Italy

Grape Types

Robust, top-quality southern Italian red grape variety found mainly on the volcanic slopes of Campania and Basilicata in Italy's south. It is thought to have been introduced by the Ancient Greeks when they colonised southern Italy between 600-500 B.C. It is the sole component of what used to be one of Italy’s greatest red wines, Campania's Taurasi, now experiencing something of a comeback thanks to a new wave of passionate quality conscious wine-growing in Southern Italy. Its other great expression is in neighbouring Basilicata, Aglianico del Vulture.
A white grape variety indigenous to Piedmont in North West Italy. It can produce excellent medium-bodied, dry wines that are for the most part tank fermented and bottled young. The wines can show markedly 'Rhônesque' flavours of greengage and peach.
As widely planted in Italy as Sangiovese, but at its best in the hills around Alba and Asti in Italy's north-west, where it is planted on east and west facing slopes. Good, low-cropped Barbera has a deep colour, low tannins, crisp acidity and rich fruit flavours of forest fruit, cherry and, particularly, blueberry. It works well either as a tank-aged fruit driven wine or, chiefly for the old vines and well-placed single vineyard sites, as a complex, silky barrique-aged wine.
Ripening earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc acts both as great blender with its special herb infused red berry fragrance, and at the same time as a form of insurance policy.

