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Central Italy - Winegrowing Areas of Central Italy

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Photo: Sangiovese grapes © Provided by DKBooks Sangiovese grapes

Masciarelli vineyards in the Abruzzo region

Photo: The town of Loreto viewed from a Rosso Piceno vineyard, Le Marche © Provided by DKBooks The town of Loreto viewed from a Rosso Piceno vineyard, Le Marche

The town of Loreto viewed from a Rosso Piceno vineyard, Le Marche

Photo: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico vineyard, Le Marche © Provided by DKBooks Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico vineyard, Le Marche

Sangiovese grapes

Photo: Picturesque monastery and vineyards, Orvieto © Provided by DKBooks Picturesque monastery and vineyards, Orvieto

Vines among an olive grove, Frascati, Lazio

Photo: Lungarotti vineyard, Torgiano © Provided by DKBooks Lungarotti vineyard, Torgiano

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico vineyard, Le Marche

Photo: Vines among an olive grove, Frascati, Lazio © Provided by DKBooks Vines among an olive grove, Frascati, Lazio

Lungarotti vineyard, Torgiano

Picturesque monastery and vineyards, Orvieto

Winegrowing Areas of Central Italy


soil type: sandy marl, fossil-rich limestone
red grape variety: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon
white grape variety: Albana, Trebbiano, Chardonnay
wine styles: red, white, dessert

The best wines in Romagna, both red and white, come from inland hills that rise to around 1,200 ft (350 m) above sea level. Romagna wins the prize for the Italian region with the most easily comprehensible DOC system. The official labels communicate the essentials: grape variety plus region. To further simplify matters, there are only three important varieties: Trebbiano (Ugni Blanc), Albana, and Sangiovese.

The first of these shows up in the Trebbiano di Romagna DOC, which is responsible for dry, rather neutral wines produced mainly on the coastal plains. The second, Albana di Romagna, was Italy’s first white DOCG. Its promotion to the country’s highest official wine category in 1987 was greeted with skepticism. The secco version has a certain amount of body, but it does not exactly burst with flavor. What has given this wine prestige, however, is the passito style made from raisined grapes. This is a refined, concentrated, honey-sweet wine with peach and almond aromas. The most renowned production area is around the village of Bertinoro, where limestone soils give the wines an extra boost of aroma. The other local hero is Sangiovese di Romagna DOC. Both the Adriatic region and neighboring Tuscany claim paternity of this, central Italy’s most important red grape. Research shows that each region probably developed its own clones. On sandy marl soils in the hills above the towns of Forlì, Faenza, and Cesena, the Romagna version gives bright ruby-colored wines with an aroma of violets and vigorous dry flavors. Colli d’Imola, Colli di Faenza, and Colli di Rimini are small, hillside DOCs launched at the end of the 1990s with the aim of giving specific identities to wines from these towns. All three allow the use of new arrivals Chardonnay and Cabernet alongside the traditional Sangiovese. The basic Romagna DOC is for everyday wines. The superiore version is a step up in concentration and fruit, and riserva wines age for two years and have a lot more soft tannin and berry flavors than they used to. Many other wines worth knowing about come from outside the DOC system. For reasons of prestige, some producers prefer to bottle the DOC-permitted variety Sangiovese under the recently-created IGT labels Forlì, Rubicone, and Ravenna, which are also increasingly used for alternative varietals or Chardonnay-Sauvignon blends.

Le Marche

soil type: sandy clay, chalky marl
red grape variety: Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Lacrima di Morro, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
white grape variety: Verdicchio
wine styles: red, white

Although Le Marche has been flirting with international grapes in recent years, the region remains fundamentally faithful to local varieties. Verdicchio dominates the white wine scene. This unique Le Marche variety grows in two distinct DOC zones. The grapes for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC wine come from the hills northeast of Ancona, up to 1,600 ft (500 m) above sea level. Classico on the label indicates that a wine originates in the historic production zone around the town of Jesi. Superiore wines have half a percent more alcohol than classico, and riservas have half a percent more than superiore. With an annual production of around 24 million bottles, Castelli di Jesi is Le Marche’s biggest DOC by far, and the second-biggest in Italy after Soave. Verdicchio di Matelica grows in a much smaller DOC zone, closer to the mountains in the neighboring province of Macerata. Soils here are particularly rich in minerals, and this, combined with the cooler mesoclimate, may account for the extra tangy intensity of Matelica wines. The terroir factor, however, has less of an influence than winemaking styles, which are many and various.

