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Discovering wine: The 5 most famous red grape varieties in Italy

Blog Wine


by Raimondo Capasso

After talking in the last article about "special wines", such as musty, ice, fortified, and flavored wines, today we pause to talk about "the 5 most famous grape varieties in Italy".

The vine in Italy

The vine in Italy has been cultivated since the second millennium BC and there is no Italian region that does not have its vineyards. From north to south, in the hills, in the plains, in the mountains, even on the smallest islands, the vine grows luxuriantly.

Thanks to its geographical conformation and its history, Italy is the country in the world with the largest variety of vines.

The 5 most famous grape varieties in Italy:

Here, from north to south, is the list of "the 5 most famous grape varieties in Italy"


Nebbiolo is a native red grape variety of Piedmont, it probably owes its name to the fog which, during the harvest period, is frequent in the Langhe areas, where Nebbiolo grows luxuriantly. Another theory, however, provides that its name derives from the abundance of bloom on its skin. In fact, the bloom, a waxy substance that covers the grapes with a thin whitish veil, makes the grapes appear covered with "fog".

However, it is a difficult vine to cultivate: the early budding and early flowering, combined with late-ripening, expose it to more climatic adversities and also ensure that this vine prefers areas that are not too high and well exposed. Suffice it to say that in Piedmont, where it is most widespread, it is cultivated only in 5% of the regional vineyard area.

Nebbiolo, vinified in purity, gives some of the most appreciated and known red wines all over the world, of great longevity, power, and structure. In fact, in the Langhe area, where the vine finds its maximum expression, we have one of the most famous and appreciated DOCG wines in the world: Barolo.

Know as well as "the king of wines, the wine of kings", Barolo is a ruby ​​red wine, fresh and lively, which tends to orange over time. On the nose, the unmistakable aromas of Nebbiolo grapes of rose and red fruit jam are accompanied by pleasant warm notes of toasted, vanilla, and tobacco.

Before being put on the market, Barolo requires 3 years of aging of which 18 months in wooden barrels.


Corvina is a native red grape variety of Veneto, it owes its name to the very dark color of the skin of its berries, which appears almost black just like the bird of the same name.

Cultivated since Roman times, Corvina has an elongated, compact, and winged cluster, with thick and consistent skin.

This vine gives wines with an intense ruby ​​color, which expresses hints of cherry on the nose, followed by spicy and mineral notes if uncorked after a few years of aging.

With a good structure and acidity, these wines generally show gustatory balance and propensity for aging. It is used in the D.O.C. Valpolicella, Garda and Bardolino and in the DOCG Bardolino Superiore.

But it is in the Valpolicella area that it finds its highest expression with Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG. These two wines are among the most famous Venetian wines and have the characteristic of being produced from a blend of dried grapes of Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta, and Negrara, manually selected at the beginning of September in small boxes and left to dry in the loft until January. . The difference in the production process is in the final part: in Amarone, in fact, all the sugary part contained in the must is transformed into alcohol. The wine is separated from the skins when it finishes fermenting. In Recioto, on the other hand, fermentation is interrupted halfway in order to obtain a well-structured wine with a lower alcohol content than Amarone but with an important residual sugar in order to have a sweet, dessert wine.

San Giovese

Sangiovese is the most cultivated red grape variety in Italy, occupies about 11% of the Italian wine-growing area, and is widespread in the regions of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, and Basilicata. It is also one of the oldest vines, it seems that it was already known in Etruscan times, in fact, its origin is located in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, where the Capuchin monks produced a red wine called "Sanguis Jovi", or "Blood of Giove ”(from the homonymous Mount Giove located near Sant'Arcangelo di Romagna).

The San Giovese generally ripens between the end of September and the beginning of October, its cluster is medium-small or medium-large, cylindrical-pyramidal in shape, more or less compact, and with one or two wings.

We speak in a generic way of San Giovese, but in reality, under this name, there are a large number of "clones" in which this vine has differentiated over the centuries and in the different territories where it is located. Just think that in Tuscany conventional ampelography divides San Giovese into two groups based on the size of the berries:

  • Sangiovese Grosso: it is the finest, grown in limited quantities and almost exclusively in the Montalcino (SI) area where it is called Brunello and in the Montepulciano (SI) areas, where it is called Prugnolo Gentile;
  • Sangiovese Piccolo: the most common and widespread in the region which includes different names depending on the area, including Morellino in Scansano (GR).

It is in Tuscany, which presents its maximum expression, in fact, it is the basis of the prestigious Tuscan DOCGs such as: Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano.


