TRENTINO - ALTO ADIGE
What to look for - Refreshing wines that bridge the gap between Germany, Austria and Italy.
Location - North-east Italy, bordering Austria.
Quality - Fifty per cent of total production comes from the Alto Adige (Sud Tirol, or South Tyrol), Trentino, Terlano, Santa Maddalena and Teroldego Rotaliano DOCs.
Style - Dry, fresh, fruity whites that, when carefully made, are some of the best-made varietals in Italy. Rosatos are likewise very fruity. Reds can be full of varietal character: styles range from light and fruity to rich, full-bodied, almost chocolatey wines which become mellow and spicy with age. Decent methode champenoise sparkling whites are made: look for those produced by Ferrari and Equipe 5.
Climate - In general, summers are hot and winters cold, even severe, but there are considerable unpredictable variations in weather patterns.
Cultivation - Some 90 per cent of this Alpine region is mountainous.
Grape varieties - Virtually all of the wines with the Alto Adige (Sud Tiroler) DOC are single varietals containing over 95 per cent of the named grape, so varieties are important and varied, Reds include the Lagrein, Vernatsch (Schiava), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, Merlot, Teroldego Rotaliano; Whites: Chardonnay, Weissburgunder (Pinot Bianco), Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Tocai, Muller-Thurgau, Rhine Riesling, Riesling Italico, Sauvignon Blanc, Sylvaner.
Production/maturation - Trentino-Alto Adige was the first region in Italy to employ cold fermentation, and has since been the leading are for the adoption of modern vinification techniques. Partly because of their cosmopolitan nature, the wine-makers of the Alto Adige are open to experimentation with foreign grape varieties, and oak is currently being tested.
Longevity - Most whites and rosatos are for early drinking, though Chardonnay and Traminer Aromatico can be kept for up to 10 years. Most reds are at their best after 3 to 5 years.
Vintage guide - Reds: 85, 86, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95. Wines reflect the character of the vintage to a greater extent than in other Italian regions. The unpredictable nature of the climate is especially important for red vintages.
What to look for - Light cherryish reds, rich, raisiny reds and whites with the character of the dried grapes from which they were made.
Location - North-east Italy, bordered by the Adriatic, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli, Austria and the river Po in the south.
Quality - Soave is Italy's largest white DOC which, together with red Valpolicella and Bardolino, accounts for well over half of the region's output. Other DOCs: Breganze, colli Berici, Gambellara, Piave Raboso, Recioto di Soave/della Valpolicella/della Valpolicella Amarone.
Style - Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino are, because of the size of their output, often cheap, dull commercial even rather nasty, wines but one can get much higher quality at only a slightly higher price. Soave at its best is dry and nutty with a pleasant creamy texture, and Recioto di Soave can be lusciously delicious. Bardolino is soft and light with some cherry-stone bitterness - it needs to be drunk young. Valpolicella is richer, heavier version of Bardolino, and single-vineyard wines reveal a much greater depth of plummy fruit. The rich, alcoholic, port-like Recioto della Valpolicella can be dry (amarone) or sweet (amabile). Fine Cabernet Sauvignons are made by Maculan (Breganze) and Conte Loredan-Gasparini (Venegazzu della Casa), and some excellent-value wines with soft, plummy fruit are made from the indigenous Raboso grape. The Prosecco grape is capable of producing some decent sparkling wines at Conegliano.
Climate - Hot summers and warm autumns, winters are cold and can be foggy
Cultivation - Alluvial plains in the coastal region provide very fertile soil for vine growing.
Grape varieties - Red: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Corvina, Rondinela, Molinara, Negrara, Raboso, Pinot Nero. White: Garganega, Trebbiano, Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Tocai, Riesling Verduzzo.
Production/maturation - Veneto is dominated by co-operatives and industrial concerns which mass-produce cheap commercial wines. A Bordeaux influence can be detected in the production of some of the Cabernets and Merlots. Recioto is produced frm passito grapes, slowly fermented to give their characteristic alcoholic strength and richness.
Longevity - Reds: Most basic reds should be drunk within 5 years; Recioto can be left for some 15 years; good Cabernets for 10 years; Whites: Basic whites - within 1 year; good Soave Classico 2-4 years; Recioto di Soave, Torcolato up to 10 years.
Vintage guide - Reds: 85, 86, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95
What to look for - Exciting, tangy and richer, fuller-bodied whites, good reds from "French" varieties and spicy reds from indigenous grapes.
Location - North-east Italy, on the Slovenian border.
