Choosing a Region
Italy has twenty wine-growing regions. International visitors usually focus on one or two: Tuscany and Umbria are popular destinations, as they're easily accessible from major cities like Rome and Florence, while Veneto, Lombardy, and Trentino-Alto Adige can be added on as side trips from Milan or Venice.
Since Italy is small and destinations are relatively close together, it's possible to travel to try wines in several areas of the country on a single trip. Whether you're interested in sipping crisp white wine by the beach or strolling through ancient vineyards surrounded by rolling hills and olive groves, there's an Italian wine country destination waiting for you. Read on for an overview of six of the country's most popular regions for wine-tasting.
|Region||Scenery||Varietal||Best for||Closest city|
|Tuscany||Rolling hills||Sangiovese||Quick wine country escape||Florence|
|Piedmont||Mountains and valleys||Barolo||Slow food and castle stays||Turin|
|Umbria||Hills and lakes||Grechetto||Fresh truffles||Rome|
|Veneto||Adriatic coast||Prosecco||White wine and water views||Venice|
|Lombardy||Alps and Lake Como||Sparkling wines||Peace and quiet||Milan|
|Southern Italy||Rugged coastline||Nero d’Avola||Island-hopping||Naples|
If you have time for just one wine region in Italy, Tuscany is an excellent choice. Extending from Italy's west coast through the hilly inland, encompassing medieval cities like Siena and charming hilltop villages like San Gimignano, Tuscany is easy to reach from Florence or Rome. Wine production here dates back as early as the 7th century BCE; today, popular varietals include Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and Carmignano, as well as so-called "Super Tuscan" blends that are made with several different grapes.
Many travelers experience the region on an organized day tour. Tuscany is wonderful to explore on your own, too—or with a guide and a driver if you're planning to taste more than a few wines. If you're going to spend a few days, base yourself in Montepulciano, a town famous for its red wine of the same name, and don't miss a drive to the Tuscan coast and the mountains of the Garfagnana, near Lucca.
Come for the Barbera and Barolo, stay for the leisurely "slow food"-style meals and the beautiful mountain scenery. Piedmont, in Italy's northwest near the border of France and Switzerland, is renowned all over the world for its fruity red wines, including Dolcetto, Gattinara, and, of course, Barbera and Barolo—you'll also find dry white wines like Cortese and sparkling varieties like Moscato d'Asti.
Turin is the region's capital, though wine production centers around Alba and Asti. Book a tour or explore the region's many wineries independently. Having a rental car will allow you the freedom to discover some of Piedmont's cultural highlights, including historic Fenestrelle Fortress, overlooking the village of Fenestrelle, or the Santuario of Vicoforte, a medieval sanctuary in Cuneo. Staying a few nights? Basing yourself in Langhe, home to many B&Bs and wineries, or splurge on a stay in a grand castle-turned-hotel like Castello di Pavone.
Check out this eight-day food and wine-themed tour of Italy for more ideas and inspiration.
Bordering Tuscany and Lazio, green Umbria is characterized by its quiet forests—where delicious truffles sprout up in fall, shaping seasonal cuisine—and medieval hill towns that are just as charming to view from afar as they are to wander through. Like Tuscany, Umbria is an accessible wine region to visit from either Rome or Florence, either by tour or independently.
Umbria has 13 sub-regions where you'll find both red and white wines. Popular reds include Sangiovese, Merlot, and Sangiovese-based blends that incorporate Sagrantino, a native grape that's unique to Umbria. Grechetto, similar to Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, is the white grape beloved all over this part of Italy: dry and fruity, with notes of apple and lemon, it's the white wine to try.
While here, don't miss a visit to the lovely town of Orvieto with its 14th-century cathedral, and in nearby Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi. Adventurous travelers and outdoor enthusiasts can side-trip to the Cascata delle Marmore, the tallest manmade waterfall in the world. Made by the ancient Romans, it's part of a natural reserve that attracts hikers and whitewater rafters. Stop in Perugia, the region's capital, for a stroll down pedestrian promenade Corso Vannucci and an hour or two in the excellent Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria art museum.
Bubbly is the name of the game in Veneto: Prosecco, Italy's answer to French champagne, was invented here. Veneto, outside of Venice in the country's northeast, is a large wine region bordering the Alps. The mountain range protects the vineyards from colder weather on the other side, but Veneto is still comparatively cool, making it well-suited for the cultivation of white wines like Garganega. Further from the mountains, near the Adriatic coast, red wines are produced, including Valpolicella and Amarone.
Many travelers visit Veneto wineries like Fratelli Vogadori or Tommasi Viticoltori on side trips from Venice. But if you have a few days to explore the region, consider basing yourself on the shore of Lake Garda, the largest lake in the country: the historic lake town of Peschiera del Garda is a good option. Or you could stay in medieval Verona, famous for its Roman amphitheater, and, of course, as the setting of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Spending some time in Venice, the region's capital? Read this article about going off the beaten path in one of the world's most visited cities.
Within easy reach of Milan, Lombardy is a northern Italian wine region known for sparkling wines, whites, and rosés, plus red wines from Valtellina that are produced according to ancient Greek techniques. Between Piedmont and Veneto, Lombardy includes part of Lake Garda's long and beautiful shoreline, meaning there are plenty of villages and resort areas to explore—and gorgeous views from some of the area's wineries. But another lake in Lombardy, Lake Iseo, is just as famous among wine enthusiasts: along its edge, the Franciacorta wine region is known for making Italy's most celebrated sparkling wines.
That's part of the appeal of Lombardy. Though the area produces some of the country's finest wines, it's not as touristy as a region like Tuscany, where wineries get busy with travelers just visiting the area for the day. Lombardy tends to attract more a more serious wine crowd, so while you'll want to make arrangements ahead of time—book a guide or make reservations at wineries like Ca' del Bosco or Berlucchi.
While in Lombardy, pay a visit to Lake Como or another of the region's peaceful lakes, and don't miss a viewing of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
Discover more of Milan and Italy's lakes region with this itinerary.
Several of Italy's official wine regions are in the south, including Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia. The area is vast, both geographically and culturally, and it's difficult to generalize about the wine-growing culture here—except to say that the wine you'll try here is delicious.
Many travelers decide to focus on Campania, where white wines like Greco and Fiano are refreshing on a warm day, or Sicily, where reds like Nero d'Avola are world-famous for a reason. The ferry to the island from the mainland is half the fun: bring a bottle and a couple of glasses with you to really enjoy the ride. Many travelers find wine-tasting in Sicily to be more down-to-earth and relaxed than elsewhere in Italy. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, so you'll want to focus your energy around one area: book a guide or try a self-guided wine tour around Taormina, Palermo, Siracusa, Agrigento, or Trapani.
Sardinia, another Italian island, is also known for wine production: look for Cannonau, a wine little-known off the island, while exploring historic villages like Oliena. And don't forget to pair your wine with cheese—Sardinia is rightly famous for it.
For more on the region, check out this seven-day trip plan that takes travelers to highlights of southern Italy.