Italy Roundtable: Wine Tasting in Italy


It’s been a busy summer for us at the Italy Roundtable, so we took last month off from our usual blogging schedule. (That, plus August is Italy’s vacation month, so we figure we might as well adopt the same “pausa.”) This month, though, we’re back with a topic I think we all pretty much adore – and that fits well with the month of September: WINE.

I’m not going to share my undying love of Valpolicella Ripasso here, or the mnemonic I came up with on my first Italy trip to remember how the heck to pronounce the Cinque Terre’s SciacchetrĂ  (it still makes me giggle). Instead, I’m driving straight down the uber-practical road here with information you need to know if you want to go wine tasting in Italy.

(I’ve been meaning to write this article on Italy Explained for awhile now, so this month’s Italy Roundtable gave me the perfect excuse. It’s like I’m being rewarded for procrastinating, or something.)

At any rate, raise a glass of something you love as we toast Italian vino! Cin cin!

Vineyards in Tuscany || creative commons photo by Paolo Bertinetto

Vineyards in Tuscany || creative commons photo by Paolo Bertinetto

Italian wine is a big deal.

And I don’t really need to tell you that. Whether or not you’re into wine, you’re probably aware that Italian wines are world-famous. There are people who make trips to Italy mainly to taste and buy wine, and many more who enjoy wine tasting as part of their Italian travels. And why not? Wine tasting in Italy sounds grand – gorgeous scenery, great wines, and often excellent food.

The problem is that Italian wineries aren’t set up the way wineries in, say, the United States are. Things like tasting rooms with regular open hours are a rarity in Italy, so going wine tasting takes quite a bit of pre-trip planning to pull off.

Here’s what you need to know.

Planning a DIY Wine Tour in Italy

Pouring wine for a tasting || creative commons photo by Michela Simoncini

Pouring wine for a tasting || creative commons photo by Michela Simoncini

Most vineyards in Italy don’t have fancy tasting rooms with posted open hours. It’s not that they don’t want visitors, it’s just that they’re often busy doing important stuff. Like making wine. What many of them require, then, is that you contact them in advance to schedule a visit. This usually means a phone call, though some have email addresses you can try, and you’ll also need a rental car and a GPS unit (or, as a fall back, a really detailed driving map – some of these places are notoriously hard to find).

And then, of course, you’ve got to figure out which wineries to visit.

Thankfully, there’s an organization in Italy that helps us keep track of what Italian vineyards will allow visitors to book tastings in advance. It’s called the Movimento Turismo del Vino (otherwise known as MTV), and the website is full of useful details.

Much of the information on the MTV site is broken down by region – including suggested wine-tasting itineraries – and the site has an English version, too. You can sign up for the email MTV newsletter to find out about wine-related events as well, which may coincide with your travels.

Yeah, it can be more of a challenge to plot your own course through wine country and schedule visits with wineries, but it’s pretty satisfying. Plus, you get to visit exactly the wineries you want. Just remember to bring a designated driver.

There’s one time of year when DIY wine tasting in Italy is much easier, when you don’t need to make appointments at all. It’s called Cantine Aperte, or Open Cellars Day, and it’s sort of an open house for participating vineyards. It takes place the last weekend in May each year, and there’s a special part of the MTV website dedicated to the annual event.

Taking an Organized Wine Tour in Italy

Wine tasting in Tuscany || creative commons photo by USAG Livorno PAO

Wine tasting in Tuscany || creative commons photo by USAG Livorno PAO

Now, if your idea of wine tasting in Italy involves – you know – tasting wine and pretty much nothing else, then the logistical details of a DIY trip probably aren’t terribly appealing. I can understand that. And, as it happens, so can plenty of tour companies in Italy.

There are many, many options for wine tours in Italy. Some visit a few vineyards, some stick to one and include a detailed tour and lunch, and some are all about sampling wines from all over Italy without leaving a big city by enjoying a class at a wine shop. (Heads-up, some of these are affiliate links, which means I get a little something if you book one of the tours, but it won’t cost you any extra.)

