ribs + the Balgera Valtellina Superiore Inferno.

Trentino-Alto Adige
Home to the Dolomites, Trentino-Alto Adige is a conglomeration of Italian and Austro-Hungarian influence. This is another region that I haven't explored on my blog, but this sunny, high-elevation area produces from interesting varietals that I will begin to explore this year. For red wines, well-known grapes are Pinot Nero, Schiava and Lagrein; for whites, Pinot Grigio reigns supreme though Chardonnay is also popular - especially as the base for metodo classico sparkling wine from Trento DOC. Other varietals include Gewürztraminer, Kerner, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Teroldego.

Traditional food from the region also seem to have an alpine feel such as canederli, bread balls made with speck or pancetta with milk, eggs and cheese and tradtionally served in a broth or with a bath of butter. Then there's strangolapreti, potato-spinach gnocchi served with plenty of parmesan cheese and melted butter. Look for a post for one of these and some wines in the near future.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

This region lies in northeast Italy - in the far corner, bordering Slovenia and Austria - and includes the provinces of Trieste, Gorizia, Pordenone, and Udine. Due to its geography, the region has quite a unique blend of Italian, Slavic, and Austrian cultural roots. 

More than three-quarters of the production is white wine, primarily centered on Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, and Friulano. Reds are less well-known and are typically made from Merlot, Refosco, and Schioppettino grapes. You might also find selections of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Picolit, and Verduzzo.

Speaking of Ribolla Gialla, I have tried one from the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC which is located within the Italian wine region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Grapes have been thriving in that region since the Roman era. Rarely seen elsewhere, I was excited track down a bottle of Ronchi di Cialla Ribolla Gialla 2017. I paired it with Coniglio in Agrodolce and discovered that the wine embodied everything I read about that indigenous grape - it was light-bodied with bright acidity and floral notes.


Rife with history and wine, the Veneto offers a breadth of varietals and styles due to its numerous microclimates. Look at its environs: the Alps in the north; Lake Garda in the west; and the Adriatic Sea to the southeast. And while the region has many renowned wines, it's the sheer volume of Pinot Grigio and the popularity of Prosecco that have launched it into legendary status.

The #ItalianFWT group did a deep dive into Prosecco Superiore recently. You can read my posts: Seared Agrodolce Duck Breasts + Nebbia ValdobbiadeneProsecco Superiore; Perlage Winery's 'Riva Moretta' Prosecco ValdobbiadeneFrizzante + A Cheeseboard; Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Millesimato ExtraDry from Prosecco Toffoli with roasted lobster; and Steamed Clams, Smoked Scallops, and Capellini + Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze.

But it's not all about the bubbles. The red wines of Valpolicella DOC and Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG are both based primarily on Corvina, a black grape varietal. In the summer of 2017, I poured a 2004 Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva with a cheese board. Other varietals in the region include Garganega, the main white grape in the Soava DOC, Trebbiano in the Lugana DOC...also Cabernet Franc, Corvinone, Merlot, Molinara, and Rondinella.


Emilia-Romagna is a region in northern Italy, extending from the Apennines to the Po River. It's known for its medieval cities and seaside resorts. Bologna, its capital is a vibrant city with an 11th-century university while Ravenna, near the Adriatic coast, is renowned for its brightly colored mosaics dating to the times of the Byzantine empire.

Emilia-Romagna is the region is best known for Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine. Other key varietals include Trebbiano, Albana, Malvasia, and Sangiovese. The #ItalianFWT bloggers did a deep dive into Lambrusco in May of 2019. Initially, I paired Torta Barozzi + Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile. Then I gave it a second look with Warmed Brie with Mulberry Chutney + Cleto Chiarli Lambruscodi Sorbara Vecchia Modena 2018.


Marche, pronounced mar-Kay, lies along the eastern coast of central Italy. It’s home to Rosso Cònero DOC, based on black grape Montepulciano. Other varietals you'll find there include: Passerina, Pecorino, and Trebbiano.

I haven't tried too many wines from here, but I have poured a couple different Pecorino. Native to the central Italian region of Marche, it's said that the sugar-heavy grape was dubbed Pecorino because of its appeal to the woolly animals. I didn't have time to track down the veracity of that claim, but it's a nice story.

Also, Verdicchio is one of the most widely planted white grape varieties in the Marche region. It's the grape behind two of the Marche's most important DOCs – Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica. I was able to track down a bottle of each.


Next to Lazio on the Adriatic side, Abruzzo is a mountainous region rife with ancient winemaking traditions. Abruzzo is known primarily for the Montepulciano grape; the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is the region-wide denomination for red wines made from the grape, while Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC is the denomination for the region’s rosé wines made from the same variety and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC is the main white grape of the region. Other varieties include Chardonnay, Cococciola, Passerina, Pecorino, and Sangiovese.

Back in 2015, I paired Polpi in Purgatorio with 2012 La Valentina Montepulciano d'Abruzzo; and in 2016, I matched Pizza con Patate {Gluten-free} + Cantina Zaccagnini Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo Rosé.