Quality - One-third of production is from seven DOC area - Grave del Friuli, Carso, Collio, Colli Orientali, Latisana, Isonzo and Aquilea.
Style - Whites are crisp and dry at best, with tangy lemon fruit. There is also a fine pair of new-wave vino da tavola whites: Ronco delle Acacie, which combines this appealing fresh fruit with understated new oak, and Vintage Tunina, which has the added weight and richness of Chardonnay. Some dessert wines, notably the very pricy Picolit and Verduzzo di Ramandolo, are also produced. Reds are generally light, refreshing and slightly grassy, but the local Schioppettino produces a big, spicy wine with rich fruit flavours which can mature extremely well. Friuli produces some of Italy's best varietal Cabernets and Merlots.
Climate - Cool European climate with warm summers and cold winters. Extremes are moderated by the Adriatic. Lack of sun may be a problem for reds in some years.
Cultivation - Flat, alluvial plains with the better vineyards in the hills.
Grape varieties - Red: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Refosco, Schioppettino; White: Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Tocai, Pinot Grigio, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco, Picolit, Ribolla, Traminer, Muller-Thurgau, Verduzzo.
Production/maturation - Stainless steel and cold-fermentation have been widely adopted to the detriment, in some cases, of the personalities of the grape varieties. More recently there has been some experimentation with oak in order to add complexity to the fruit flavours.
Longevity - Reds may last for 8 years - Schioppettino can be kept for 5-15 years - although most are best drunk within 3-5 years. Whites are at their best within 1-3 years of the vintage. The "super-deluxe" vino da tavola whites can benefit from up to 8 years' ageing.
Vintage guide - Reds: 85, 86, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95.
What to look for - Rich, tannic reds; lighter, juicy reds from Dolcetto; crisp, dry whites, aromatic, grapey fizz.
Location - North-west Italy, in the foothills of the Alps around Turin.
Official quality - Barolo and Barbaresco are two of only five Italian reds with the top level DOCG designation, Around 25 per cent of production of DOC, notably Asti Spumante, Barbera, Gavi, Gattinara, Ghemme, Moscato d'Asti, Dolcetto, Arneis and Freisa.
Style - Some dry, lemony whites are produced at Gavi, while a rich and full-flavoured wine is made from the Arneis, an ancient grape variety grown in the foothills of the Alps, north of Alba. The region around Asti is renowned for its light, refreshing, grapey spumante wines. Equally famous are the massive, chewy reds of Barolo and Barbaresco, wines that can take many years to reveal all of their complexities. Rich in tannins and high in acidity, both have a variety of fruit flavours - raisins, plums, prunes, blackberries - together with liquorice, chocolate and a whiff of smoke. Also from the nebbiolo grape, but more readily approachable, are Gattinara, Ghemme, Nebbiolo d'Alba and Spanna, the local name for Nebbiolo. Barbera from Alba, Asti and Monferrato can produce a rich, raisiny wine with good underlying acidity. The Dolcetto makes soft, juicy wines which at their best combine succulent cherry fruit with bitter chocolate.
Climate - Severe winters with plenty of fog - the "nebbia" of Nebbiolo - relatively hot summers and long autumns, although lack of sunshine can cause problems.
Cultivation - The best vineyards, in Barolo, are situated on free-draining, south-facing hillsides. Around Asti the hills are much gentler. Soils are varied, but calcareous marl mixed with sand and clay predominates.
Grape varieties - Red: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Bonarda, Vespolina. White: Moscato, Arnies, Cortese, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco.
Production/maturation - Traditionally, Barolo spent a long ageing period in wooden vats; today, ordinary Barolo is released at 3 years old, riserva at 4 years old and riserva speciale at 5 years old, and there has been a move away from oak to bottle age. Barbaresco must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, one of which must be in oak. Asti is made by the cuve close method.
Longevity - Reds: drink Dolcetto within 3 years, but most other reds (barbera, Ghemme Gattinara, good Spanna) require 4-12 years. Barbaresco can be kept for 5-20 years while Barolos are capable of ageing for between 8 and 25 years. Whites: Asti and Moscato d'Asti should be drunk within a year. Gavi requires 2-3 years.
Vintage guide - Reds: 78, 82, 83, 85, 86, 88, 89, 90. Whites: 95, 95.
What to look for - Light, crisp whites; reds ranging from light and fresh to richer, more tannic; the occasional dessert wine; some fizz.
