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


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.

The Bricco Chiesa cru of Barolo, owned by the Oddero family. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

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You could make the case that upwards of 50 producers from Barolo could qualify for this list. So why Oddero? Put simply, their artful wines are consistently among the most elegant, yet never the most expensive.

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.


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


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.

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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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.

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.


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

Badia a Coltibuono after a spring snow. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

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Badia a Coltibuono

Set high in the mountains of Gaiole in Chianti, Badia a Coltibuono is a world unto its own. And what a delicious world it is. The "Abbey of Good Crops" not only hosts cooking classes amidst the gardens of the ancient abbey, but it makes focused and food-friendly wines that let Sangiovese and its indigenous Tuscan variety friends shine.

Inside the cellar of Il Marroneto. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

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Il Marroneto

Biondi-Santi was the O.G. of Brunello, but a second wave of producers in the 1970s — Il Marroneto among them — helped solidify Montalcino as the icon of Sangiovese that it is today. Times have changed, but this winery's stubborn persistence endures. And thank god for that. These are some Italy's top wines.

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.

Lazio + Campania

Indigenous grape varieties, warm sea breezes and cool mountain winds, long growing seasons, volcanos, and millenia of viticultural history: indeed, Lazio and Campania have all of elements of Italian wine compressed into its singular, pressure-cooked landscape.

Damiano Ciolli's Cesanese d'Affile vines from 1953, which are surrounded by the flowers and grasses that help preserve moisture in the soil. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

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Damiano Ciolli

Good things are happening in Lazio, a landscape once overwhelmed with bulk wine but now emerging as favorite for indy natural wines. Among the leaders is Damiano Ciolli, a master of Cesanese d'Affile in the volcanic terroir of Olevano Romano. His old-vine "Cirsium" is among Central Italy's most compelling wines.


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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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.

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.

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
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