The sun was beginning to descend behind the Tuscan hills when I arrived at my home for the night outside of Volterra on my last trip to Italy. Our five-star resort was a welcome sight after a long day exploring Tuscan towns and conducting site visits of hotel properties. Before we could even check in, our host graciously invited us onto the lawn for the evening tradition of drinks at sunset.
As the mustachioed-hipster bartender approached with a tray laden with glasses of wine and aperol spritz, my tension released as my eyes drank in the view before me. At that moment, I knew I needed to return with my husband on an Italy wine tour.
Our two passions combine in the wine regions of Italy. I have a dream of retiring, or at least living for a time, in Italy. Glenn, on the other hand, is starting to pursue his retirement dream of working in the tasting room of a winery. He has already completed one course towards his wine certification. Meanwhile, I’m dreaming of the days of sipping wine and nibbling on prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano in the Italian countryside.
Until that dream can become a reality, we will need to content ourselves to shorter visits and planning a wine tour to Italy. This summer will be our first, when we are visiting Capri on the coast and then heading into Umbria and Southern Tuscany. I already have Tuscan wine tours booked in Montalcino and Montepulciano.
Planning this trip has taught me a few things about wine tours in Italy so I thought I would share a few tips.
5 Tips for Planning an Italy Wine Tour
Get to know Italian wines by planning a tasting party at home
If your idea of Italian wine is a wicker-wrapped carafe sitting on the red-and-white-checked tablecloth at your local pizza place, it is time to get educated. “Made in Italy” has come to signify quality from hand cut fresh pasta to freshly-hunted truffles, artisanal wine making and sustainable farming.
While Italy is known for its reds, there is so much more than Chianti. There are many wine regions in Italy and before planning an Italy wine tour, it is important to get to know them all. Want to learn more about the wines of Italy?
A few of the most popular regions include:
- Piedmont – this has been called “Italy’s Burgundy” and is one of Italy’s top wine regions. It is known for its Barolo (complex red) and Moscato (sparkling).
- Tuscany – the most popular and prolific wine region in Italy known for its reds including Chianti, Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Super Tuscans, plus some indigenous white varieties.
- Lombardy – one of Italy’s largest wine-making regions in Northern Italy, it is known for its Franciacorta and sparkling wines, and Valtellina Nebbiolo known as Chiavennasca.
- Veneto – Verona is the wine-making capital of the Veneto region, in Northeast Italy. It is known for its white varietals including Prosecco and Soave, but also hearty reds like Amarone from Valpolicella.
- Marche and Abruzzo – these neighboring wine regions in Central Italy are known for red Montepulciano and white Verdicchio wines, plus emerging varieties such as Pecorino.
- Sicily – an island off the coast of Southern Italy, Sicily is most known for its reds like Nero d’Avola, and whites such as Grillo and Inzolia. Not to be missed are the wines from the slopes of Etna, an active volcano.
If you are going to plan a wine tasting trip to Italy, you need to know which wines really appeal to your palate. The first step is to find a reliable wine shop that has experts on staff to assist you with your selections — quite different from the local liquor store or warehouse club! Tip: look for wine shops near you that offer complimentary tastings and stop in to get a feel for their expertise.
You want to make sure that you are sampling high quality producers. Expect to spend at least $15 per bottle. As with most countries, Italy has its own wine classifications. The DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is the highest wine classification in Italy. You will find many DOCG classified wines from Tuscany and Piedmont region. You can often spot these by looking for a numbered strip around the top of the neck of the bottle.
In addition to the origin and classification of the wine, you may also notice a few common terms when browsing Italian wine labels. A “Classico” is from the heart of the winemaking region (e.g. Chianti Classico.) A Riserva (or what we call a Reserve in the U.S.) has gone through some additional aging to increase the complexity of the wine. A Superiore has a slightly higher alcohol level (so take care with those!)
The next step is to plan a wine tasting party with friends. Or, you could just sample wines from various regions over time, but a party makes it more fun!
Group your wines by region and put together some tasting notes for everyone to record their thoughts and impressions (a good wine shop can help you with this.) You can even make it fun by getting your guests to “vote” for their favorite wines. I would suggest leaving a glass in front of each bottle, with slips of paper for people to drop in to “vote” for their top five wines of the evening.
Once you decide on your favorite region and varietals, you can start planning your wine tour! Don’t worry if you like more than one region…visiting Italy is always a good idea and…then you will know what you also most enjoy at home!
Make reservations in advance
Italy is not like Napa, where you can just walk into tasting rooms and start sipping! You need to make reservations in advance. Look up the websites for your favorite wine producers and see what options they have for tours and tastings. While it can be fun to take a tour of the vineyards or wine production facilities, you don’t want to do more than one or two tours per trip and definitely not more than one per day.
Keep an eye out for special options like wine tasting lunches, chef’s tables, and wine and food pairings.
Budget for tastings (and food!)
With wine regions popping up all over the United States, you may be accustomed to free or inexpensive tastings. But keep in mind that in Italy wineries are often family-owned, with a focus on high-quality wine making and tastings are priced accordingly. Don’t be surprised to pay 15 to 30 euro per person for tastings.
Give yourself plenty of time
Wine tasting in Italy is not about rushing from place to place. To appreciate the Italian lifestyle, you need to slow down, relax, and enjoy. Give yourselves time to sip and savor your tastings. And with the beautiful views, you may want to just sit in the sun and enjoy the surroundings.
Also, build in extra time to get from place to place. Don’t believe Google Maps when it tells you how long it will take to drive from place to place. Always add extra time to account for those narrow, winding roads of the Italian countryside!
Hire a driver
Speaking as someone who has driven through Tuscany, trust me when I say that you don’t want to do that after a wine tasting. In addition to the crack-down on driving under the influence, the roads are narrow and you never know what is going to be around the next corner. Plus, GPS is not always reliable. It helps to get directions from the winery (check their websites) so you don’t end up locked out of the back gate on the other side of a mountain from the main entrance. Going with a local that knows the wineries and the area gives you the advantage of a stress-free wine tour.
Are you ready to enjoy some Italian wine at home (or plan a trip to Italy)? I know I’m ready for both!
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