Italy is a country that is renowned for many things, and one of these is their superb variety of wines throughout each region.
When we are on our Italian cycling tours, our ethos is all about immersion; eating and drinking what is local, and trying a variety of drinks to give you a superb ‘taste adventure’ when you are off the bike. This includes beers, apertifs, digestives and of course, the diverse local wines. It’s all part of the experience.
Here is a list of grape varieties that make up our top 10 favourite Italian wines from the regions we are touring in 2020. Some of these are straight varietals and others go towards making diverse styles such as the Sangiovese, being the key and main ingredient in the superb Chianti Classico Riserva – one of our firm favourites.
Native to Piemonte, traditionally Arneis was grown dotted throughout vineyards of Nebbiolo and Barbera and was often used to soften red wines. It was developed by pioneers like Cerreto, into one of Piemonte’s best and most popular whites and is one of our clear favourites, particularly given our Tour of Piemonte is on in the middle of Summer and nothing is nicer with dinner or our long lunch than a crisp glass of Arneis. Typically an Arneis is fruity with notes of apple, grapefruit and with a slight smokiness.
This is the most important white grape in the Veneto and the key ingredient for one of our all time favourite white wines, Soave. This is a variety with links to the ancient Etruscans. The fruit matures late and when fully ripe, has a dark yellow, almost red skin. It has a bouquet of almonds and white flowers, with the best examples ageing well.
A drink that needs no introduction, this sparkling wine is a traditional favourite across Italy and now across the world. It is made primarily from glera grapes with an additional 15% other varieties. There is a grand cru of Prosecco called Cartizze coming from a few very small parcels of land sitting 300 metres across the undulating hills near Valdobbiadene. These Cartizze wines are sensational and have more structure and complexity, but are often very hard to come by in Australia, so we love heading back to the Prosecco region, this year on our Giro d’Italia Tour and stopping in to a local cantina for a tasting and purchase.
4. Vernaccia di San Gimignano
The most famous of the Vernaccia’s, is the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which is grown around the amazing hilltop town of the same name in central Tuscany. We get to indulge in this superb wine on our final night on our Tour of Tuscany and we look forward to it every time. It is crisp, elegant and floral, and finishes with a bitter almond note.
The Barbera variety is the second most planted red grape variety in Italy. It is grown in the regions of Piemonte and Lombardia, which allows us to try this on our Giro d’Italia Tour and also our Tour of Piemonte. They say that Piemonte is the spiritual home of Barbera, and that it is there where it achieves its highest quality. Depending on where the wines are grown, production can range from wine that is deep ruby to purple in colour and with fine, silky tannins.
Dolcetto ranks third in Piemonte’s hierarchy following Nebbiolo and Barbera, and it is a variety that is rarely found outside its native region. The wine is brilliantly coloured red, is soft and supple and has moderate tannins. For us, Dolcetto di Dogliani is our favourite example and we look forward to returning to Piemonte every year to enjoy a few glasses, and stock up with a few bottles. It’s just an all round great wine and so easy to drink with so many different dishes.
This is a wine that we always get to sample on our Giro d’Italia tour and our tours in the Dolomites. Grown mainly in Trentino and Alto Adige, it needs a warm site for the fruit to ripen properly. The best examples have intense colour with pronounced red and black berry flavours, with the wine being less savoury than typical Italian reds. It’s a great wine for cold climates and heavier meals, and is why we enjoy drinking it with one of our special home cooked dinners with a local Ladin family in the Dolomites.
This is a grape variety that is found in eleven DOC red wines from the Salento peninsula in Puglia. Negroamaro means black and bitter, and with a very rustic character, its perfume is paired with an earthy bitterness. This is a grape that produces some of the best red wines from Puglia and it also goes into making the sensational Rosato wines in Puglia. In the midst of summer on our Tour of Puglia, we get to sample a “few” different rosato’s as we move through the different provinces in the heel of Italy.
This is a grape that dominates the wines and vineyards of central Italy and is found in most of the red wines of Tuscany. Not only is it made as a single varietal, it is also the primary component of many blends. It is thought that Sangiovese was used by the ancient Etruscans to make their wines. The classic aromas of Sangiovese are violets and roses and red fruits, however once it has matured in oak, it can develop vanilla, liquorice, chocolate and coffee notes as well. If you join us in Tuscany on either our Tour of Tuscany or L’Eroica Cycling Tour, you are sure to try many of these, all with different styles and varieties from the beautiful Chianti Classico’s to the classic Rosso di Montalcino and beyond.
They say that Nebbiolo is the grape that makes the greatest red wines of Italy. In Piemonte, it is the grape in Barolo and Barbaresco, often referred to as the king and queen of wines. Nebbiolo is extremely temperamental if not grown on a favourable site, but is also capable of tasting like ‘poetry in a glass’ as it ages for many decades. In Piemonte, it is made as a straight varietal however in the region of Lombardia, it is made at the foot of the Alps where it is called Valtellina Inferno, and is a discovery we made on our Giro d’Italia tour some years back while enjoying our zero km dinner, a highlight when we are in Bormio, the home of Stelvio.
Whichever Italian cycling tour you are on or region you tour in with us, you will get to experience a very diverse range of tastes and flavours every day, as we immerse you into an experience of Italy that is about much more than a ride.