Location - Northwest Italy. Lombardy is in the foothills of the Alps around Turin while Valle d'Aosta is very much in the Alps. Liguria is in the Appennine country of the coastal strip around Genoa.
Official quality - Mostly vino da tavola with a few DOCs in each region, notably Lombardy with Franciacorta, Lugana, Oltrepo Pavese and Vatellina. Liguria has 3 DOCs, Cinque Terre, Riviera Ligure di Ponente and Dolceacqua.
Style - Valle d'Aosta makes fresh, tart white wines and lihgt, fruity reds for local consumption. Donnaz, from Nebbiolo grapes is sturdier stuff and is one of only two DOCs in this region, the other being the softer Enfer d'Arvier. Some good dessert wines are made. Liguria, again, produces a lot of wine for local consumption from over 100 grape varieties. Lombardy produces some very good methode champenoise wines at Franciacorta, dry with a fine biscuity character. Franciacorta also produces some rich, bitter-sweet reds and smooth, fruity whites. Oltrepo Pavese produces many styles of red and white, the best being red Barberas. Valtellina produces rich reds from the Nebbiolo. Some pleasant whites are made at Lugana.
Climate - Winters are severe, but the growing season is hot and long.
Cultivation - A wide range of soils, with calcaerous marl being common. Relief ranges from the Apline scenery of Valle d'Aosta to the alluvial plains of the river Po.
Grape varieties - Red: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bonarda, Cabernet Franc, Rossola, Brugnola, Pinot nero. White: Trebbiano, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Uva, Chardonnay, Riesling.
Production/maturation - Sparkling wines are generally made by the methode champenoise.
Longevity - Most whites are for early drinking. The sparkling wines may be fruitfully kept for 2 to 3 years. The reds of Valle d'Aosta are best drunk young. Oltrepo Pavese: 2-5 years; Franciacorta: 3-8 years, Valtellina: 5-15 years; Other reds: 2-8 years.
Vintage guide - Reds: 82,83,85,86,90,94.
What to look for - Good traditional and excitingly made modern reds. Pleasant, whites.
Official quality - Possesses 3 of the 6 DOCGs in Brunello in Montalcino, Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Notable DOCs are Carmignano, Pomino and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. There are also some red vini da tavola ("Super-Tuscans") such as Solaia and Tignanello which, like Sassicaia should soon get their own DOCs.
Style - Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the most famous local white. Smooth and nutty, with lots of fresh fruit and a hint of honey, it should be drunk within 2 to 3 years. Galestro and Pomino, a blend of Trebbiano, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay, are both good. Chianti is by far the most important Italian red but, as a consequence of its large production, quality varies considerably. However, single-estate and riserva wines show god depth of raspberry and cherry fruit, gentle oak and a whiff of tobacco. Produced nearby, Carmignano gains chocolatey richness from around 10 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, while Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has a richer, generous fruit character in its finest wines. Mature Brunello di Montalcino, at its best, is rich, heady and complex, full of concentrated dried fruit, plum and tobacco flavours. Some of the best wines of Tuscany, though, are the new-wave, barrique-aged wines from a handful of producers using Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon or a blend of the two. The sherry-like Vin Santo, a red or white passito wine, can be dry, semi-sweet or sweet and, at its best, has a fine concentrated richness.
Climate - Summers are long and fairly dry. Winters are cold.
Cultivation - The best vineyards are on free-draining exposed hillsides where altitude moderates the long, hot growing season. Soils are complex; galestro, a crystalline rocky soil, dominates the best vineyards.
Grape varieties - Red: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Brunello, Canaiolo Nero, Colorino, Mammolo; White: Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vernaccia, Grechetto, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc.
Production/maturation - Barrique-ageing has become much more common. Vin Santo is still very traditional, with grapes being dried indoors and the wine being aged for up to 6 years in sealed casks.
Longevity - Reds: Chianti: 3-6 years for ordinary Chianti, but up to 20 for the best; Brunello di Montalcino: 10-25 years; Vino Nobile 6-25 years; barrique-aged reds: 5-25 years: Other reds: 3-10 years; Whites: up to 5 years, although Vin Sant can last far longer.
Vintage guide - 85, 87, 88, 90, 91, 94, 95.
What to look for - Characterful whites and - from Lungarotti - tasty modern reds
Official quality - Approximately 10 per cent of production is DOC, the best-known of which are Orvieto, Torgiano, Est!Est!!Est!!! and Frascati.
