Italy vies with France as the world's largest wine producer with one of the most extensive areas under vine. Vines are grown in all 20 of Italy's regions. This abundance of vineyards is only possible because of ideal growing conditions. Italy's latitude correlates to warmth, yet its mountains and hills provide the elevation necessary to moderate temperatures and extend the growing season.

Native Grape Varieties of Italy

Italy has an unrivalled abundance of native grape varieties with some dating back to the days of the Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans. Of course, not all can be traced back this far but many also appear in historical texts dating back to the Middle Ages.

Historically, Italy's wine-growing areas have been somewhat isolated due to geography, topography, or politics, which has allowed many native varieties to survive into the modern age. Over the centuries, some indigenous Italian grapes have adapted so well to the local area that they are now difficult to grow outside their original home, such as Nebbiolo.

At the start of this century, it was estimated that Italy was home to between 1,000 and 2,000 indigenous grape varieties. However, this figure was recently reduced when new research identified that there are actually between 350 to 600. There are still a large number of grapes that have not yet been officially identified so this number could be higher. However, the lower number of 350 represents around one-quarter of the world's total cultivated grape varieties and is more than France and Spain combined!

Italy's array of indigenous grape varieties is a major advantage, allowing Italian producers to offer unique and distinctive wines that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

International Grape Varieties

Italy is also home to several international grape varieties.

French and German varieties were introduced as early as the 19th century by winemakers who brought back cuttings from their trips to other wine regions. Yet more were introduced as a result of political and military events, such as the German varieties brought to northeast Italy while it was under the rule of the Austrian Empire.

After the outbreak of phylloxera, there was an urgent need to bring in more international varieties as Italy's indigenous vines suffered heavily with some never replanted and lost forever.

The third influx of international varieties arrived in the 1970s and 1980s (Pinot Grigio; Chardonnay; Sauvignon Blanc; Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot) to match the demand from consumers and the growing recognition of Super Tuscans.

Today the fashion for international grapes is on the decline as consumers and winemakers are more interested in making wines in which native varieties can shine, offering a strong point of difference to other winemaking countries.

15 Most Planted White Grape Varieties in Italy

Grape Hectares
1 Catarratto Bianco 34,794
2 Trebbiano Toscano 22,702
3 Chardonnay 19,709
4 Glera (Prosecco) 18,255
5 Pinot Grigio 17,281
6 Trebbiano Romagnolo 15,893
7 Moscato Bianco 11,506
8 Garganega 11,292
9 Trebbiano Giallo 10,664
10 Grillo 6,295
11 Ansonica 6,133
12 Trebbiano Abruzzese 5,091
13 Malvasia Bianca 9,231
14 Vermentino 4,562
15 Grecanico Dorato 4,083

15 Most Planted Red Grape Varieties in Italy

Grape Hectares
1 Sangiovese 71,558
2 Montepulciano 34,824
3 Merlot 28,042
4 Barbera 20,524
5 Calabrese 16,595
6 Cabernet Sauvignon 13,724
7 Primitivo 12,234
8 Negroamaro 11,460
9 Aglianico 7,498
10 Corvina 7,477
11 Syrah 6,739
12 Cabernet Franc 6,314
13 Dolcetto 6,128
14 Croatina 5,684
15 Cannonau 5,422

Source: ISTAT - 2010 Agricultural Census