Wine has been a part of Italy for more than 4,000 years.  Whether the grapes were brought from Asia by the Etruscans or they were a wild crop already living on the land, the cultivation of vineyards is a central part of Italian agriculture.  Through the centuries of invading cultures, including the Greeks and Romans, wine became a central focus of the social and economic life in Italy.  

The formation of the Catholic Church in Rome in the 3rd century AD further solidified the role of wine in Italy as it was required for the church’s sacrament of forgiveness.  As Rome began to conquer the world, its Catholic faith was disseminated alongside a Roman legion.  During the centuries, Italy continued refining its winemaking techniques.  In 1710, the first flask of wine from Tuscany was exported.  

Exportation would increase until two events: 

  • Late 1800s – early 1900s: The phylloxera vitifoliae blight occurred and destroyed many of the Italian vineyards.  Those vineyards that were replanted focused on maximizing quantity and as a result, Italy became known as a source of inexpensive wines.  
  • World War II: A significant portion of WWII was fought in and around the vineyards which devastated the wine industry and left many wine producers with insurmountable debts.  

In 1963 Italy established regulations protecting their regional wines and within 20 years the quantity of wine produced was cut in half and a new focus was placed on quality.  The results have been a world-wide recognition and reputation for excellence.   

Today, there are 20 major Italian wine regions.  When buying a bottle of Italian wine look for DOC, DOCG, or IGT on its label.  DOCG is the highest designation of quality and has been given to only 21 areas within the wine regions, with Piedmont and Tuscany being the most famous for their high quality production of wines. 

Wine World Ranking

Italy is the second largest producer of wine and provides 19% of the world’s demand for wine. Over the last decade, due to its dedication to quality, it has increased the overall value of its wine by 70%, providing greater revenue per bottle for the wine producers. The Italian wine industry employs more than 1.3 million people.

Most Common Varietals

Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Merlot, Trebbiano Toscano, Nero d’Avola, Barbera, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco.

Time of Year To Go

The best time to visit Italy is between April to June and September to October. During these months, the temperatures tend to be mild, the tourists are fewer, prices tend to be lower, and the Spring and Fall colors are at their peak.
If you only have an option to travel during the summer months early June would be optimal. Many Italians take a 2-week holiday in August when the temperatures are high and the tourists volume is high. This can result in restaurant, shop, and family-run hotel closures.
If you plan on visiting villages and wineries from late October to Easter you will need to carefully check the operating hours as many small hotels, wineries, and restaurants are closed for a portion of this time.

Traveling to Italy

Italy has several international airports. Depending upon your itinerary you will want to fly into Rome Leonardo da Vinci (Fiumicino) or Milan Malpensa and then either take the train to your other destinations or pick up a rental car and drive. Or, you may want to fly to Zurich so that you can take the train through the alps into the Lake District of Northern Italy.

Where to Stay

In Piedmont there is only one place to stay, La Villa. Nicola has poured her heart into creating a magical place for travelers to stay while they explore the top rated wine region of Italy. The commitment to excellence in all things is palpable – from the interiors to the cuisine. A driver or rental car will be required to reach La Villa. Their website includes information on nearest airports.

In Tuscany there are many choices of charming places to stay – both villas and hotels.

Getting Around Italy

Once you have defined your itinerary in Italy you can use the app, Rome2Rio to help you in planning your transportation.

The following are some general guidelines:
If you will be visiting a number of larger cities and/or villages on the Italian train line you can easily use the train. In the cities you will have access to public and private transportation, not to mention tour buses to get around the city.
If you would prefer to avoid the stress of finding the correct departure platform followed by the correct train car all the while getting the luggage aboard and settled before pulling out of the station then a rental car, bus, or private driver may be your best alternative.

If you will be visiting a number of smaller villages, on and off of the Italian train line, a rental car or private driver may be required.

On those days when you will be touring the vineyards and participating in tastings I would recommend that you hire a driver or join a small group tour. A few suggestions for Tuscany may be found here and for Piedmont here. The roads are narrow and can be poorly marked. And besides, it’s no fun to have to sit out a tasting if you are the designated driver!

Notable Places to Eat

Italy has thousands of outstanding restaurants. I would recommend that you utilize tools such as OpenTable and TripAdvisor to narrow the list. The top Michelin-starred restaurants may be found here.

Getting Inspired

Movies filmed in Italy include:
The Two Popes (shot in the Vatican)
Tea with Mussolini (shot in Florence and San Gimignano)
Life Is Beautiful (shot in Arezzo)
Under the Tuscan Sun (shot in Cortona)
Hannibal (shot in Florence)
The English Patient (shot in Arezzo and Pienza)
A Room with a View (shot in Florence)

Gladiator (shot near Pienza)
Twilight Saga (shot in Volterra)

A Month By the Lake shot on Lake Como)
House in Umbria (shot in Umbria)
Wings of the Dove (shot in Venice)

Music from Italy:
Bocelli never fails to inspire me and his Vivere Live concert in the hillside of Tuscany is definitely an inspiration.

Food from Italy:
Check out Everyday Italian on the Food Network with Giada and Lidia’s Kitchen on Amazon Prime.
Check out this fresh pasta dough recipe from Bon Appetit or the Cook’s Illustrated The Best Italian Classics cookbook.

Some of my favorite authors and books set in Italy:
Donna Leon – (Venice) The Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery series (29 books)

David Hewson – (Venice) Lucifer’s Shadow and (Rome) Villa of Mysteries, a Nick Costa thriller series
Ferenc Mate – (Montalcino) The Hills of Tuscany, The Wisdom of Tuscany, and A Vineyard in Tuscany

Isabella Dusi – (Montalcino) Bel Vino, Villa Beans & Brodo
Adriana Trigiani – The Shoemaker’s Daughter
Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose , a mystery set in 1327 in a wealthy Italian abbey
Eric Newby – (Italy during WWII) Love and War in the Apennines
Irving Stone – (Florence and Rome during the Renaissance) The Agony and the Ecstacy about Michalangelo
Francis Mayes – (Tuscany/Cortona) Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany
Dava Sobel – (Florence) Galileo’s Daughter is a historical memoir
Ross King – (Florence) Brunelleschi’s Dome

What about doing an in-home tasting of Italian wines?

See my tips on hosting an Italian Red Wine Tasting .

Planning Resources

For planning ideas refer to:
Wine Folly’s Italian Wine Map and Exploration Guide
Michelin Map of Italy
Maps of the World: Italy
Travel & Leisure Italy Travel Guide
TripAdvisor Italy 2020: Best of Italy
Rome2Rio for ideas on how to get around
Epicurious Italy Eats Guide
ItaliaRail’s Italy Train System Map
OpenTable for dining reservations

Itineraries

13-Day Rome-Florence-Venice-Milan
16-day Rome to Milan Multi-city
18-day Villages of Liguria, Tuscany & Lake Como
17-day Switzerland & Italy
25-day Italian Wine Tour

Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.

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