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Italian Wine Varietals for Beginners

If you are starting to learn about wine, Italian wine can be intimidating. Historians believe that Italy started producing wine somewhere around 1300 B.C. The Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has officially recognized over 350 different grape varietals.

Wine enthusiasts believe that there are well over 500 Italian grape varietals.

If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Champagne, then Italy has many comparable wines that may very well replace your current favourite bottle.

Vermentino

Vermentino is a light-skinned wine grape variety, primarily found in Italian wine.
Vermentino is a light-skinned wine grape variety, primarily found in Italian wine.

If you love Sauvignon Blanc, there is a good chance that you will love Vermentino. Vermentino is a dry white wine made from grapes that are primarily grown on the island of Sardinia. Vermentino’s inviting floral nose is hard to resist. On the palate, Vermentino has lovely citrus notes, balanced by a hint of minerality.

Like Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino has a slightly bitter finish. This zingy white is a crisp, light-bodied wine that is ideal for sweltering summer days. Since Vermentino is lesser-known, it tends to be very affordable.

Vermentino pairs beautifully with halibut, chicken, hummus, asparagus, and zucchini.

Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo appears pale and delicate like Pinot Noir, but it can drink like the boldest Cabernet Sauvignon. Nebbiolo—which grows primarily in Italy’s Piedmont region—is one of the most difficult varietals to cultivate.

Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo is highly tannic—which means that it is a good idea to decant Nebbiolo so that it mellows out a bit before you drink it. Nebbiolo smells like a fragile rose with a hint of strawberry.

Nebbiolo has a rich, velvety cherry flavour with notes of coffee, leather, and clay on the palate. However, instead of ripe fruit, think of a decadent dark chocolate-covered cherry. Nebbiolo is a hearty wine that will enhance a rich meal.

A Ribeye, sausage dish or spicy gumbo are all dynamite Nebbiolo food pairings.

Franciacorta

What is franciacorta? Like prosecco, franciacorta is (you guessed it) a sparkling wine from Italy.
What is Franciacorta? Like prosecco, Franciacorta is (you guessed it) sparkling wine from Italy.

Like Champagne, Franciacorta is made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Champagne and Franciacorta both spend many months ageing in the bottle.

Franciacorta is named after the region where it is produced. Franciacorta’s toasty, fruity nose signals the playfulness within.

This lively sparkling wine has bright citrus and peach notes, with a strong brioche finish. Franciacorta is just as elegant as the finest bottle of Champagne yet is available at a fraction of the price. The beauty of most sparkling wines is that they pair with a wide variety of foods.

Serve Franciacorta with salty fries, raw oysters, or a piece of apple pie. If you are experimenting with food pairings, Franciacorta is a highly versatile wine that can help you explore how food and wine complement each other.

Wine experts say that Italian wine is as complicated as calculus. Vermentino, Nebbiolo, and Franciacorta can help simplify the equation and make Italian wine accessible.