Aglianico is a red grape variety widespread throughout the south, the origin of the name is difficult to establish precisely. However, it seems to have come to us thanks to the Greeks and therefore with the name Hellenic. The current name would have been born following the domination of the Aragonese in southern Italy: Aglianico would in fact derive from the Spanish pronunciation of Hellenic. On the other hand, the great quality of this wine is certain, such that it is also nicknamed the Barolo of the South.

This vine has a rather small and compact cluster, with small berries and thick, pruinose, and blue-black skin. It ripens late, towards the end of October and the beginning of November is rich in tannins and low in sugar.

Given the richness of polyphenols, the resulting wine is suitable for aging and requires long aging in cask, as well as in the bottle, to file its powerful tannins and great acidity, thus diluting its austere character, especially versions with long periods of maceration on the skins.

The wine produced with Aglianico has a garnet red color, an intense aroma with hints of red fruits, which take on the nuances of jams as they mature.

Aglianico expresses its maximum potential on volcanic soils, such as the Taburno and Taurasi in Campania and the Vulture in Basilicata. In fact, in some municipalities in the province of Avellino which is obtained from Aglianico grapes (minimum 85%), one of the best wines of southern Italy: the Taurasi DOCG. It is a full-bodied wine, with an important structure as much as the alcohol content, which gives an immediate sensation of warmth at the moment of its tasting. The specification provides for minimum aging of three years, one of which in cask, while, for the Taurasi Riserva DOCG variant, a minimum of four years of aging is required, one of which in cask.


Primitivo is a red grape variety among the top ten most cultivated varieties in Italy, but it is in Puglia that it finds its highest expression and where the origin of the introduction to our peninsula lies. In fact, a first theory identifies the introduction of the vine in Puglia dating back over two thousand years ago, to the period of Phoenician colonisation, while others argue that Primitivo was introduced in the Gioia del Colle area by Benedictine monks who came from Burgundy in the seventeenth. century.

The name of the vine, on the other hand, comes from the early ripening of its grapes, in fact, the Primitivo is harvested towards the end of August and the beginning of September.

Primitivo is often bred as a sapling, which guarantees a very low production but of extreme quality. It is a vine that tends to be very long-lived and it is possible to find some older than 80 years, still on a square foot - we talked about it in the article on winemaking.

The characteristics of intensity and body of the wines obtained from Primitivo, together with its high productivity (although not very constant) have meant that in the past they were used above all as blending wines. Only in more recent times, working on the reduction of yields, returning to traditional forms of farming (Apulian sapling), and using more accurate winemaking techniques, the Primitivo has led to truly remarkable products that have determined its rediscovery by the general public.

The Primitivo produced in this way generally has an intense and deep ruby ​​color, with purple hues that tend to garnet with aging. The scent is of red fruits such as black cherry, blackberry, plum, with floral notes of violet. Aging in wood gives it spicy hints, including cinnamon, cocoa, black pepper, and liquorice. On the palate, it is warm, full, and enveloping, with delicate tannins and good persistence.

Puglia can boast two DOPs that are based on the use of the grapes of this vine: they are the Primitivo di Manduria DOP, and the Primitivo di Gioia del Colle DOP.

These two areas, although not far from each other, produce wines with different nuances, due to distinct pedo-climatic (soil and climate) conditions. The vine is also present in smaller percentages in other Apulian disciplinary.

  • Primitivo di Gioia del Colle D.O.P.: there are sixteen municipalities in the province of Bari, with red, calcareous, and clayey soils, at an altitude between 200 and 450 meters. The Primitivo of this area has specific characteristics, on which the minerality stands out, combined with the typical intensity and good longevity in the cellar. Primitivo di Gioia del Colle requires the use of the grape variety in purity, with a minimum alcoholic strength of not less than 13%;
  • Primitivo di Manduria D.O.P.: includes numerous municipalities in the provinces of Taranto and Brindisi, distinguishable between those of the Ionian Arch and those of Salento. Along the Ionian Arc, the climate is the Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters, while the low rainfall is concentrated mainly in winter. In Salento, the climate is more humid, but equally little rainy, while from the point of view of the land the two areas have different characteristics. The specification provides for the use of Primitivo for a minimum of 85% of the total, with an admissible 15% coming from other non-aromatic red grape varieties in the area. The alcoholic strength of the basic version cannot fall below 13.5%, while for the “Riserva” version the minimum limit rises to 14%, with 24 months of aging, of which nine in wooden barrels.

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