Which are the most popular Italian wines? This is the question I often get asked and unfortunately there isn’t a single and straight forward answer. It all depends, but before even attempting to answer the question, we need to clarify what we intend for popular, the most famous, the most sold or the most expensive Italian wines?
The most popular Italian wines, intended as the most famous and known, abroad and in Italy, also include some of the most expensive and prestigious wines, Brunello di Montalcino
, recently joined by the Prosecco
, wines with the longer history and traditions, all, with the exception of the Prosecco, amongst the first Italian wine to be exported and some of the first DOCG appellations, but popularity changes, popularity is seasonal, new trends and wines are joining or replacing them every season, and for the majority of them, the popularity lasts slightly more than a vintage and with Italy producing thousands of wines, there is a steady turnover of new popular wines.
For Italian wines, and when I say wines, I mean appellations, it is not the individual wine made by a specific producer that is popular, but the whole appellation or grape/wine, eg Primitivo
, that includes hundreds or thousands of producers, check our DOC
Italian wine maps to better understand the size of the Italian wine industry. Very rarely a specific wine becomes popular, there have been a few cases in the past, when wine was still very much an Italian and French affair and the competition was relatively limited, simply because of the vast resources needed to stand out in today crowded market made featuring wines from all over the world. Wine it is now produced all over the world.
For the more educated and knowledgeable palate, there are differences between producers, and every appellation has a list of producers considered to be the best in their wine region and for their appellation, a list that changes regularly because of new wineries entering the market or old producers making great wines. Wine evolves, winemakers learn, and trends change.
As per individual wines, admired and popular, perhaps the most famous is the Sassicaia, a red wine from Tuscany, a wine that has started the Supertuscans
movement and is widely considered amongst the best wines in the world, not just Italian.
Sassicaia was the first Italian wine trying to pursue quality independently of the appellation, on its first vintages the wine was bottled as a table wine and it has since become a DOC wine. The winemakers behind the wine were visionary and instead of making an easy to sell wine, they wanted to create something that would stand up in a market where wines were being sold only because of their appellations, when everyone else was only after the DOC or DOCG seal, they devoted their resources in making a great wine independently and their long term strategy paid off. When initially developed, the Italian wine system made of three levels, IGT was added later, was designed to indicate the quality of the wines, the higher in the pyramid (DOCG) the better the quality so DOCG wines were easier to sell than table wines. The Italian winemaking industry has since changed, and now the majority of producers are trying to replicate the success obtained by Sassicaia and a couple of other wines, but it is not as easy it was then, simply because of the number of players in the market.
Popular is a very floating adjective and at the moment, the most popular Italian wines abroad together with the ones mentioned above, are Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
, Primitivo, Pinot Grigio e Nero d’Avola mainly because of their production. In the early ’80, the most popular Italian wines were Frascati, Soave, Chianti and Lambrusco, all DOC and DOCG wines. In the 80’ there was a belief that DOCs and DOCGs were better wines, however, due to the too many poor quality wines sold, their sales have plummeted despite the seal. Chianti
are two that despite having made the mistake, have been working hard to improve their reputation, but the results are yet to come.
There are also grapes extensively planted in Italy and used in many wines, a classic example is the Sangiovese
, a grape planted almost everywhere in Central Italy and used in numerous wines, a very popular grape and therefore wines made with Sangiovese are popular. Other grapes included are Barbera
, widely grown in the North West of Italy and also a popular Italian grape more famous than the wines it is used for, or Primitivo, an Apulian grape currently widely appreciated, all Apulian
wines are trending and have been for the last few years.
For Italians, popularity changes significantly based on where we are. In Italy, due to the thousands of grapes, hundreds of appellations and thousands of winemakers, the tendency is to drink locally made wines that perfectly pair local food. For example, in Abruzzo, locals drink plenty of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the other local grape varieties and very little Pinot Grigio or Prosecco, only tourists do, and shops and restaurants offer Montepulciano wines from dozens of wineries and maybe only a Pinot Grigio or Prosecco when the odd tourist comes in.
Unfortunately, as I said at the beginning, there isn’t a straight forward answer to the most popular Italian wines question, each one of us, based on our Italian wine experiences, will have a different list, if we then want to be more precise, we need to look at the statistics, and they vary for each country.