The best way to make sense of Italian red wines is to simply start tasting them. Italy offers the perfect red wine for every occasion—from pizza on Monday, to roast beef with the in-laws on Sunday, and everything between.
Many of Italy’s best red wines are labeled with the name of the wine appellation, often in combination with the grape variety. If you’ve ever felt completely overwhelmed while browsing an Italian wine section, knowing just a few key wine names will help keep your shopping trip focused and ensure that you have the perfect wine to drink at a moment’s notice.
Three Italian red wines to buy for special occasions
Piedmont’s Barolo is the undoubtedly the king of Italian red wines. Made from Nebbiolo, the wines of this small appellation in Italy’s northwest are among the most ageable in the world. Whether it is saved for next year, five years, ten or twenty years, this is one Italian red that showcases the benefits of aging wine.
Also a Piedmontese wine made with Nebbiolo, Barbaresco is the queen to Barolo’s king. Renowned for finesse and perfume, the wines of Barbaresco are among Italy’s best.
Brunello di Montalcino is the king of wines made with Sangiovese. This Tuscan red wine gets its name from the local name for Sangiovese (Brunello) and Montalcino, a small medieval hill town overlooking the Tuscan countryside. These are complex wines with incredible aging potential.
Amarone is a powerful and concentrated dry red wine made with dried grapes in Italy’s Veneto region. Made from native Italian grapes, Amarone is a wine that dazzles and impresses.
Three Italian red wines to buy for next year
Gattinara is a delicious and often over-looked Nebbiolo-based wine from Piedmont. Perfect with stews and braises, these are the wines to drink while waiting for Barolo and Barbaresco to mature.
Rosso di Montalcino
Rosso di Montalcino is often referred to as “baby Brunello.” Made with Sangiovese grown in the same area, this wine is released to market the year after harvest, while Brunello continues to slumber in the cellars of winemakers.
Chianti Classico refers to the classic, historic growing area of this iconic Italian red wine. Produced with slightly stricter regulations than regular Chianti, these wines pair easily with a multitude of meals.
Two Italian red wines to buy for next week
The Italian red grape Barbera makes delicious wines with bright acidity and soft tannin. Hailing from Piedmont, these delightful red wines are crowd-pleasers.
Dolcetto is another red wine from Piedmont. With more noticeable tannin than Barbera, but not quite as much as Nebbiolo, wines from Dolcetto strike a nice balance.
Two Italian red wines to buy for tonight
Ask your local wine merchant for a dry Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna to pair with your next antipasti. Slightly fizzy with a pleasing bitterness, these red wines are delicious on a hot summer day.
Montepulciano is Abruzzo’s answer to Piedmont’s Barbera. Showcasing juicy, grapey flavors with soft, supple tannin, this is Italy’s quintessential pizza wine. Be sure not to confuse the grape Montepulciano with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is a Sangiovese-based wine made near the town of Montepulciano.
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BY Kirra Barnes
Wine educator, writer and editorial assistant for the Wine Scholar Guild.