Essential Winemakers of Italy ©Opening a Bottle
Castiglione Falleto and numerous Barolo cru vineyards in one view. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Piedmont

Italy's greatest wine region consistently evokes a mood of the Old World: savory, earthy, dark and brooding. Piedmont would dominate this list, if only we allowed it. While the temptation here is to glorify its Nebbiolo, let's not sleep on the wines from indigenous grapes like Timorasso, Dolcetto, Barbera and Pelaverga.

Valle d'Aosta, Liguria + Sardinia

The vineyards of these three regions yield some of Italy's biggest surprises. They also have another trait in common: they're often clinging to a rugged hillside and thriving in isolation. Overlook Valle d'Aosta, Liguria and Sardinia at your own detriment.

Lombardy

With Milan, Bergamo and Brescia in its domain, Lombardy is often pigeon-holed for its style, wealth and power. But some of Italy's finest wines are made here, especially in the high-alpine terraces of Valtellina, and the warm hills of Champagne's rival, Franciacorta.

ARPEPE's Rocca de Piro vineyard in the Valtellina Superiore Grumello zone. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

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ARPEPE

The stalwart of Valtellina makes elegantly traditional nebbiolo delle alpi from steeply terraced slopes. A staple of our personal cellar.

Veneto

The heart of the ancient Venetian Republic could be called Italy's most stylistically diverse wine region, with inky and rich Amarone and frothy and light Prosecco anchoring opposite ends of the spectrum.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

If Italy's northeastern corner reminds you of France in the glass, there is good reason: French varieties have been planted here for so long, they're considered traditional. But its the indigenous grapes, and the influences shared with neighboring Slovenia, that make this one of Italy's most exciting places for wine.

Trentino-Alto Adige

Let's raise a toast to mountain wines: crystalline, pure, racy and with a mineral-edge on the finish that begs for another sip. You will rarely spend more than $50 on a wine from this dual region, but you'll drink like a king.

"This is my forest of grapes," says Elisabetta Foradori. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

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Foradori

What makes the Teroldego wines of the Foradori family among Italy's most lively? Is it the genetic diversity of their very, very old vines? Their use of biodynamic practices? The clay tinaja fermentation? We think it is all of the above.

Marche + Abruzzo

At first blush, it may seem that these two regions only share a border and Adriatic Sea views. But look a little closer and you'll see that Marche's Verdicchio and Abruzzo's distinct version of Trebbiano — while vastly different in style — offer amazing potential for white-wine lovers.

Tuscany

Searching for an identity in the wines of Tuscany can still be a murky pursuit. But the highs from this Sangiovese-dominated landscape are very, very high.

The ancient cellar at Badia a Coltibuono. Oak aging — whether in large casks or small barrels — has a major influence on the final wine, but the choice is ultimately up to the producer. ©Badia a Coltibuono

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Badia a Coltibuono

Far from your ordinary Chianti Classico estate, the "abbey of good crops" showcases the purity of Sangiovese and its blending partners better than anyone.

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Campania

Indigenous grape varieties, warm sea breezes and cool mountain winds, long growing seasons, volcanos, and millenia of viticultural history: indeed, Campania has all of elements of Italian wine compressed into its singular, pressure-cooked landscape. It's producers are one of a kind.

Sicily

Surprises seem to emerge from every corner in Sicily, especially with wine. Led by the wines of Mount Etna, as well as a bounty of local grape varieties of endless intrigue, the island's wine industry has matured and forged a reputation as Italy's most thrilling region for wine. Looking for seafood pairings? Start here.

Old vine Nerello Mascalese grapes. ©Benanti

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Benanti

The progenitorial family behind the winemaking renaissance on Mount Etna. Their masterful work continues into a second generation with a series of site-specific Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco wines that are among the finest in Italy.

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What About Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Puglia, Calabria & Molise?

At this time, the wines from these regions — while good — are not quite up to the same level as what we have featured here. Stay tuned, though. We always drink with an open mind, the world of wine in these regions is vast. An Essential Winemaker might be hiding in plain sight.

Beaujolais, France

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Essential Winemakers of France

There is a whole other list devoted to the fine wines of France, exclusive to paying subscribers. Check it out and start building your "to drink" list for that next run to the wine shop.

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Key to Our Wine Icons

– Practicing Organic
 – Certified Organic
 – Practicing Biodynamic
 – Certified Biodynamic
– Promotes Biodiversity
– Old Vines
– Heroic Viticulture
– Volcanic Soil
– Traditional Winemaking
– Clay Vessel Winemaking
– Family-Operated Winery
– Historic Winery
– Co-operative Winery
– Négociant
– Stay at Winery
– Olive Oil Producer
– Age-Worthy Wine
– Expensive Wine (+$100)
– Requires Some Searching

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