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Italy: Lots of wine, where to focus?

While there are a host of Italian wine regions and native grape varieties, some of which never make it out of the country, it would make sense to stick mainly to the most well-known examples of both, namely Piedmont, where the Nebbiolo grape is king, and Tuscany, where Sangiovese and its variants dominate.

Nebbiolo, which shows at its best in the imposing wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, personifies Piedmont which borders on France and Switzerland in the northwest of the country. The grape is rarely seen outside of the region and can lead to wines that can age up to 30 years in the case of Barolo, slightly less with Barbaresco.

Even people with little knowledge of wine have heard of Chianti and this is the most famous wine producing area in Tuscany. Quality can vary in Chiantis but the wine at its best is truly worth its celebrity. One good course of action may be to look for wines with the famous black rooster on them which denotes the Chianti Classico growing area. Usually a step up from Chianti wines is the Brunello di Montalcino, made with a variety of Sangiovese and aged for specific periods to earn the moniker. Some of the best vintages of this outstanding wine are from the following years: 2010, 2004, 2001, 1999, and 1997. Cellaraiders has a 2004 Fuligni Brunello do Montalcino Riserva available.

Also very much worth checking out are the Rosso di Montalcino wines which are similar to Brunello but aged less and consequently a cheaper option with still excellent quality.

Super Tuscan – overused but real quality at its best

Tuscan growers have also been well known more recently for making wines using a blend of non-typical grapes of the region, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and native grapes like Sangiovese, or sometimes just from Bordeaux varieties. These so-called Super Tuscans are very different from the wines you might see listed as such at your local restaurant. Ignore those frauds but instead look for producers like Marchesi Antinori (Solaia and Tignanello), Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) and Tenuta dell’Ornellaia (Ornellaia).

Don’t Forget Amarone

It may be difficult to pare down Italian wines into a few paragraphs because of the enormous variety but another wine district that shouldn’t be ignored is Valpolicella and, more specifically, the Amarone wines from this part of the Veneto region. These well-structured wines undergo a special process whereby ripe grapes are left to dry, usually on straw mats, for up to four months before aging. Cellaraiders currently has three such Amarone wines available with a total of eight bottles, one of them a magnum of Dal Forno Amarone