The strength of Italian wine is its sheer mind-boggling variety. We rightly celebrate France for its combination of classic and niche wine producing regions, but no country can compete with Italy. Home to more than 2,000 grape varieties, which vary in expression from village to village, it presents the wine drinker with a unique opportunity for adventure. Given the topography of the country, no region can hide away from either the influence of mountains or of the sea. Many, such as Sicily, feels the effects of both, the climate working hand-in-hand with the indigenous grape variety, such as Nerello Mascalese, to craft wines of curious and at times breath-taking character. This is a feature up and down the country, east to west. It is why the wines of Italy are like no others.
While it is undoubtably difficult to generalise, we can split the country in two around about Florence. To the south, the effects of the sun are felt more strongly, producing wines of greater richness and ripeness; from the blockbuster Primitivo of Puglia to the vibrant Greco of Campania. To the north, are the regions of Veneto, Fruili-Venezia Guilia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Piedmont, the former home of the Kingdom of Savoy. The further north one travels, the greater the influence of the mountains is felt, where the landscape undulates, glaciers having left their mark centuries ago. Each region has its flagship wine, some with a few—such as Amarone and Prosecco in Veneto—yet it is Barolo and, to a lesser extent, Barbaresco of Piedmont that take the crown. Perhaps more so than any other wine region, the uniqueness of each vineyard and row of vines in Barolo are comparable to the complexity of Burgundy. The ethereal, age-worthy, regal wines made from the native Nebbiolo grape can be stunning and more than worthy of the title as some of the world’s best.
Lying as a bridge between the north and the south is Tuscany. Regal in a slightly different way to its neighbours, the majesty of Tuscany lies not just the beauty of the landscape, but the quality and charm of the wines themselves—as well as the olive oil. The cypress trees and olive groves flank some of the most acclaimed vineyards, whose indigenous Sangiovese is capable of producing stunning wines, either in the rolling hills of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Much like the vineyards of Piedmonte, the breadth of expressions can be a wonder to behold.
Alongside these majestic wines, hidden down the backroads, and in the region less travelled by foreigners, there are wines made in historic, traditional styles, using methods that have been passed down generation to generation from the Roman ancestors. The wines of Italy present such a truly wonderful adventure, at times daunting, but always rewarding.