Sunny Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, sits just off the tip of the boot-shaped peninsula of Italy. Dotted with ancient Greek temples and Norman cathedrals built by former invaders, the island has a rich history and multifaceted cultural legacy.
It also boasts miles of pristine beaches, breathtaking scenery and the highest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna.
On top of those wonders, Sicily makes fantastic wines from native and international grapes. It produces everything from full-bodied reds to vibrant, mineral-driven whites. Pair them with the fantastic local cuisine, and you understand why this is a wine-lover’s paradise.
Terroir isn’t just about wine. Chefs in Italy are looking local for their ingredients, from Caffè Cibrèo in Florence to Osteria Disguido in Piedmont.
“Terroir-driven wine” has become synonymous with a high-quality product loaded with the personality of the place (or soil) in which it’s made/grown. But in Italy, terroir is also a key concept behind much of the country’s best cuisine.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, winemakers focused efforts on new techniques and cellar technology to improve their wines. Since then, producers have turned their focus to the vineyards. How and where grapes are grown are now seen as the most important factors in quality winemaking.
The same emphasis on terroir can be said for today’s best Italian cuisine. It starts with select ingredients from distinct areas of the country.
When I first started covering Italian wine in the early 2000s, there wasn’t a whole lot of comfort—never mind luxury—in wine country. Digs were usually two- or three-star hotels in remote, quiet towns miles away from the vineyards, or a few rustic farm B&Bs in the country.
Fast-forward 15 years, and traveling around Italy’s wine denominations has become part of the famed Dolce Vita lifestyle (that quintessential Italian love of the good life), with sumptuous hotels near or in the vineyards that offer great food, memorable wines and world-class amenities.
While quality wine is the new normal across Sicily, the most exciting areas of the island right now are located in the east, namely Mount Etna, Vittoria, Noto, and Faro. Boasting ideal growing conditions where native grapes excel, these four growing zones produce some of the finest wines on the island, and the best are among the most compelling bottlings coming out of Italy.
Located in northwest Italy and bordering Switzerland and France, Piedmont is Italy’s second-largest region, and the most mountainous. The majestic, snow-capped Alps make a stunning backdrop to the rolling, vine-covered hills. And these aren’t just any vineyards.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014, vineyards in the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato areas are amongst the most celebrated in Italy. They’re home to famed reds made from Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, as well as Moscato d’Asti, a lightly frothy dessert wine. Piedmont, which means “foot of the mountain,” is also a culinary paradise, famed for its rare white truffles. Throw in outstanding lodgings, and you have a wine lover’s dream destination.
Le Marche is a microcosm of everything tourists love about Italy—breathtaking landscapes, medieval architecture and terrific wine and food—minus the crowds.
Sandwiched between Emilia Romagna and a sliver of Tuscany to the north, and Abruzzo and Lazio to the south, Le Marche, (pronounced lay MAR-kay) shares the Apennines with Umbria on its west and stretches east to the Adriatic Sea.
Often translated as “the Marches,” this Central Italian region has it all. Pristine beaches and rugged shorelines hug the sapphire-blue Adriatic. Rolling hills lie covered with vines and olive groves. There are well-preserved medieval towns and cultural centers, wonderful cuisine and great wines.
What you won’t find are the throngs of tourists that descend regularly on Tuscany, situated on the opposite coast, although crowds do show up at the main beaches in peak season.
Featuring rolling hills blanketed with vineyards and medieval hill towns topped with castles, Tuscany looks as if it’s been lifted straight out of a Renaissance painting. Add to its natural beauty delicious food, fantastic wines and a new wave of luxury hotels, and you have yourself your next must-book vacation. The best time to visit is during Fall season, when crowds have dispersed and the local wineries—many among the most lauded in Italy—are harvesting their grapes. Here’s where to sip, sup and stay—and smell the sweet scent of fermenting juice—while on your Tuscan getaway.
The stars of Italy’s Piedmont region are Barolo, Barbaresco and white truffles, but it’s possible to get an authentic taste of the region without taking out a second mortgage.
Every year, more tourists flock to Italy’s northwest in search of the latest Barolos and Barbarescos—two of the country’s most famous and expensive wines—and to enjoy the area’s upscale dining, especially in the fall when rare white truffles make an appearance.
Alba and the nearby Langhe hills are the undisputed epicenter of Piedmont’s fine wine and dining scene, boasting 12 Michelin-starred restaurants within a 10-mile radius.
And judging by the boom of recently opened luxury hotels, spas and golf resorts, the Langhe certainly seems to cater to an upscale clientele.
Fortunately, there’s another side to these hallowed hills. For visitors who don’t want to break the bank, the region also offers simple country hotels in the vineyards and informal restaurants that specialize in local cuisine.
Best of all for wine lovers, Piedmont’s famed Barolo and Barbaresco producers also make delicious, affordable wines that can be served with a variety of dishes and offer sheer drinkability—Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto.
These wines are growing in popularity, and with an increasing number of labels imported to the U.S., they offer a little taste of Piedmont here at home.