In this post, we walk you through which 20 Italian Red Wines you can’t miss, tracing an essential guide of the most popular and best-known varieties of Italian red wines.
In my opinion (I know I’m biased), Italian wine quality is certainly among the best in the world!
In Italy wine is produced in all regions – almost unique in the world – and in each of these there are vines which have been cultivated for a long time which is defined as “minor” only because, for various historical reasons, they have never entered the Olympus of the presumed best local varieties.
The best way to make sense of Italian red wines is to simply start tasting them.
So whether you are next to come to Italy or just want to deepen your knowledge of the Italian wine scene, here is a short guide to the 20 Italian Red Wines you can’t miss!
Starting from the northern regions, some of the Italian excellences are produced in Piedmont, in the areas of Cuneo Asti and Alessandria.
In recent years, Barolo has been called “the King of Wines”, it is the beating heart of the Langhe wine area.
It has a ruby red color but becomes garnet with aging. Recognized DOC since 1966, it is produced with 100% Nebbiolo grapes. It has a very intense dry, meaty and velvety flavor.
It goes well with game and cheeses, even entering into some recipes such as braised in Barolo, or even the hare in the civet. Excellent also between meals, as a “meditation” wine.
Barbaresco, the typical wine of the Cuneo area, is a ruby red wine with orange reflections, with a dry, full and delicate flavor. Since 1966 it has been recognized as DOC wine and since 1980 DOCG. It is produced with 100% Nebbiolo grapes.
It is perfect with an aging of 4 years, it can be stored in the cellar for 8 to 25 years, depending on the vintage. Its typical alcohol content is 12.5 °.
It goes well with roasts and mixed boiled meats. It’s a valid option to combine also with pasta and spicy seasonings and aged cheeses too.
Barbera wine is produced in the province of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria and according to the province where the cultivation of the vine takes place, it has a different flavor.
Barbera is rustic and artisanal wine, probably one of the most representative of Piedmontese wine history. It is a ruby red wine, intense, with a floral and spicy taste, slightly bitter.
Barbera d’Alba DOC is produced with the use of Barbera grapes from 85 to 100%, but Nebbiolo ones can also contribute.
It goes well with cold cuts and cheese appetizers, with lasagna and tortelli.
4. Dolcetto d’Alba
Dolcetto is a DOC wine that is produced only in the provinces of Asti and Cuneo. It is the most consumed table wine in the Langhe.
It has a ruby red color tending to purple, the flavor is dry, moderate acidity and harmonious. It is produced exclusively with grapes from Dolcetto vines.
It goes well with appetizers of vegetables and salami; legume soups, risotto, ravioli with porcini mushrooms, veal and beef.
5. Refosco dal peduncolo rosso
Refosco is an autochthonous wine from the Triveneto area, whose name probably derives from “ràp fosc”, which means dark bunch. Refosco is produced with grapes from the “Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso” variety.
This wine has a great structure, a ruby color, a bouquet of wide, fruity aromas with spicy and toasted notes.
It goes well with fish and white and red meat dishes, cheeses and cold cuts.
Schioppettino is a wine that is perhaps not well known abroad. Its production is in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, and precisely in the Eastern Hills in the province of Udine, near the border with Slovenia, among the hills of an adequately ventilated area.
Made with 100% black berry schioppettino grapes.
Its color is ruby red with violet hues. The taste has a spicy, very elegant, with notes of fresh fruit, spicy and with a hint of green pepper, solid on the palate.
It goes well with polenta, croutons, duck and soft cured meats.
7. Teroldego Rotaliano
The production area of Teroldego Rotaliano is located in the province of Trento, in high altitude.
This wine has a rather intense ruby red color, sometimes with purple edges, a characteristic aroma, pleasantly fruity, particularly intense and a dry, sapid, slightly bitter taste, with a slight almond taste, a little body and slightly tannic.
It goes well with structured preparations such as red meats with brown sauces, baked and salmì game, aged cheeses, potato polenta, Trentino hare and Tyrolean chamois.
Lambrusco is the best-selling Italian red wine in Italy and exported to the world. The Lambrusco grapes are black, mostly grown in Emilia-Romagna in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia, in the Province of Parma and in Lombardy in the Province of Mantua.
It is an eclectic ruby-colored wine, sparkling and fruity, with a floral scent and low alcohol content. It has a wide range of types, colors, and sugary contents.
From dry to sweet, from dark ruby red to white, it goes well with appetizers, first soups, white meats and desserts.
9. Sangiovese di Romagna
Sangiovese is one of the most widespread vines in Italy, and the cultivation areas of Romagna are the best known. An ancient notary deed of 1672 found in the State Archive of Faenza is the first document known today where the name Sangiovese is found. It has a dry and harmonious flavor. It must be produced with Sangiovese grapes at least 85%.
It is a wine that accompanies the whole meal, especially soups, cappelletti or tortelloni with meat sauce or even with red meats and aged cheeses, poultry and roasts.
Chianti is a DOCG wine produced only in Tuscany. The “capitals” of Chianti are the cities of Florence and Siena and its lands extend right between the two provinces. The brand that distinguishes the Chianti Classico bottles is the famous Gallo Nero, which is found on all bottles.
Chianti Classico is produced with Sangiovese grapes for at least 80%
To best taste the Chianti Classico, the bottle must be opened a few hours before. Its color is ruby red and the predominantly tannic flavor which becomes velvety with aging.
