Italy might be smaller than California, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality. The country boasts over 2000 native grape varieties – not all of them are used in winemaking, but enough are (around 400 by the last count) to make the world of Italian wine a somewhat intimidating prospect to both new and experienced wine fans alike. With so many different varieties of white, rose and red wine to choose from, not to mention a daunting number of regions to keep track of, it can be easy to give up and grab whatever bottle of Pinot Grigio you come across first. But while getting familiar with the different varieties can be challenging, it’s also immensely rewarding. Here’s our pick of the 20 best Italian wines of 2021 to check out.
20. Rocche di Castiglione Barolo
As Forbes says, the 2010s was an excellent decade for Barolo producers, with 2010, 2013, and 2016 all being particularly outstanding. Whereas the Barolos of 20 to 30 years weren’t immediately accessible, with most reaching their peak vintage around 20-25 years after bottling, the Rocche di Castiglione Barolo from 2016 is already appealing. Made from a single vineyard in Castiglione Falletto (one of the most well-regarded sites in the zone), it’s a softly layered, richly savory red that pairs wonderfully with rosemary lamb dishes and meaty ragus.
19. La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017
If you’re looking for a cheeky red that delivers big on flavor while being small on price, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017. A soft, voluptuous red made from Montepulciano grape on Italy’s eastern coast, it’s a wonderfully accessible, easy-to-drink wine that’s a great match for pizza, pasta, meat, and cheese. Expect plenty of ripe, plush notes of cherry, blueberry, and blackberry, along with a touch of spice and hint of fresh earth and herbs.
18. Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino Pertimali 2015
Winemaking has been practiced in Tuscany since the 8th Century BC, with the ancient traditions and secrets of viticulture passed from one generation to the next. While Chianti gets most of the attention, the lesser-known region of Brunello di Montalcino is where the grippy tannins, high acidity, and well-balanced qualities of Sangiovese come through best. Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino Pertimali 2015 is an excellent example, with complex notes of licorice, black tea, and tart red berries. Dry rather than jammy or overripe, it pairs beautifully with red meat, stews, and hearty bowls of pasta.
17. Rivetto 2019 Vigna Lirano (Nebbiolo d’Alba)
Vinified in terra-cotta amphorae, made from organic grapes, and cultivated using biodynamic farming methods, the Rivetto 2019 Vigna Lirano (Nebbiolo d’Alba) is every bit as worthy as it is delicious. It opens with tantalizing aromas of tilled earth, violet, ripe red fruit, and camphor. On the palate, it dishes out refined notes of white pepper, star anise, fresh red berries, and a generous helping of refined tannins. It finishes on a saline mineral note. A dash of crisp acidity keeps things balanced. Approachable now, it can continue to be drunk through 2031.
16. Castello dei Rampolla 2018 Chianti Classico
A fragrant, seductive red rich in black fruit and floral aromas with just a hint of camphor, the Castello dei Rampolla 2018 Chianti Classico will be at its peak drinking years between 2021 and 2028. Expect an elegant but full-bodied palate with notes of juicy black plum, tobacco, ripe Morello cherries, and anise. A bright but still velvety wine, it makes an ideal accompaniment to rosemary lamb, ragu, and mature cheeses.
15. Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2019
Named as one of the best Italian wines of 2021 by winemag.com, the Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2019 is sourced from a monastery tucked away in the alpine peaks of Italy’s Alto Adige region. A complex, full-bodied wine whose ripe, succulent notes of apricot and peach are perfectly balanced by hints of green apple and a crisp, limey acidy, it makes a wonderful accompaniment to lightly spiced Asian cuisine. Although perfect for drinking now, it will continue to mature till 2027.
14. Collosorbo 2016 Brunello di Montalcino
A rich, full-bodied red ripe with intense aromatics of black cherries, plum, cinnamon, and crushed red rose petals, the Collosorbo 2016 Brunello di Montalcino is a lushly generous wine that’s approachable now, but will continue to develop over the next ten years. On the palate, expect polished tannins with a plush texture and notes of blood orange, vanilla, and licorice, along with a lasting tobacco close.
13. Tasca d’Almerita 2020 Tenuta Regaleali Leone White (Terre Siciliane)
As drinkhacker.com writes, the Sicilian winery of Tasca d’Almerita dates back to 1830, and is today considered one of the biggest and most noteworthy in Tasca, dropping a wide variety of styles that go well beyond the expected Nero D’Avola. The Tasca d’Almerita 2020 Tenuta Regaleali Leone White (Terre Siciliane) is a particularly fine example of the wineries talents, combining Catarratto, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon, Traminer Aromatico and Moscato to deliver a bright, lively wine that sings on the pallet with notes of juicy pear, peach, orange zest, and fennel seeds. Heady aromas of lemon zest, yellow stone fruit, and Mediterranean scrub demand to be savored, while the bright hit of acidity keeps things balanced.
12. Benanti Etna Bianco 2019
As liquor.com says, the Benanti Etna Bianco 2019 is a little like the chablis of Italy, but with a personality all its own. Sourced from the rich, volcanic soils of Sicily’s Mount Etna and made entirely from carricante, the Benanti Etna Bianco 2019 is a wonderfully complex bottling with more character than you’d expect of such a reasonably priced wine. Rich in texture and with a crisp, lively acidity, it combines crisp citrus and green apple flavors with enough flinty minerality and savory depths to keep things balanced. Pair it with fresh seafood to enjoy it the Sicilian way.
11. Alta Langa Extra Brut, Ettore Germano
Described by sociovino.com as a “stunning, elegant, complex and, lip-smacking Champagne method, sparkling wine,” the Alta Langa Extra Brut from Ettore Germano is all creamy elegance and lively flavors. Expect a bright palette with enticing notes of white stone fruit, field flowers, lemon zest, and warming brioche sweetness. Perfectly smooth and rounded with a creamy but still refreshing profile, it makes a wonderful partner to shellfish.