Style - Frascati is the most significant white of Latium. Often very dull, it can have soft, refreshing citrus fruit. Est! Est!! Est!!! is the most memorable name - but the same cannot be said of this often disappointing dry or semi-sweet wine itself. Orvieto, sadly, is rarely seen at its best, when it has a lovely fat richness to it, combining honey and peaches with nutty overtones. It can be dry or semi-sweet (abbocato/amabile), the latter style often including botrytized grapes. Two good oaked Chardonnays are produced by Antinori and Lungarotti. Torgiano, the Umbrian DOC created and virtually wholly owned by Dr Lungarotti, produces well-structured reds that are packed with soft, plummy fruit coupled with a good portion of oak. Lungarotti also makes a fine Cabernet Sauvignon, rich, perfumed and well-balanced. Torre Ercolana and Fiorano are good Cabernet-Merlot blends produced in Latium. Falerno, by contrast, is rich and rustic.
Climate - Hot, dry summers and warm autumns. Winters are fairly mild.
Cultivation - Soils vary greatly but outcrops of limestone, clay and gravel are frequent. Most vineyards are located on hillsides for drainage and exposure to the sun while altitude is used to moderate the heat.
Grape varieties - Red: Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cesanese, Montepulciano, barbera, Agilianico, Aliegiolo; White: Trebbiano, Malvasia, Grechetto, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco.
Production/maturation - Modern vinification techniques are resulting in a general improvement in the quality of wines. Experimental blending of foreign grapes with indigenous varieties has shown what potential can be realized by wine-makers in Italy and has given added impetus to similar experimentation elsewhere.
Longevity - Most whites should be drunk young, within 1 to 3 years. Some Orvieto abbocato can be aged for up to 10 years while the few examples of oak-aged Chardonnay can be matured for 3 to 8 years. The majority of basic reds can be drunk within 5 years though Torgiano can be kept for 3 to 8 years, the riserva for 5 t 12 and Torre Ercolana and Fiorano require some 5 years to show their class and can last for 12 to 15 years.
Vintage guide - Reds: 90, 91, 93, 94, 95.
EMILIA - ROMAGNA
What to look for - Light, tangy reds (including "real" Lambrusco) and tasty Sauvignon whites.
Location - The region surrounding Bologna in central-east Italy.
Official quality - Contains the first white DOCG, Albana di Romagna, and a number of DOCs but the bulk of the production is vino da tavola. DOCs you may come across are Colli Bolognesi and Sangiovese di Romagna.
Style - Straightforward commercial wines of all types, including sparkling and semi-sparkling. The generally dull Albana di Romagna typifies much of the white-wine production. It comes in either a dry or semi-sweet version that may be spumante. Fortunately there are a few outstanding wines, such as the buttery Terre Rosse Chardonnay or Baldi's rich, balanced Sangiovese reds. Lambrusco is by far the most well-known wine produced in the region and may be dry, semi-sweet or sweet, red, white or rosato, barely frizzantino or virtually sparkling. Traditional red Lambrusco is low in alcohol, off-dry and full of ripe, cherry-flavoured fruit. "Commercial" Lambrusco, recognizable by its screwcap, is more like fizzy pop.
Climate - Hot, dry Mediterranean summers, the effects of which are alleviated by altitude and aspect. Winters are cool.
Cultivation - Flat plains of rich alluvial soil, notably in the valley of the river Po, result in abundant yields. The best vineyards are, however, located in the well-drained foothills of the Appennines.
Grape varieties - Red: Sangiovese, Barbera, Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, Cabernet Franc; White: Trebbiano, Lambrusco, Albana, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Muller-Thurgau.
Production/maturation - Viticultural practices and vinification techniques are as varied as the quality of the reds. Bulk-blending is used of the commercial wines but elsewhere traditional practices are maintained with the adoption of modern methods where necessary.
Longevity - Most wines - red, white or rosato - are best drunk young, although the quality reds of producers like Baldi, Vallania and Vallunga may need up to 15 years to be at their best. Terre Rosse Chardonnay requires 2-5 years.
Vintage guide - Vintages have little effect on the majority of commercial or blended wines from this fertile area.
MARCHE/ABRUZZI - MOLISE
What to look for - Rich, traditional reds to drink with game and light appley whites.
Location - Central-east Italy.
Official quality - The majority of wines are vini da tavola but around 12 per cent are DOC, notably Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Biferno.