It goes nicely with cooked meats, game but also with large aged cheeses and with full-bodied soups.
11. Nobile di Montepulciano
Nobile di Montepulciano is a DOCG wine with aristocratic roots, which is produced in the province of Siena. Produced with 70% Sangiovese grapes, its color is ruby red tending to garnet with aging, with an intense smell, with fruity notes of black cherry.
It has a dry, balanced and persistent flavor, with possible hints of wood.
It goes well with typical Tuscan dishes, such as Florentine steak, salami, sausage, finocchiona, braised red meat and livers.
12. Bolgheri Sassicaia
Bolgheri Sassicaia is a red DOC produced exclusively in the province of Livorno, in a hilly and ventilated area. It is produced with 80% of cabernet sauvignon grapes.
It has an intense ruby red color or garnet, vinous, rich and elegant aroma and dry, full, robust and harmonious flavor, with good and elegant structure.
It goes well with seasoned Tuscan Pecorino, cold meat and sausages, ribollita and among the first courses with fresh pasta such as fettuccine or seasoned with important sauces ( like Bolognese Sauce).
13. Sagrantino di Montefalco
The geographical area dedicated to the production of DOCG Montefalco Sagrantino wine extends in Umbria over the Perugia hills, in the municipalities of Bevagna, Castel Ritaldi, Giano dell’Umbria and Gualdo Cattaneo.
It is produced with 100% Sagrantino grapes and has an intense ruby red color sometimes with purple reflections and tending to garnet with aging, a delicate, characteristic smell reminiscent of blackberries and dry, bitter and harmonious flavor.
It goes well with roasts, game, sleeping game and hard cheeses. Baked pastries, tarts with blackberry or other red fruit jams.
14. Cesanese del Piglio
Cesanese del Piglio is a DOCG wine produced in Lazio Region, Frosinone area, precisely on the hills of Piglio with 90% Cesanese grapes.
It has an intense, broad smell, with floral and fruity notes, with a dry, harmonious flavor, good structure, with a pleasantly bitter aftertaste.
Pairings: seasoned cold cuts, bucatini all’amatriciana, first courses with meat sauces, lamb “alla Cacciatora”, “Pajata” (rigatoni seasoned with a typical Lazio sauce with veal entrails), grilled pork livers, stewed tripe, poultry and roast rabbit.
15. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
This red wine is produced in the provinces of Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo with 85% of Montepulciano grapes. The DOC must be aged for at least 24 months. It has a dry and savory flavor with notes of red fruit. It has a very light color ranging from ruby and cherry.
It goes well with first courses with meat sauce, grilled and baked red meats, grilled lamb, “caldaro” sheep, pork in porchetta, pork stew, various cheeses, soups and game.
Aglianico is a southern wine, produced mainly in Campania, with Aglianico black grapes, a southern Italian vine of Greek origin. Its characteristic is a bright ruby red color and a full and dry flavor, warm and not sour taste.
It goes very well with oven-cooked white meats, lamb with potatoes, medium-aged cheeses.
17. Primitivo di Manduria
Primitivo is an Apulian wine, produced mainly in Taranto and Brindisi area. It is produced with 85% of primitive grapes.
It has a pleasant and full flavor, but also sweet and natural, which tends to velvety with aging.
It goes well with roasted or stewed meats, there is also a liqueur type that goes perfectly with a dessert.
Negramaro is a wine whose grape variety is mainly grown in Salento. Its name is given by the color of the grape, decidedly dark, repeated in Latin Niger and in ancient Greek mavros.
The taste of this wine is slightly bitter but full, dry and round.
It goes well with gravy and grilled meat dishes, and is also perfect with legumes.
19. Nero d’Avola
Nero d’Avola is a Sicilian wine and is produced from the homonymous grape variety. It has a more or less intense flavor depending on the production area of the vineyard, and the type of aging.
It can have hints of cherry and plum, and also spicy and balsamic or earthy notes of licorice and rhubarb. It easily reaches 15 °.
If young, it goes well with fish-based preparations, such as swordfish “alla messinese”, if instead it is an aged and structured bottle, pair it with baked lasagna, arancini, pulled pork.
Cannonau is the typical and most known Sardinia island wine, produced with 85% cannonau and 15% black berried grapes.
Classic Cannonau is a bright ruby red wine that turns to garnet with aging, floral scent of rose or dry petal, fruity from ripe fruit, with a spicy and vegetable base from balsamic. The taste is typical, dry, sapid, full, very warm, soft, bitter aftertaste.
It goes well with first courses with meat sauces, roasted white and red meats, lamb on the spit and aged sheep’s cheeses.
So, this is our list of the 20 Italian Red Wines you can’t miss!
If you are curious to taste them, some of these wines you can find an excellent selection on Wineonsale (if you are in the USA) or on Wineshop (for EU area). Otherwise …. you just have to come and visit Italy and discover the authentic flavors of our “Bel Paese”!
Let us know your opinions, and if you like the topic and want more information, we could in the future integrate our overview with subsequent articles and try to let the most curious discover even those smaller and local wines and vines, which normally escape the great distribution.
We’d like to clarify that we are not experts or sommeliers, and that our intent is purely popular and based on our experience.
It is, as mentioned, a non-exhaustive overview, in which we have included the best-known wines.
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