10. G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2016
If you’re looking for a well-rounded, perfectly balanced red for under $50, the G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2016 won’t disappoint. G.D. Vajra has long been one of the most interesting wineries in Barolo, producing exceptionally well-priced, versatile offerings. They certainly don’t disappoint with the Albe 2016. An intoxicating blend of cherries, cranberry, and pomegranate set agast an aromatic background of tar, new tobacco, rose petals, and white pepper, it’s an exceptionally approachable wine that will continue to age for another 20 years or so.
9. Velenosi Querciantica Lacrima di Morro d’Alba 2018
If you’re looking for something a little different from the norm, the Velenosi Querciantica Lacrima di Morro d’Alba 2018 fits the brief perfectly. Made in the small town of Morro d’Alba from lacrima grape, it’s an incredibly aromatic wine that smells more like something you’d dab behind your ears than pour in a glass. Despite the heady aromas of violet, lavender, geranium, and rose, it’s less sweet than you might expect, with a wonderfully dry, enveloping texture quite unlike anything else on the market. Pair it with roasted pork or duck.
8. Scarpetta Pinot Grigio 2019
Pinot Grigio might have taken a beating over the years, but lay your preconceptions to one side and rediscover just how intriguing the variety can be with the delightful Scarpetta Pinot Grigio 2019. Made close to the Slovenian border, the cool climate keeps the sugar alcohol content in check while giving the natural acidity a helping hand. Notes of jasmine, pear, peach, apricot, and honey are perfectly balanced by the crisp, limey acidity. Although perfect with seafood, it’s equally pleasant drunk alone.
7. Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2017
As Wine.com notes, 2017’s warm, dry growing season gave the Barbaresco an extra kick of rich intensity that makes it one of the most immediately inviting wines of that vintage. Powerful but elegant, it pairs floral accents of rose petals and violets with a rich, red berry fruitiness and background notes of savory mint, tar, eucalyptus, ad white pepper. The tannins have been beautifully managed, resulting in a wine that already drinks beautifully now, but will continue to develop well over the next 15 years. Pair it with fresh pasta, meat dishes, and mild cheeses, all finished off with lashings of truffle.
6. Fèlsina Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2008
There’s more to sweet Italian dessert wines than Moscato d’Asti. This amber-colored beauty from Tuscany is a honied delight, with a rich character and concentrated sweetness that comes from how quickly the Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes are dried after picking. The addition of Sangiovese grapes adds even more depth to this already complex offering. Expect a rich, heady flavor profile of candied fruits, maple syrup, dried fig, and baking spice. Enjoy the traditional way with almond biscotti.
5. Ferrari 2012 Perlé Nero Extra Brut Riserva Pinot Nero
2021 saw Ferrari 2012 Perlé Nero Extra Brut Riserva Pinot Nero achieve the dual honor of being named World Champion at “The Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships”, and be voted amongst the best 100 wines in the world by Wine Enthusiast. A vibrant, refined sparkler made entirely from Pinot Nero, it combines the delicately seductive notes of white stone fruits with the butteriness of brioche and the richness of wild berries. A perfectly controlled hit of crisp acidity keeps it balanced.
4. Feudi di San Gregorio 2020 Fiano di Avellino
Feudi di San Gregorio may only have been around for three decades, but the winery’s versatile, affordable, and wonderfully approachable offerings have pushed it to the forefront of the winemaking renaissance in the Campania region. Feudi di San Gregorio 2020 Fiano di Avellino is an excellent example of its well-defined style. A straw yellow color with greenish reflections, this bone dry white hits the nose with aromas of chamomile, candied orange and yellow peach. On the pallet, expect a savory blast of ripe pear, nutmeg and lemon balanced with a perky minerality. Although ideal with shellfish, it’s equally delightful enjoyed on its own.
3. 2012 Amarone Classic
Amarone wines are among the richest available, with a depth of flavor and alcohol content similar to fortified wine. Despite its strength, the 2012 Amarone Classic is intensely elegant, A dark-ruby red wine with shades of garnet, it boasts aromas of ripe plum, black cheer, brambles, vanilla, tobacco, and dark chocolate. Although it’s traditionally paired with game, beef, and aged cheese, its dry fruit flavor also makes an excellent match for seafood.
2. Pieropan 2019 Soave Classico
As decanter.com explains, Pieropan was the first estate to produce single-vineyard Soave, and is among the most famous names in the region. Although the Soave name has been tarnished slightly by the number of cheap, mass-produced bottles around, the Pieropan 2019 Soave Classico highlights exactly what makes the variety so delectable when it’s done well. Made from organically grown grapes and created using lees-aging for added complexity and texture, this fragrant, delicious wine opens with notes of acacia, citrus and tropical fruit before extending into a savory palate of tangy grapefruit, firm peach, and green apple with a mineral finish. A treat with seafood but equally divine enjoyed alone.
1. Paltrinieri ‘Radice’ Lambrusco di Sorbara NV
Lambrusco isn’t a wine that always gets the respect it deserves, but the Paltrinieri ‘Radice’ Lambrusco di Sorbara NV could be about to change that. While the sweet, fizzy reds you see most often are made from the Lambrusco grasparossa, the Paltrinieri ‘Radice’ is made from Lambrusco di Sorbara, a light-bodied, high acid variant that produces a palate-cleansing, bright and lively tipple perfect for introducing some life into a party. Expect a bone dry bubbly with notes of pink grapefruit, strawberry, pomegranate, and just a slight touch of wild rose.