Verdicchio is a full-bodied white with a dry, nutty flavor. Basic label wines are unoaked and made for early drinking. The majority of producers, however, also turn out special selections, which could be barrel-conditioned or late-harvested, and in some cases can age comfortably for a decade or more. In this league there are flavors of ripe apple and apricot, and a whole range of wild herb aromas, from thyme to fennel and aniseed. On the red wine front, the main grape is Montepulciano. The purest version of this hearty, berry-scented variety is Rosso Conero. Producers in this small-scale DOC on the edge of Ancona’s residential suburbs tend not to blend their Montepulciano, which flourishes on the dry chalky soils of Monte Conero. The result is a serious but highly drinkable wine with a hallmark note of blackberry jam and hints of violets and rose petal. Rosso Piceno DOC, on the other hand, is generally made from a Montepulciano-Sangiovese blend that gives drier flavors, often with a touch of cherry or plum. In this DOC, the term superiore denotes a wine from the top production area around Ascoli Piceno, which has the kind of hot, dry soils that Montepulciano thrives on. Rosso Piceno is the biggest red DOC in terms of quantity.

The smallest DOC is Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. This varietal wine, made from the grape of the same name, has an explosive up-front mix of fruit, spice, and perfumed floral aromas. To get the full effect, try the novello style—the light, fruity wine released in the November after the vintage and made for immediate drinking. Production totals a mere 5,000 or 6,000 bottles, but is increasing as producers begin to replant the grape that only 10 years ago was on the brink of extinction. The other small but expanding sector is that of wines made from imported varieties bottled under the IGT Marche label. Neither the quality nor the quantity of the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio currently made here is going to threaten Verdicchio producers, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah might seriously test the region’s loyalty to its own varieties in the future.

Toscana (Tuscany)

soil type: fossil-rich calcareous clay, sandy calcareous clay
red grape variety: Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Sagrantino, Gamay, Merlot
white grape variety: Trebbiano (Procanico), Malvasia, Grechetto, Sauvignon Blanc
wine styles: red, white, dessert

Umbria’s winemaking reputation used to rest solidly on the popular white Orvieto wine and, to a lesser extent, red Torgiano, but both have been overshadowed since the mid-1990s by a new generation of premium reds from the village of Montefalco. The region’s DOC system remains substantially traditionalist, which means that producers who want to experiment with alternative grape varieties are obliged to use the IGT Umbria label, which, in this region (as in other parts of Central Italy) collects more adherents and accolades every year. Umbria breaks down into the three key winegrowing areas that follow, as well as some smaller, lesser-known ones.


A local subvariety of Trebbiano called Procanico is used in combination with varying percentages of Grechetto, Verdello, Drupeggio (Canaiolo Bianco), and Malvasia in Orvieto DOC. The basic style is light and very dry, with a delicate almondy flavor. The production area, which spills over into neighboring Lazio, is big, and it is worth opting for the classico wines from the top sites on the hillsides up to 1,600 ft (500 m), just south of the spectacular cathedral town. Here, calcareous clays rich in fossils give extra body and a tangy intensity. The other advantage of the classico zone is the humidity that rises from the lakes and river below the town in fall. This creates ideal conditions for late-harvest dessert wines, which are made from the same grapes as the dry versions. More and more producers are returning to their roots—historically Orvieto was sweet and not dry—by making wine in this style. Quantities are minimal, but the dessert wines, identified by the term dolce, are well worth looking for.


Torgiano is a wine village south of Perugia where they make a white DOC wine from Trebbiano and Grechetto, a red DOC wine from Sangiovese-Canaiolo and, from the same grapes, a red riserva with DOCG status. The vines are planted in sandy calcareous soils at 700–1,000 ft (200–300 m). Both the white and the reds are dry, medium-bodied wines. Torgiano Bianco DOC wine has white melon and apricot flavors. The red Torgiano Rosso DOC is a cherry-and-violet-scented wine designed for early drinking. Torgiano (Rosso) Riserva DOCG, on the other hand, ages for three years in wood. It has the typical garnet shade of Sangiovese-based riservas, lots of tannin, and complex spicy-floral aromas. For decades, the only producer to bottle the wines of Torgiano was Lungarotti. There is now a wider choice of labels, but Lungarotti remains the standard-bearer.