Style - Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi is the most famous wine of Marche which, at its best, has a full appley flavour with hints of honey and nut. Rosso Piceno produces firm, fruity, some-times herby reds with good acidity. Those from Rosso Conero are richer more complex, combining under-ripe plums, dried fruit and herbs with a pinch of spice. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ought to be the only wine of real quality from the Abruzzi region; at its best it can be full of ripe, plummy fruit with a velvety texture and fine balancing acidity. The rosato is called Cerasuolo. Molise produces tannic reds and dry rosatos that as yet have proved unexciting.
Climate - Typical Mediterranean climate with dry, not summers and cool winters. Cooler micro-climates occur at higher altitudes.
Cultivation - Limestone and granite outcrops occur often in these hilly regions, although alluvial soils dominate in the coastal plains.
Grape varieties - Red: Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, Merlot; White: Trebbiano, Malvasia, Verdicchio, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italico.
Production/maturation - Still a traditional area, although modern methods are beginning to creep in. Barrique-ageing is employed for Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno and for some whites. Molise in particular requires considerable investment to improve its poorly equipped wine industry.
Longevity - Reds:Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno: 5-15 years: Montepulciano d'Abruzzo: 4-20 years, depending on the style and the producer; Other reds: up to 8 years; Whites:. within 4 years of the vintage, though most are best drunk young.
Vintage guide - Reds: 90, 91, 93, 94, 95.
What to look for - Hefty reds, a few traditional, characterful Greco whites, sweet and fortified wines and, most excitingly, the impact of modern wine-making on unusual indigenous grape varieties.
Official quality - The vast majority is vino da tavola with small quantities of DOC wine. DOCs include: Castel del Monte, Primitivo di Manduria, Salice Salentino, and Squinzano in Apulia; Aglianico del Vulture, Ciro and Greco di Bianco in Basilicata; Greco di Tufo, Taurasi and Vesuvio in Campania; Marsala, Malvasia di Lipori and Etna in Sicily; and Cannonau di Sardegna in Sardinia.
Style - Most whites are dull and flabby while the reds are rich, heady concoctions. Nevertheless, there are a growing number of crisper, more characterful wines. Apulia produces a great deal of ordinary wine but Il Falcone, Castel del Monte Riserva and Favorio are good, fruity exceptions. Full-bodied, robust reds f good quality can also be found from Squinzano, Salice Salentino and Manduria. A light, well-balanced and fragrantly fruity rosato is produced b Calo as Rosa del Golfo. Famous for Lacrima Christi del vesuvio, which is produced in all styles, Campania's best wines are the robust and rustic Falerno and the Vigorous Taurasi with its rich chocolate, liquorice and herby flavours. Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellano are good, dry fruity whites. The rich, bitter-sweet, chocolate-cherry Aglianico del Vulture from ad'Angelois Basilicata's only wine of real quality while the same can be said of Calabria's luscious and vibrantly sweet Greco di Bianco. Sicily is famous for its fortified Marsalas but produces full, smooth and fruity reds - Corveo and Regaleali - and the nearby island of Lipari makes some great, grapey Malvasia and some well-made crisp, dry whites. Sardinia produces a full range of styles: best are the improving, Beaujolais-style Cannonau, the aromatic Moscato, the dry, slightly bitter Vernaccia, and Sella e Mosca's port-like Anghelu Ruju.
Climate - The hottest and driest part of Italy, though altitude and sea-breezes have some moderating effect.
Cultivation - Apulia has fertile plains and gentle slopes but much of the rest of this area is composed of volcanic hills and outcrops of granite. The best vineyard sites are located on the cooler, higher north-facing slopes. New grape varieties and earlier harvesting, which preserves what acidity the grapes can muster in this hot climate, have been employed to good effect.
Grape varieties - Red: Aglianico, Barbera, negroamaro, Primitivo, Malvasia Nera, Cannonau, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pinot Nero, Carignan, Montepulciano, Monica; White: Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay Trebbiano, Greco, Vernaccia, Vermentino, Torbato, Sauvignon, Moscato, Malvasia, Fiano, Inzolia, Grillo, Catarratto.
Production/maturation - Poverty, together with unrelenting heat, results in a large amount of ordinary wine. But considerable modernization of equipment has been undertaken in some areas, notably in Sicily and Sardinia, with evident improvements in quality. Temperature-controlled fermentation and early bottling are beginning to show improved results.
Longevity - Reds: Most should be drunk within 5 years. The following are exceptions - Il Falcone, Aglianico del Vulture, Taurasi: 8 to 20 years; Favorito: 3 to 10 years. Whites: Most are for drinking within 1 to 3 years, though Greco di Bianco requires 3-5 years.
Vintage guide - 81, 82, 83, 85, 86, 88, 90, 94.