8 Underrated Wine Regions in Italy That Should Be on Your Radar
Tuscany and Piedmont dominate the wine headlines, but Italy is blanketed by vineyards producing world-class labels that are virtually unknown beyond its borders. Wine enthusiasts may be familiar with blockbusters such as Brunello di Montalcino and Barbera d’Asti, but many have never tasted Sagrantino di Montefalco—one of Italy’s boldest, most tannic reds that comes from the quiet hills of Umbria—or Lacryma Christi, a wine produced on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Vesuvius and the closest existing relative to the vinum once quaffed by ancient Romans.
So, the next time you visit Italy, explore one of these under-the-radar wine regions and top up your glass with new discoveries.
For the native Sagrantino grape.
Set in the rolling countryside of central Umbria, Montefalco is known for its flagship Sagrantino di Montefalco, a red wine made from the native Sagrantino grape that’s only found in the swath of countryside that stretches between the towns of Montefalco and Bevagna. Located less than half an hour from Assisi and Perugia, the Montefalco hills are dotted with boutique wineries led by Arnaldo Caprai, the family-run cellar that first introduced Sagrantino di Montefalco wines to the international market. If the aggressive tannins of Sagrantino are too strong for your palate, try the more rounded Rosso di Montefalco cut with Sangiovese.
For small-scale, super local wines.
Towering over the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius is best known for the havoc it wreaked in 79 AD, when a massive eruption buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in scorching debris and blanketed the mountain’s own slopes in ash. Today, this fertile volcanic soil gives life to lush rows of white and red grapes used to produce local Lacryma Christi (or “tears of Christ”) wines. Stop at one of the tiny wineries at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius for a tasting of these hyper-local wines, a welcome break during a day of sightseeing at the nearby archaeological sites or a stopover on your way between Naples and the Amalfi Coast.
For incredible reds made with Veneto grapes.
Located within striking distance of both Verona and Lake Garda, the Valpolicella wine country is the birthplace of Amarone, among Italy’s finest reds. This full-bodied wine can hold its ground against hard-hitters such as Brunello and Barolo (though it has just a fraction of the name recognition). Made almost exclusively from native Veneto grapes including Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella that are air-dried to reduce their water content, Amarone packs a powerful punch—many labels have alcohol contents of around 15 percent. Today one of Italy’s most prestigious wines, Amarone has only been around since the 1950s so you can still visit many of its original producers, including Villa Novare (today called Villa Mosconi-Bertani).
Modena and Reggio Emilia
For retro favorite Lambrusco.
The hills between Modena and Reggio Emilia are the epicenter of Italy’s “Food Valley,” home to producers of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, and, of course, Lambrusco wine. This sparkling red has recently made a comeback from its low point in the 1980s, when sweet, fizzy commercial brands flooded the market. Today’s Lambrusco varieties are drier and more sophisticated, fast becoming Italy’s best-kept wine secret. Visit a local winery on its own or as part of a larger food tour to sample these easygoing wines in their 21st-century iteration.
For the full gamut—red, white, and rosé.
The “heel” of Italy’s “boot,” Puglia’s Salento peninsula has long been known for the quality olive oil produced from the monumental groves that cover much of the countryside, but this area is also a quiet producer of excellent red, white, and rosé wines. Set out from Lecce to tour the wineries that dot the plains towards the coast and north to the Val d’Itria and sample the intense reds (made from Primitivo, Malvasia Nera, and Negroamaro grapes) and aromatic whites (made from Malvasia Bianca, Verdeca, Chardonnay, and Fiano grapes) coming out of these little-known cellars.
For refreshing white wines.
You may be surprised to learn that one of Italy’s top wine regions is an easy day trip from Rome. Set in the Castelli Romani just about half an hour southeast of the capital, the Frascati hills have been home to vineyards for millennia and the white wines produced here were beloved by everyone from the ancient Romans to Grand Tour aristocrats. Today, Frascati DOC and DOCG wines (made mostly from Malvasia, Grechetto, and Trebbiano grapes) continue to draw enthusiasts eager to take a break from the heat and bustle of the city.
For signature Trebbiano and Montepulciano wines.
From towering mountain peaks to long stretches of sandy coastline, Abruzzo has it all. This region also encompasses scenic vineyards that produce its signature white Trebbiano and red Montepulciano wines, as well as respectable B-listers including Pecorino, Passerina, and Cerasuolo. Break up your alpine hiking or Adriatic sunbathing to explore the wine-producing area around Chieti and Pescara, eschewing the region’s huge commercial cooperatives for boutique, independent wineries that are beginning to make news with their innovative techniques and award-winning wines.
For local wines and specialities.
Like Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Etna benefits from the layers of volcanic ash that have blanketed its slopes over the millennia, creating a layer of fertile soil that’s ideal for nourishing vineyards. Most Mt. Etna wines are produced on the lower eastern slopes, making the cellars easy to reach from Taormina and Catania or as part of a day trip to the lava fields covering the peak. Try DOC wines such as Etna Rosso, made primarily from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes, and Etna Bianco made from Carricante and Catarratto grapes.
Insider tip: While you’re there, don’t miss the other famed specialties produced on the volcano’s slopes, including honey, almonds, pistachios, and fruit from strawberries to apples.