Torgiano wine museum


The Museo del Vino at Torgiano, open since 1974, is one of the largest and most complete collections of wine artifacts in Europe. Established by passionate winemaker Giorgio Lungarotti and his wife, the museum recounts the history of wine through objects that have been used over the past 2,000 years to produce, store, and serve it. Exhibits on display range from the drinking vessels of the second millennium BC used by the Hittite people of Anatolia and the bacchanalian chalices of ancient Rome to ingenious agricultural implements, bizarre domestic gadgetry, and artistic curiosities. Educational sections unravel the complexities of growing grapes and making wine, and there is a vast area dedicated to wine illustrations through the ages. There is also a museum store, well-stocked wine shop, and a restaurant that serves traditional local dishes.


The town of Montefalco gives its name to a red DOC blend (60–70 percent Sangiovese, 10–15 percent Sagrantino, plus a few other grapes) and a DOCG varietal wine made from Sagrantino. The vineyards are situated on hot, dry slopes with predominantly clay soils at the same altitude as Torgiano farther north. The beefy entry-level Montefalco Rosso DOC is an earthy-tasting wine that these days is often softened by a drop of Merlot. One step up, there is also a full-bodied Rosso Riserva that delivers the authentic Central Italy wood-aged style at a fraction of the cost of its Tuscan counterparts.

The superstar, however, is the immensely powerful Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. Sagrantino is a grape variety that grows only in this corner of Umbria. According to local legend, it was cultivated by the Franciscan brothers of Assisi (the alternative spelling, Sacrantino, suggests an altar wine), but written records of the variety only go back to the late 19th century. Traditionally, the grape was dried to make a sweet passito wine (which still exists) with a vague resemblance to Recioto di Valpolicella DOC in Northeast Italy. Specialized production of dry Sagrantino only really took off in the 1990s, thanks mainly to the trail-blazing Arnaldo Caprai estate. It is a wine with a heady aroma of blackberries and toffee apple, and with massive tannins that need at least three or four years to mellow, especially since the top producers give their wines the full new oak treatment. Annual output of Sagrantino secco currently amounts to less than 500,000 bottles, but this is destined to multiply rapidly in the next few years as the significant players who have bought into the area—including Cecchi, Antinori, Frescobaldi, Lungarotti, and Livon from Friuli—come on line with their first vintages.

Umbria’s other DOCs

Among the half a dozen lesser-known DOCs of the region, the Colli del Trasimeno is one worth looking for as a source of modern, fruity Sangiovese-based reds. A curiosity of the hills around Lago Trasimeno is the long-established presence of the red grape Gamay (usually associated with Beaujolais), which occasionally turns up as a varietal wine, as well as contributing to the DOC blend.

Other French varieties planted in the region are destined for the increasingly significant IGT Umbria denomination. As with all IGTs, the front label may or may not specify the grape. Chardonnay has a certain following in the region, and Sauvignon Blanc is sometimes used in the Orvieto area to make Sauternes-inspired sweet wines . It is the predictable Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, however, that tend to steal the scene, whether in varietals, in Bordeaux-style blends, or in combination with the local Sangiovese.


soil type: fine grained volcanic, tuffaceous clay, limestone
red grape variety: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
white grape variety: Trebbiano, Malvasia (Toscana, del Lazio and di Candia)
wine styles: red, white

Almost half the wine made in Lazio comes from a country district south of Rome called the Castelli Romani. The idyllic climate of the hills here has, for centuries, made them home to the summer residences of the Roman aristocracy (not to mention the Pope), as well as to numerous vines. Although the latitude ought to favor reds, the Castelli Romani is white wine country. The mix of fine-grained volcanic soils and elevations of up to 1,300 ft (400 m) provide a habitat in which the traditional white varieties have always flourished. Chief among these are the prolific Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, key components in Frascati, alongside a small optional percentage of Greco. The Frascati DOC has supplied the taverns and inns of the Eternal City with its everyday drinking wine for the last 2,000 years. The style is light, soft, and for drinking young. Superiore wines are fuller-bodied but, more importantly, have the slightly salty almond finish that gives good Frascati its undeniable touch of personality. Lazio’s other historic white wine zone is on the northern border with Umbria. On volcanic slopes around the Lake of Bolsena, the same basic grape mix of Trebbiano and Malvasia is responsible for the DOC Est! Est!! Est!!!. The exclamation marks may seem something of an anomaly today, but modern winemaking technology produces a gentle, peachy-flavored white wine that makes a lovely summer drink. If you are searching for more weight and up-front character in the region, then you have to look outside the traditional DOCs and explore the IGT Lazio wines. There are a growing number of boutique wineries here with ambitions that go beyond the local grapes into the realms of Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. In the field of red wine in particular, where the local tradition has never been strong, Lazio’s future definitely lies with the international varieties.

