Our Guide to Italian Wine: Chianti, Soave and More

Learn about classic Italian wines, labels, regions and more — with tips from Whole Foods Market international wine buyer, Melanie Mann.

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, finding your next standout Italian wine will be as easy as pulling the cork and enjoying.

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And you’re in good hands — our international wine buyer Melanie Mann regularly samples and evaluates new releases to ensure that the bottles we sell clear our high bar for quality. Bonus: From February 2 through March 1, save on select Italian wines* (Hint: They’re featured below).

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 Nebbiolo, 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 home to crisp, zesty white wines — like 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 over two thousand years.

Sicily

The island off the toe of the boot, Sicily sports a generally Mediterranean climate. It is believed that Mt. Etna plays a role in cooling the air in its vicinity, along with providing the volcanic soil which can lend additional complexity to grapes.

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 it 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 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. The next time you browse, keep an eye out for DOC and DOCG-certified wines — which feature a foil wrap below the cork.

DOC

Denominazione di Origine Controllata or Denomination of Controlled Origin
DOC is a step up in 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.

*Valid 2/2 – 3/1/22 only. Select U.S. stores. Price as marked. Cannot be combined with case discount where prohibited by law. Sale prices not legally available in all stores. Must be 21+. Please drink responsibly. While supplies last. Quantity limits apply. Quantities limited. No rain checks except where required by law.

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