Although there are only twelve days of Christmas, there are 20 Italian wine regions to choose from when trying to find that perfect gift for the wine lover on your list. This week we go to the north, home of a deep and broad bench of powerful reds and whites, as well as a multitude of sparkling options.
Whether you want to find something that is widely available or you’ve got access to limited-production wines in your shopping area, here’s a roadmap to some of what northern Italy has to offer.
All prices are suggested retail and represent averages; all in USD. Actual prices will vary by region/state/country, etc. and type of retailer.
1. Valle d’Aosta
For that fickle someone who can’t decide if they are a Francophile or an Italophile, choose something from this region nested in Italy’s north between Piedmont, France, and the French speaking part of Switzerland. You’ll need to find a specialty shop or well-stocked retailer, but the reward will be worth it for someone who loves “different.” Look for producers Grosjean or Les Crêtes. Bottles average between $15 and $20. White and red.
This is tough—there is A LOT to choose from, and every style and color of wine is made here, but for the holidays go with the venerable Nebbiolo grape. If you want a solid, but ever-so-slightly “road less traveled” choice, opt for Barbaresco. Look for Produttori del Barbaresco or Castello di Nieve—both producers offer great value for money and Barbaresco wines from entry level ($40) up to single vineyard bottlings ($65-120). If off-the-beaten path is the theme, seek out the red, sweet, slightly sparkling Brachetto d’Acqui. Or if classic-method sparkling is on your radar, look for the wines of Alta Langa—you won’t be disappointed.
For the wine lover who has everything or prefers the obscure, or maybe their sign is Cancer and they love the sea, choose one of the unique wines from this coastal region. Whites include Lumassina and a particularly briny style of Vermentino, while the red to search out is the romantic sounding, highly aromatic Rossese di Dolceaqua. You’ll just need to ask at a local wine shop to find a producer; most average $18-25.
If you had sparkling in mind, this is a great choice. Franciacorta—made using the classic method where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle—is widely exported, and there are many producers to choose from. For entry-level bottles, figure $20-25; festive holiday cuvées or limited-edition wines can run $75-125. They key is that you want to give bubbles.
Veneto, too, makes a wide range of wine styles, so if you want a special white for that lobster lover on your list, show Soave some love and give a single-vineyard bottling such as Inama’s Vigneti di Foscarino ($20-25). If it must be red and you want to impress, then choose an Amarone from one of the many well-respected producers. These are bold reds, and price is (more than not) the guiding factor to quality here. Expect to pay $65 for standard bottlings or anywhere from $100 up to $400 for cult producers or single-vineyard bottlings. If you must dip your toe one more time into the sea of Prosecco, stand out and choose one from Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. Expect to spend $30-50 for a very good bottle. Bisol, Adami, Sorelle Branca, and Villa Sandi are solid bets.
6. Trentino-Alto Adige
For the enthusiast who likes whites with lots of depth and flavor or who always steers toward France or Germany, choose one of the sublime Sauvignon Blancs or Rieslings from this Alpine region. If you have to stick with Pinot Grigio, this is the region from which to buy a gift-worthy, trade-up example. If Alpine is the theme but red is the color, then look to the Lagrein grape. It is replete with dark red fruit flavors and aromas and can be floral yet is usually surprisingly refreshing. Tiefenbrunner, Tramin, Terlan, Elena Walch, and Alois Lageder are all names easily found and although some special bottlings are seen at $60+, the average is between $18 and $30. Many labels appear in German and Italian.
7. Friuli Venezia Giulia
Sublime whites again… Friulano is an obvious choice. Borgo del Tiglio, Livio Felluga, Princic (if you can find it), and Marco Felluga all make solid examples that range from $20 to $50. If it is “luxe” that you want to wrap up, seek out Gravner or Jermann. The ancient red variety Schioppettino is a treat, and Ronchi di Cialla is considered a benchmark producer who is credited with reviving this nearly extinct grape variety ($40-50). It’s fun to say and a wine that manages to walk the fine line between lightness and greatness of being.
If you cannot get your shopping in this week, we’ll post some gift ideas from central Italy next week!