Est! Est!! Est!!!

The exclamation marks are an integral part of the Est! Est!! Est!!! label and refer to the story of a 12th-century imperial emissary who was charged with checking out the quality of the wine at the inns along the route of the emperor. He wrote “Est,” meaning “here it is,” on the doors of the places that served the best wine. In his enthusiasm for the wine of Montefiascone (or perhaps seeing triple) he chalked up the message Est! Est!! Est!!!, which gave its name to the local wine.

Drink as the Romans do

The Italian capital has boasted a buzzing wine trade ever since Roman times. Not only did the Romans export wine in bulk, but they also consumed vast amounts. Taverns provided the hub of the business, selling wine from the hills immediately south of Rome. The term frascati comes from the practice of hanging a leafy branch called a frasca at the inn door when a new vintage was ready.

The tradition of the wine tavern lived on through the Middle Ages—a census in 1425 recorded 1,022 of them in the capital—and is still strong today. Known variously as osteria, vineria, or enoteca, the modern wine bar serves wine by the glass and by the bottle, offers light meals, and is typically annexed to a wine shop. Nowhere else in the country offers such a vast selection of wines. Top addresses in Rome include:

Cavour 313, via Cavour 313 (06 7685496); Cul de Sac 1, Piazza Pasquino 73 (06 68801094); Semidivino, via Alessandri 230 (06 44250795); Trimani Wine Bar, via Cernaia 37b (06 4469630); Gusto, Piazza Augusto Imperatore 9 (06 3226273); Simposio, Piazza Cavour 16 (06 3211502); Enoteca al Parlamento, via dei Prefetti 15 (06 6873446).


soil type: sandy clay, stony clay, limestone
red grape variety: Montepulciano
white grape variety: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
wine styles: red, white, rosé

Abruzzo uses a regional system of wine classification that distinguishes between varieties, but not (with one recent exception) between subzones. Since the whole production revolves around just two grape types, this makes for very uncomplicated wine lists. The basic choice is between the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC and the white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC. The only current exception to the catch-all system of wine denomination is the recent Controguerra DOC, created to accommodate a range of local and international varieties grown in a specific and very interesting subzone around the town of the same name on the border with Le Marche. Production will need to increase considerably, however, before this denomination makes an impact. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines from the hills around Teramo have the right to specify the zone Colline Teramane on the label. Plans to promote the denomination to full DOCG status in its own right are in the pipeline. Montepulciano, a grape that is native to Abruzzo and has no link with the town of the same name in Tuscany, certainly deserves attention. Its dark, spicy fruit character and soft acidity make it inviting to drink young, but it can also make chunky and powerfully tannic wines with great aging potential. It also makes a delicious, strawberry-flavored rosé called Cerasuolo, ideal for summer quaffing.

The grape known locally as Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (Bombino Bianco) is a different variety from the Trebbiano (Trebbiano Toscano) found elsewhere in the central regions. It generally makes fresh, dry white wines with a slightly grassy flavor. It is also capable of complex, full-bodied wines that see some oak and last for decades, but this style is pursued by only a couple of producers, principally the legendary Valentini. Alternative grape varieties do not attract anything like the following they have in the other regions of Central Italy, which means few producers have adopted the IGT Abruzzo label. Chardonnay does extremely well in Abruzzo, but producers may think twice before turning to an already over-exploited variety as an alternative to Trebbiano.


soil type: sandy clay, clay, limestone
red grape variety: Montepulciano, Aglianico
white grape variety: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Greco Bianco, Falanghina
wine styles: red, white

Molise is Italy’s second smallest region after the Valle d’Aosta. Its winemaking identity is inextricably linked to that of its star producer, Di Majo Norante, the estate that single-handedly put the region on the map. Winegrowing is con-centrated on the coastal plain, where hot, dry summers make irrigation essential. The region has two DOCs. The region-wide Molise permits around a dozen varieties, the most used of which are Falanghina and Aglianico from neighboring Campania and the Calabrian Greco Bianco. Aglianico makes a dark, full-bodied red with black cherry and violet aromas. The other two varieties are mixed together by Di Majo Norante to make a peachy-flavored white. The second DOC, Biferno, is a more restricted area in Campobasso province, where the focus varieties are the white Trebbiano and red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

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