For the #ItalianFWT October 2019 event, I received Citra Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOP 2017, Caldora Montepulciano D'Abruzzo 2016, and Passerina IGP Terre di Chieti 2017 as samples. You can read my pairing here, for one of the wines: Scrippelle 'mbusse + Ferzo Passerina


Molise lies in south-central Italy, between the Apennines and the Adriatic. And, caseophile that I am, I am definitely on the hunt for some of their dairy products, in particular the caciocavallo and stracciata cheeses of Agnone and Alto Molise, fior di latte cow’s milk mozzarella from Boiano, buffalo mozzarella from Venafro, and pecorino sheep’s cheese from Matese. I have had the ubiquitous scamorza and burrino, a butter-filled cheese.

Today, the Molise wine region produces three DOC wines: Biferno, Pentro di Isernia, and Molise. Biferno is dominated by its Trebbiano and Montepulciano wines. Other varieties in the region include Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Tintilia.

Apparently, I've only posted one pairing: Risotto agli Spinaci with a Montepulciano-Aglianico Blend. More soon!


Puglia forms the heel of Italy's boot. Though I never made it to Puglia in the 13 months I lived in Rome - blush, blush - I will definitely add it to my list of places I want to visit. Boasting almost 500 miles of coastline, this seaside-loving gal would be very content to find a beach, uncork a bottle, and read a book. Many books...with many bottles of wine!

But I have always been intrigued by the trulli, white mushroom-shaped dwellings from the Middle Ages, in Alberobello. One of these days, I'll make it there.

This southern wine region has blossomed in popularity for its wines based on indigenous grapes. You'll also find Primitivo (also known as Zinfandel), Negroamaro, Chardonnay, Bombino Bianco, Bombino Nero, Moscato, Nero di Troia, and Susumaniello.

You can read previous Puglia posting I've done: Handmade Orechiette with Tomaresca Neprica and Insalata con Polpi in Umido e Patate, even though my wine didn't make it in time for that pairing.


I have actually been to Sicily. More than once. I love it and its surrounding islands! When I lived in Rome for a year, after college, I took a week long trip through Sicily and ended up on Lìpari, the largest in a chain of islands in a volcanic archipelago situated in between Vesuvius and Etna. I rented a cottage on a family's farm in Lìpari and was able to see them putting up a tomato harvest for the year. Truly amazing.

Then, a few years later, I returned to Sicily with my husband and some friends and family. We stayed in Palermo then were stranded on Ustica, an island off the northwest coast, for a week. I write 'stranded' because we had only planned to be there for two days; but storms came in and no boats were returning to Palermo. That was one of my favorite travel delays. We had rented a house from a man named Antonio who left us fresh herbs and fresh eggs during our stay. He also sent us off with some salt-cured capers. Before that, I had never seen capers growing in the wild.

If only I had a slide scanner, I would share some photos of my travel through Sicily. I was still shooting on slide film back then. I still dream of those sun-kissed islands that smelled of citrus, salt, and cypress trees.

The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily's climate is perfect for viticulture. Nero d'Avola produces some fruity, medium-bodied reds while Grillo is made into juicy, luscious whites. In southern Sicily, Nero d'Avola is often blended with Frappato for the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG. Other grape varietals include Nerello Mascalese, Carricante, Catarratto, and Inzolia.

Read a few of my Sicilian pairings: Gnocchi Con Salsa di Pistacchi + Donnafugata Sherazade Rose 2014; Sicilian Regaleali Rosso + Pasta Con Le Sarde; and, with a white wine from the Etna DOC, I poured Pesce Spada al Salmoriglio (Swordfish with Salmoriglio Sauce).


I have several fond memories of Sardegna (Sardinia) from when I spent my birthday weekend there over two decades ago. I was living and working in Rome and was determined to spend my 24th birthday doing something memorable. I asked all of the other au pairs to come with me and only Kristin took me up on it. We were lacking in money, but made up for it with our sense of adventure.

This island in the Mediterranean is better known for beaches and Pecorino cheese than wine, but more producers now export to the United States than ever. Wines to look for include Cannonau, the local name for Grenache; Carignano or Carignan; Vermentino from the northeast; and Monica.

The pairing photographed above is my Island Memories, Slow-Roasted Lamb, and Cannonau Di Sardegna.

Well, if you've read this far, I hope you've enjoyed this virtual journey around Italy's boot - some sips and eat from all the wine regions. Grazie mille for sticking with me. Next month the #ItalianFWT bloggers will be taking a look a wine cooperatives in Italy with Kevin at Snarky Wine leading the discussion. Can't wait, especially since I have no idea where to start. I love learning from this group. Cin cin!


  1. Cheers! What a comprehensive overview of Italian wines!

  2. Holy cow. Very informative and comprehensive. This must have taken a good chunk out of your busy days this holiday season. Happy New Year.

  3. My mouth is watering, I want to try the majority of your dishes... and I know they are tested ;-D Appreciate the depth and info!

  4. WOW! I'm so impressed you hit all of them! Great overview made even better by the memories and dishes you share. Super jealous that you got to spend a year there!

  5. What a nice grand tour all around the boot!

  6. An impressive journey through Italian regions here...a great article. :-)


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