Italy produces over 2000 individually distinct varieties of wine, and nearly every region or province is home to renowned vineyards and wineries.
Wine is inextricably linked to the food of each region, and is the ultimate expression of the land it comes from.
Each province has winemaking traditions that go back hundreds of years and the Italian wine board has different gradations of quality within each region.
By focusing on the type of experience and wines you enjoy, you can have the vacation of a lifetime.
Some factors to consider:
- How much time you would like to spend in each region
- The type of wines you enjoy
- The level of luxury you want to experience.
- Read up on the different varietals and regions they come from: If you enjoy big, full bodied, fruity wines, beaches, need 5 star service, then you’ll feel right at home in Tuscany or Sicily. If you prefer dry, structured wine, and mountainous natural beauty, regions like Campania, Piedmont, and Veneto are your best bets.
Foodies should definitely make it a point to visit the Lambrusco vineyards around Bologna.
A knowledgeable tour company with locally based guides will have access to perks like personal relationships with the winemakers, private tours and tastings, and entry to private cellars, all while helping you to avoid tourist traps and focus on the best vineyards. They will help budget your time, and make the most of your experience based on your tastes and budget.
Regions like Irpinia in Campania or Salento in Puglia are home to world class wines like Aglianico, Greco di Tufo, and Primitivo, which get the top rating of DOCG (denomination of origin, controlled and guaranteed) by the Italian wine board. Wineries like QuintoDecimo, Feudi di San Gregorio, and Salvatore Molettieri are all world famous, enjoying top ratings in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, and the NY Times to name a few. These vineyards will give you full access to amazing facilities, and private tastings with the winemakers themselves, if you call ahead. Feudi Di San Gregorio also has a world famous Michelin starred restaurant called Marenna where you can sample all of their wines paired with extraordinary local food while paying roughly half of what you would shell out in Tuscany or Veneto, without the crowds.
By giving yourself flexibility and not over-packing your schedule, you’ll be able to also enjoy the local scenery, archeological sites, and nearby food and cultural treasures- whether it’s enjoying a drive up the Amalfi coastline, exploring Greek ruins, or the tour guide’s favorite hole-in-wall local museum, you can enjoy it all if give yourself a wide berth and are open to new surprises while traveling between vineyards.
By absorbing as much of the local history and culture of each region, you will more fully enjoy the wine and the story of how it got in your glass.
Going anywhere in Italy in August at the height of tourist season is generally a bad idea. Most businesses are closed, while hotel, and everything from meals, car rental and air travel prices shoot up. Go in October and enjoy better weather, prices, less crowds and better service all around.
While visiting a winery for the harvest seems like a romantic idea, it’s possibly the busiest time of year for the vineyard. This means you probably won’t have access to the winemaker for personal tours or tastings, and smaller vineyards will be generally closed to the public. Be wary of tours that advertise the “Vendemmia” as you’re not allowed by Italian law to touch the grapes during the harvest period, and the date of the crush is generally not decided upon nor announced until a day or two before.
It’s Italy, and the old world, so a great number of wine producers, to say nothing of restaurateurs view these requests as esoteric.
While most farmers and wineries will employ organic, sustainable and low carbon footprint practices, certifications can be complicated and expensive.
Generally speaking, more touristic regions will be used to these requests, but the smaller less travelled regions will be less able to accommodate you if you're a gluten-free vegan.
One winemaker, who is also a college chemistry professor when asked about sulfite allergies, put it thusly: “Sulfites in small amounts are among the most benign antibacterial substances in the history of the world, it’s due to the spread of misinformation via the internet that more people are against their use. 1 in approximately 10-15 million people is actually allergic to sulfites.”
My advice? If you suffer from celiac, or absolutely must have vegan options everywhere, call ahead and find out if the vineyards and restaurants will accommodate you.
Pace yourself so you can enjoy as much as the local region has to offer. Don’t be afraid to use the spit bucket.
When traveling in Italy you will experience the modern marvels of high speed bullet trains and bidets, but wifi can be spotty at best. Try to take care of most of your emails at the hotel in the morning or evenings.
So in conclusion, a well-planned Italian wine vacation can be an experience you will never forget. Just remember to plan according to your tastes, employ a local guide, and be open to some great surprises along the way.
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