On the cooler, clay soils of the Right Bank it adds backbone to many of the Merlot-dominated St Emilions and Pomerols. There are a small number of outstanding Cabernet Franc-based blends on the right bank, the most sought after being Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Le Dôme, Angelus and Vieux Château Certan. Outside of Bordeaux it's the major red grape of the Loire valley, where huge strides in quality have been made over the last decade by producers such as Yannick Amirault, Domaine de la Butte, Charles Joguet and Château de Hureau. Here it is mainly produced as a 100% single varietal wine, highly expressive, pungently scented, vital and silky.
Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for many of the world's greatest wines and is, arguably, the grandest of all red wine varieties. This thick-skinned, late-ripening variety performs best in the warm, gravelly soils of the Médoc in Bordeaux, usually blended with lesser amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon is often packed full of cedar, herb and blackcurrant notes. Leaning towards musk, pencil lead and cigar-box in its home region of Bordeaux. Its deep-colour, assertive tannins and affinity with oak allow the wines to improve in bottle over many years if not decades. It is equally capable of producing affordable, everyday reds in regions like the south of France's Pays d'Oc, and countries like Bulgaria and Chile as it is of producing wines with real finesse and class. The best of which come from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany and parts of Australia, particularly Margaret River. Latterly, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are laying claim to some very good blends and varietals made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Indigenous to Etna in Sicily, old-vine Carricante is seeing something of a resurgence in producing excellent white wines on Mont Etna, Tenuta Tere Nerre's Etna Bianco is an excellent example
Piedmontese dry white with crisp Alpine acidity probably best appreciated in the wines of Gavi and also forming part of Verona's Bianco di Custoza, fuller high-quality barrel-fermented examples produced around Barbaresco.
Not sweet despite its name this is a north-west Italian variety that has a deep colour low acidity and high tannin levels. Made for drinking young, it's alive with blossom and herb aromatics and vibrant cherry fruit flavours. It is a finicky grape that does not like excessive heat or cold so it tends to work well on the high altitude south facing slopes in Montelupo and Dogliani, or the north facing lower sites in and around the Barolo Communes. Dolcetto is generally aged in old oak or steel tank.
This is the classic white grape of Soave Classico and, being relatively low yielding contrary to the notorious Trebbiano, is the high quality grape of the region. From top hillside sites producers such as Gini make characterful wines bursting with crisp citrus and pear fruit, ageing and developing nicely in bottle with hints of peach, honeydew melon and almond coming through.
The supple, alluring plummy characteristics of Merlot have made it hugely popular the world over. It is often blended with the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon, though on its own there are some very serious, long-lived examples in Pomerol and Saint Emilion, where it is planted on both cool clay and hotter gravely soils. It is grown more extensively throughout France and the rest of the world to produce soft, approachable, uncomplicated wines, namely in the Languedoc, Chile, California, Italy and Australia.
There are four main varieties of Muscat, the finest being Muscat à Petits Grains, followed by Muscat of Alexandria, then Muscat Hamburg and the lesser Muscat Ottonel. Renowned for its grapey aromatic character, Muscat is the great Mediterranean vine of antiquity, producing a variety of white wine styles, from the full-bodied dry whites of Alsace, to the sweet, fortified Muscats of Beaumes de Venise, Rivesaltes and Frontignan, to the lightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti wines of Piedmont that make for enthralling, refreshing aperitif or after dinner drinking.
Arguably Italy's greatest red grape variety, responsible in North-West Italy’s Piedmont region for the great reds of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero. At its best it produces wines of an aromatic complexity and subtlety similar to that of great Burgundy, a region from where many pioneering producers such as Elio Altare drew their inspiration. The aromas and flavours are very different in profile to Pinot Noir however, usually characterised by roses, tar and truffle. Naturally tannic and acidic, Nebbiolo wines are excellent for long term ageing.
A grape variety indigenous to Sicily, long-forgotten until a few years ago. It has been recently revived by Marco de Grazia's Tenuta del Terre Nerre where it is grown on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. The wines have a real Burgundian elegance and charm to them, with the balance and finesse to ensure good ageing.
One of the five permitted varieties in red Bordeaux, Petit Verdot is late ripening and thick skinned, it is not widely planted but is now being used increasingly, albeit in minute quantities, in Bordeaux and in Bordeaux blends across the 'New World'.
Pinot Gris is also known as Tokay Pinot Gris in Alsace though the prefix Tokay was dropped to appease the Tokaji Wine governing body in Hungary. This is a slightly spicier and more expressive version of its stablemate, Pinot Blanc, and actually a mutation of Pinot Noir. It is one of the chief dry white varieties in Alsace, but also produces some deliciously sweet, age worthy, late-harvest styles. It is the same grape as northern Italy's Pinot Grigio, Germany's Grauburgunder or Ruländer and Hungary's Szürkebarát and is starting to become fashionable in New Zealand.
Meaning Blood of Jove, or Jupiter, Sangiovese is the noble grape of Chianti, Carmignano, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile de Montpulciano. A fussy grape to grow, but when done properly can produce some of the world’s most enthralling red wines. It can produce lively, sappy young reds with juicy, cherry flavours, as well as more concentrated, long-lived, oak-matured reds with superb, savoury, herb and spice flavours. Quality has soared over the last year as productive clones have been grubbed up and since the old practices of blending it with weak, lean white grape varieties have died down.
There are various styles of Sauvignon Blanc from the fragrant, fresh Loire Valley style reminiscent of cut-grass, gooseberry, flint and nettles, to the contrasting Bordeaux-style, often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle and barrel-fermented to produce the richer, if less assertive, food friendly dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves. At the same time, it is also a vital component in the sweet, rich and luscious whites of Sauternes and Barsac. As a dry wine it has sprung to particular fame in New Zealand where it is made in a very pungent, expressive style with notes of kiwi passion fruit and mango. While South Africa has also had great success with the variety. Generally considered for youthful consumption, age-worthy examples can be found in Bordeaux, and the Loire from the likes of Didier Dagueneau and François Cotat.
The great red grape of the northern Rhône where it reaches its optimum levels in the violet-scented muscular wines of Hermitage and the graceful sappy Côte Rôties, which in the latter case is sometimes blended with Viognier. The wines of Cornas are renowned as producing Syrah-based wines very close in quality to Hermitage, while St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage also represent some good value examples. It is also a component of many southern Rhône reds, namely Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As Shiraz, it is Australia's most important red variety, found in various guises from ripe fruit-forward commercial wines to intense concentrated old vine cuvees such as Grange and those of Clarendon Hills. In the best instances Syrah/Shiraz produces deep, spicy, age-worthy wines.
Trebbiano is the Italian version of the light and un-interesting French Ugni Blanc or Spanish Airen. Often used in producing Vin Santo.