how to order wine in Italy

Italian wines are delicious and are one of the best reasons to visit the Belpaese. That’s why we answered five common wine questions that travelers have when visiting Tuscany and Umbria.

Read our tips below and you’ll be know how to make the best choice even without a sommelier. 

By the bottle, by the glass or quartino?

  • At most restaurants and trattorias, wine can be enjoyed by the glass, by the bottle or as a quartino (carafe with a quarter of a liter of wine). Fine restaurants will only serve wine by the bottle.
  • If you’re a party of 3-4 people, a bottle of wine may the best choice, if instead, only 1-2 people intend to drink wine then a quartino is recommended.
  • Wine by the glass may be better when dining in two and having one course only each, both different (e.g. one fish and one meat).

Italian Wine Classifications – what do they mean?

  • Vino da tavola – table wine. The least sophisticated wine, usually the house wine (vino della casa) at trattorias and osterias, it’s mainly produced to be consumed locally and not for export. Of course, there are some diamonds in the rough and one may happen to stumble upon a superb table wine whilst on holiday, but it’s usually a more diluted wine to be drunk with everyday meals.
  • IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica. Better in quality than vino da tavola but still not exceptional, the classification denotes the particular provenance of the grapes.  Most IGT wines are simple, made from grapes grown locally and intended to be drunk young. In Tuscany, many IGT wines are made from Sangiovese grape, a grape with a long history in the region. There are exceptions to the quality of IGT, Super Tuscan wines are in fact IGT but of superior taste. Because of the strict requirements for DOC-level wines, Super Tuscan wines didn’t make the cut but retain most of the flavors of better-known wines.
  • DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata. A wine marked DOC is produced in a specific, well-defined region in Italy, according to defined winemaking rules that are designed to preserve local traditions. In most cases, a DOC wine is of higher quality than IGT, thus resulting in a higher price. However, many are still affordable.  
  • DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. The highest wine classification in Italy, marking a wine that is guaranteed to follow stringent winemaking rules. Italy’s top wines are DOCG and prices follow suit.

Wine in Italy

What are some of the best wine pairings?

  • Prosecco makes the best aperitif. Best drunk before eating at a bar or with light appetizers (think finger food, not antipasto).
  • White wine goes well with plates of pasta with a white sauce or fish, preferably one that is not aged in oak (Frascati, Vermentino or Pinot Grigio). More structured and aged white wines (Fiano, Verdicchio or Chardonnay) pair well with elaborate dishes, and white meat with spices.
  • Red wines for pasta with a red sauce or red meat. It’s best to order a young wine first (Bardolino, Lambrusco or Lagrein); if eating game instead, opt for an aged and full-bodied red wine (Barolo, Brunello or Amarone).
  • Sweet wines (passito, Vin Santo) are the perfect companion to desserts.

What are the best wines from Tuscany?

  • Chianti: made in the area of Chianti in Tuscany, these red wines come at least 80% from the Sangiovese grape. Chianti is one of the best wine regions in the world and one can learn more about its winemaking heritage during our Castle & Chianti tour.
  • Brunello di Montalcino: with few rivals in Italy, the DOCG-classified, Montalcino-made wine comes 100% from the Sangiovese grapes and historically has been considered Tuscany’s number-one wine.
  • Super Tuscans: these are wines that don’t adhere to the region’s usual blending laws, meaning they vary greatly. Some, though, are among the most expensive and renowned in the region.
  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: a red with an illustrious history, it was lauded by poet Francesco Redi, who described it as “the king of all wines” and the wine was also mentioned by renowned French writer Voltaire in his book Candide.
  • Sassicaia: the first vintage was released to universal acclaim in 1968. Sassicaia is now widely accepted as one of the world’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon wines and made history recently, being the first single wine to be granted its own DOC. The wines of Sassicaia combine notes of cassis and cedar.

What are the best wines from Umbria?

  • Torgiano: the grapes for this wine come from vineyards in the elevated growing areas near Torgiano only, resulting in an elegant wine redolent with fruit notes.
  • Sagrantino: a very special red grape that grows only around the small hillside village of Montefalco. The structure in Sagrantino’s tannin is similar to that of pure cocoa, whose health benefits are well known. Discover more about this beautiful region and its wine on our Sagrantino wine tour.
  • Montefalco rosso: this red wine is delicious to drink upon release, it’s bold and spicy on the palate.
  • Orvieto DOC: made with Umbria’s best grape, Grechetto, this white wine is fruity-but-dry and a great Italian alternative to unoaked Chardonnay or Pinot Gris.

A couple extra tips to end the post. Almost all Italian wines have a cork, if you’re served a wine bottle with a screw cap at a restaurant then it may not be genuine Italian wine. If you loved the bottle of wine you had over dinner, save the cork so that you can remember which one enjoyed next time you’re shopping. It is also customary not to fill the glass to the brim, to let the wine breathe, so don’t think the waiter is being stingy with wine.

Cheers!