It’s no secret that Italy produces some of the world’s best wines, both red and white. But the sheer variety of its regions, grape varietals and terroir can be dizzying; from sparkling bottles that provide a great-value alternative to champagne, to crisp island whites just made for a seafood pasta pairing.
For the best Italian wine, we’re now looking to the lesser-known regions: think central Abruzzo, with vines that pick up the Adriatic sea breeze; or Friuli, with its Alpine proximity creating an aromatic peachiness. Chardonnay’s had its moment and Prosecco is a thing of the past: here are the top Italian wines to watch out for.
Orlandi Contucci Pecorino Superiore DOC 2019
You may know Pecorino better as a cheese ‒ and indeed, it shares its moniker with a hard, flaky Tuscan number often used in pasta sauces. But in the world of white, this is one of the best Italian wines. Largely produced in Italy’s Abruzzo region (but also made in Marche, Umbria, Liguria, and Tuscany), Pecorino is a native Italian grape that grows well at high mountain altitude and by the coast.
Its notes of stone fruit, sea salt and rosemary that have seen it compared to the top Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs. Take the Abruzzo-made Pecorino Superiore 2019 by Orlandi Contucci, which scooped 98 points in the Luca Maroni Awards and 4 grape bunches in the Bibenda Guide; not only a critics’ favorite, but an affordable bottle at around $40 online.
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Tenuta Stella Ribolla Gialla Collio 2021
The Ribolla Gialla is a grape is so fashionable that it’s now being used in Napa Valley, but it also produces some of the new top Italian wine, most prominently in the Friuli-Venezia region of northern Italy. Typically producing light-bodied, greenish-hued white wines, this ancient variety is often paired with seafood or creamy dishes due to its zingy acidity. Tenuta Stella’s Ribolla Gialla Collio, is a classic choice. Not only did it win in this year’s Decanter Awards; critics at Wine Enthusiast awarded it 85/100, describing it as “a lean, simple white” that “offers yellow flower, citrus zest and grilled herb flavors”.
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Podernuovo Palazzone Nicoleo, Toscana Bianco 2020
Anyone who doesn’t know the top Italian wines beyond the odd glass of Pinot Grigio may not be acquainted with Grechetto. Primarily used in blends, this white grape originated in Greece (hence the name), but grows well in the Italian regions of Umbria, Lazio and Tuscany and used for its concentration of flavour.
In Podernuovo Palazzone’s Nicoleo 2020 ‒ named for the winemaker’s two sons, Nico and Leone, Grechetto is blended with Chardonnay to great effect, producing one of the best Italian wines of the year. Wine magazine Falstaff praised its “delicate aromas of lemon and pear, with freshly cut grass and a hint of stony minerality”; while USA Wine Ratings awarded it a 2023 Gold Medal.
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Orvieto Classico Superiore Castagnolo 2021
Another wine region that uses Grechetto with flair is the Orvieto DOC, which spans Umbria and Lazio. Winemaking has been here since the Etruscans, with the namesake wines traditionally perceived as sweet; but plenty of dry, bright whites are being produced there these days. An example of a top Italian wine from the region is Barberani’s Orvieto Classico 2021: with notes of green apple and almond opening up to a peachy fullness, with moderate acidity. The maker’s most popular bottle, the 2021 pairs beautifully with garlic prawns, shellfish risotto or swordfish and salad.
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Tenuta di Tavignano Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva 2018
If you’re after a refreshing, easy-drinking table wine for an Italian lunch, look for a Verdicchio from Italy’s Marche region. These bright white wines often have a nutty, almondy note as well as zingy fruit profiles; this year Forbes called it “arguably the greatest white varietal” from Italy, while Vivino users praise Tenuta di Tavignano’s bottles for their mixture of sweet peachiness and salinity.
Made from 100% Verdicchio in the Marche region of Italy, Tavignano’s Verdicchio dei Castelli 2018 is a solid choice, with textures of beeswax and roasted hazelnuts. The makers have been farming organically for the past five years, as well as hand-harvesting their grapes.
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Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2022
Another genre to watch in the category of “best Italian wine” is Roero Arneis ‒ that is, white wines made in the Roero area of Piedmont, Italy, from the Arneis grape. Distinctive for their yellowish, straw colour, these whites The critics’ choice for this year is the Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2022, from a Piedmont winemaker better known for his reds.
The 2022 vintage was raved about for its accents of citrus, minerals and white flowers; a higher-alcohol choice at 14% ABV, Giacosa’s take on the wine is praised on Vivino for being a “crowd pleaser” and “the benchmark by which all other Arneis producers should be compared”.
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Luxury Gold’s Ultimate Italy journey involves an expert wine tasting in Tuscany.