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Our Guide to Italian Wine: Chianti, Soave and More

Our Italian wine buyer has the ultimate primer to help you shop and sip with confidence.

red and white wines in glasses on tabletop

Navigating rows of Italian wines can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re here to translate those sometimes-confusing acronyms and unknown regions into straightforward explanations. With a few tips and tricks from Whole Foods Market Italian Wine Buyer Melanie Mann, finding your next bottle of Italian wine will be as easy as popping the cork and enjoying.

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Italian Wine Regions

First, the basics. Italy is broken up into 20 distinct wine regions. The altitude and climate of these regions play a role in determining the character of the wine that’s grown there. Here are four regions from the Alps to Sicily to kick off the journey.

Piedmont

Renowned for Nebiolo, Barbera, truffles and its picturesque location in the foothills of the Alps, Piedmont’s cooler climate creates optimal conditions for tannic wines with structure.

Veneto

Stretching north from Venice, Veneto is primarily home to crisp, zesty white wines — Soave, Prosecco and Pinot Grigio.

Tuscany

Home to world-famous Chianti as well as the Super Tuscan — a luscious blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon — this warmer zone has been producing full-bodied reds for thousands of years.

Abruzzo

Focusing on Montepulciano, this region in the center of Italy spans from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea. This sunnier, warmer region produces deep ruby reds with full body, bold flavors, less acidity and softer tannins.

Some of Our Favorite Italian Wines

Most of our stores typically carry 40 – 50 Italian wines, with some reaching over 100. To get you started, we’ve narrowed down to a few of our favorite selections from up and down “The Boot.” These wines showcase a variety of styles and offer something for every palate and occasion.

How to Read an Italian Wine Label

While the following classifications are a helpful guide, it’s important to remember that plenty of intriguing, quality wines fall outside of the parameters. Think of these labels as safe bets in ascending order of the criteria that’s used for certification. DOC- and DOCG–certified wines feature a foil wrap below the cork while IGT-certified is listed on the front label.

IGT

Indicazione Geografica Tipica or Typical Geographical Indication.
The entry-level certification, these wines offer a balance of quality and value while showcasing the characteristics of the region in which they were grown.

DOC

Denominazione di Origine Controllata or Denomination of Controlled Origin
DOC is a step up the classification system where wines must meet more demanding criteria based on growing area, grape type and quality.

DOCG

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin
The strictest requirements apply to each wine in this category, passing an in-depth analysis and tasting to receive the official DOCG seal of approval from the Italian government. Grape yields are generally lower and barrel aging longer (which could lead to softer notes and integration of complex flavors).

Tuscany Wine Region in Italy
Take in the view from the terraced slopes of Tuscany, a region known for its warm weather and wines that tend toward dark and spicy.

Buying and Storing Tips

Ready to find your new go-to or special-occasion Italian wine? Check out Melanie’s insider tips for navigating our Wine department. After you’ve found the perfect bottle, make sure to store it properly if you’re not planning to drink it right away.

  • Know how to navigate our aisles: In each store, the Wine department is organized to mirror the geography of Italy. Left to right showcases wines from north to south.

  • Check the region: Cooler regions tend to produce lighter wines with higher acidity and more tannins. As you work south to areas with warmer growing seasons, the profile becomes darker, riper and jammier, with notes of spice.

  • Trust the importer: When in doubt, look for the wine importer on the label. Think of importers as art curators — if you love one of their wines, chances are you’ll like other selections in their portfolio too.

  • We can help: Team members in the Wine department are happy to help point you in the direction of age-worthy candidates — or something perfect for tonight.

  • Store with care: It doesn’t take a wine cellar, a special fridge or even a rack to age wine safely. Find a cool, dark, temperature-controlled space like a closet and stash away a few bottles. Lay them flat so that the cork doesn’t dry out. You might be surprised at the nuance and change a few years of maturity can bring.

Check out Our Guide to Shopping the Wine Department for even more insider tips.

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