Wine, Frankly: The ABC's of Great Italian Red Wine

wine1From lush, deep red Chiantis to light, fruity Bardolinos, Italy produces some of the world’s best red wine. Perfect to add extra luster to Italy’s rich cuisine, Italian red wines offer variety, quality, and style.

Italy has very diverse wine-growing regions. The cool, mountainous northern region of Piedmont produces crisp, austere wines, whereas the sunny, temperate central region of Tuscany yields bold, lusty, full-bodied sensations. Italian wines have a complexity and earthiness that reflects the soil, the unique Italian grape varietals, and Italian winemaker craft. Over sixty percent of the wine grown in Italy is red wine.


wine2Amarone is made from air-dried, predominantly Corvina, grapes.  Amarone is produced in the northern Veneto region near Venice, using the “recioto” method. This technique involves picking the “ears,” or those grapes that protrude at the outside of a cluster and are most exposed to the sun. The result is a bold, full-bodied wine in a style more common to warm growing areas. Once picked, grapes are air-dried for three to four months, causing them to shrivel and further concentrate their flavors. Grapes lose up to a third of their mass, mostly water, during this process causing the resultant wine to have a high (15-16%) alcohol content. Amarones are aged for five years or more before bottling. Some, but not all, are aged in oak barrels. Amarone (the name means big, bitter one) is lush and complex. It has a powerful, concentrated, almost Port-like texture with hints of mocha. Best when paired with food, Amarone is ideal with roasted beef or pork and also with cheeses.


wine3A well-made Barolo is one of the world’s greatest red wines. Big, powerful and full-bodied with a complex mixture of tastes and textures – wild strawberry, tobacco, chocolate, and vanilla – Barolo gets better and better with age. Frequently referred to as “the king of wines,” Barolo is austere and tannic in its youth and requires many years (three years minimum by law) of aging to soften it. Barolo is improved by decanting. Barolo is made in the Lange Hills region of Piedmont, entirely of Nebbiolo grapes. Nebbiolo is a difficult grape to grow well. It thrives in the region’s clay, limestone, and sandy soil, preferring to be planted on sunny, south-facing hillsides. Barolo is a perfect accompaniment to substantial meats, rich pastas, and creamy risotto.


wine4Chianti has come a long way from its image of wicker-wrapped bottles with candle drippings alongside a plate of spaghetti.

Once cheaply and hastily made, today’s Chiantis are well-crafted. Produced in Tuscany, in central Italy near Florence, Chianti is a government-controlled wine designation. That means all of the wine called Chianti has to be made within the Chianti area. Chianti is produced from primarily Sangiovese grapes, sometimes combined with a little Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon. Chianti is subtle and less harsh than a Cabernet Sauvignon and more elegant than a Zinfandel or a Syrah. It has a high acidity and hints of plum and wild cherry. Chianti and any tomato-based sauce are a classic wine and food pairing, but Chianti also goes well with a steak or other grilled meat. Chianti is one of the best well-known Italian wines in the world. It comes from a large area of Tuscany, shared in eight smaller: the best one is Chianti Classico (protected by special laws). This wine is made above all of Sangiovese and (in a little part) of Canaiolo Nero. Normally Chianti has fruity scent and taste dry and soft. The quality of this wine depends, above all, on winery.

…and the other ABC’s

There really are SO many great Italian wines.  Here’s another set of ABC’s not to forget:  Arneis… Piedmont’s most important white wine, Brunello… need I say anymore?  And of course the very noble Chardonnay… yes, Italy produces this white very very well!


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About the Contributor

Frank Pagliaro

Frank Pagliaro

Frank Pagliaro has been a Wilmington wine merchant since 1986 – Frank’s Union Wine Mart. He is the Team Host & Chief Wino of the Marathon Team which gets fellow winos and runners together to train for a yearly Fall Marathon while raising money for children’s charities.