Italian wines are a huge category. According to Ian D’Agata in his excellent book, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, there are more native grapes in Italy than in France, Spain, and Greece combined. That’s a lot of grapes to choose from.
Here is a list of five great Italian wines that are good with food and great for the summer months. You also might be able to find them in your grocery store or local wine shop.
If you are looking for some tips for pairing wine with food, check out my post over here. I wrote the rules for pasta but they apply to food in general.
Mainly grown in Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco is a family of red grapes and the wines made from them. Lambrusco wines can be both dry and sweet and are unusual as they are often effervescent. They got a bad reputation from cheap, industrial versions but there are great and well-made Lambruscos too. Bonedry, with crisp acidity, Lambruscos are good with food and are a perfect go-to for backyard barbecues. Serve it with some steaks or burgers. Many Italians love to grill too.
Eighteen different varieties, both white and red, are registered as Malvasia in Italy. This is more of a big family of wine suggestions than a single variety. Malvasia is used to produce all sorts of wines – white, red, dry, and sparkling, and shows up in blends too. I particularly like both the Malvasia del Lazio (also known as Malvasia Puntinata), and the Malvasia di Candia Aromatica. There are a lot of interesting orange wines made from Malvasia blends as well. Il Vinco’s Biancoperso pictured is a delicious, natural Malvasia-based orange wine from Lazio. (Not sure what orange wine is? I’ve got a post on that over here). Malvasia is a huge and varied category, but experiment and consider pairing it with cheese-based pasta dishes, like the traditional Roman cheese and black pepper (cacio e pepe).
Often medium-bodied, Pecorino wines can be highly acidic and crisp with herbal and fruit flavors, such as apple and pear. Pecora means sheep in Italian and pecorino also refers to sheep’s cheese. In the case of the wine, Pecorino refers to the sheepherders who ate the grapes and not to the sheep themselves. The wine is found in central Italy mostly in the regions of Abruzzo and Marche and also in Lazio, Tuscany, and Umbria. Try pairing it with the central Italian amatriciana pasta made with tomatoes, guanciale (a cured pork product made from pig cheeks), and pecorino romano cheese. I’ve included a recipe for this pasta dish in this free mini-cookbook.
Pinot Grigio is not originally an Italian grape, but French. In France, it is known as Pinot Gris and is used to make fuller-bodied wines with low acidity and a somewhat oily texture. But the Italian version is often lighter, fresher, and more acidic, and a great match for food. Look for lovely Pinot Grigios from the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy, including Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Pinot Grigio wines from Friuli-Venezia Giulia tend to be fuller-bodied with tropical flavors. Those from Alto Adige are lighter, with higher acidity and citrus flavors. Serve it with seafood pasta dishes, like spaghetti with clams, or seafood ravioli.
Vermentino is a white grape variety used to make light-bodied wines. The wines are noted for an oily texture and a saline or salty taste. It also often has a green almond flavor. More than 50 different types of wine are made with Pecorino. Although two styles are prevalent – A rich and creamy version and a lighter, floral wine with herbal notes. Vermentino is grown in Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo, and on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Often a good value wine, it can be complex and can often hold its own with strong flavors, like garlic. Pair it with pasta and the classic pesto alla Genovese, rich in garlic and basil.