Context Travel has a family-oriented “Tuscan Taste Adventure” that gives parents a chance to taste local wines while the kids are learning about the farm and checking out the animals, an introduction to the wines of Italy led by a sommelier in Rome, and a class on wines of the Veneto, among other wine-centric tours.

Walks of Italy offers private wine tours in Tuscany and a wine and cicchetti tasting tour in Venice, among others.

Viator sells winery and wine tasting tours all over the country, including wine tastings and dinners at private Tuscan villas, wine tasting in the Cinque Terre, wine tours in my much-adored Valpolicella region, and a combination 4×4 tour of Mt. Vesuvius with wine tasting.

And that’s far from all the wine tours in Italy that are out there.

My friend Katie Parla offers private wine tours in Rome, and my friend Hande Leimer runs a wine education business in Rome called Vino Roma. (Both Katie and Hande can be heard on episodes of the Eye on Italy Podcast, too.)

The bottom line is that if you’re new to Italian wines, then pick a tour that sounds fun and interesting to you. If you’re a wannabe wine snob, you’d probably enjoy a private tour more, so that you can help tailor the experience to exactly what you want.

Additional Helpful Info for Italian Wine Tasting

Wine barrels in a cellar || creative commons photo by Davide D'Amico

Wine barrels in a cellar || creative commons photo by Davide D’Amico

  • Lots of people think Italian wine is synonymous with red wine, but that’s far from true. There are places where the local wines are predominantly or only white. When in doubt at a restaurant, ask for what’s local – not necessarily what’s red.
  • I’m not usually inclined to get the house wine at most U.S. restaurants, but in Italy it is often excellent and extremely budget-friendly.
  • Some wineries and wine shops will ship any purchases home for you, which is really handy, since no wine bottle will fit into a 3-oz bottle.
  • You’ve heard of Chianti, I’m sure, and perhaps you’ve heard of Barolo, but there are vineyards all over Italy producing really great wine. Not all of it is world-famous, but don’t let that put you off from trying them.
  • Hande said something wonderful on the Eye on Italy podcast (which you should really listen to, by the way, it’s chock full of great Italian wine info), that “if it grows together, it goes together.” The idea is that the ingredients that go into a dish typically pair best with wines grown in that same area, which is just another way of saying you should not only eat what’s local but drink what’s local at the same time.

Do you have a favorite Italian wine? How about one you discovered while traveling there?

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

I can’t wait to pour a glass of wine for myself and read what my fellow Italy Roundtable oenophiles have to say. Click along with me through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

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Have you LIKED us on Facebook? Are you following us on Twitter? Please drop by and say hello, we’re quite friendly. And we’re always taking suggestions on future topics for the Italy Blogging Roundtable! Drop us a note on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a comment on one of our posts.


8 responses to “Italy Roundtable: Wine Tasting in Italy”

  1. Alexandra says:

    Handy post! I was thinking of following up with a list of wineries in Tuscany where I know you can go for tasting. My post this month about Barone Ricasoli is one of them, a rare case of daily wine tour and tasting with a formal room to do it in. You still have to call and book ahead but they are large enough to have the space and staff to do this kind of thing.

  2. Gloria says:

    Great info Jessica. Asking the hosts or hotel concierge for recommendations is always a good idea. Sometimes there are small wineries available for tasting tours and visits which are unknown to most and yet well worth visiting even if outside the most popular circuits.

  3. Niccolò says:

    Great post!

    I’ve recently used Gotto – The Wine Tour App to book a tasting at Col d’Orcia in Montalcino, it’s surprisingly easy to book and has plenty of info. Only for iPhones though…

    • Jessica says:

      Interesting, I haven’t heard of that app. It would be great to make wine tasting in Italy easier for travelers, though I think it’ll be a long time before a majority of wineries are that plugged in. 🙂

  4. Jennifer Eidam says:

    Do you find wine tasting better in Tuscany or Cinque Terre?

    • Jessica says:

      The wine tasting in Italy is often pretty different than what you might be used to in, say, the United States, so the experience depends a bit more on the wineries than the regions. Unless you’re asking about the wines themselves?

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