Old-Fashioned Italian Wines You Need to Get Your Hands On

Italian wine
Prop styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart; drink styling by Barett WashburnChristopher Testani for Men's Journal

Chiantis and Barolos are buonissimo, for sure. But Italy has hundreds of lesser-known native grape varieties that local vino drinkers have served for generations. Here are four Italian wines to try.

1. Gaglioppo

This is the flagship grape of Calabria, the region in the “toe” of Italy, and it’s a robust yet giving red that can range from young and juicy to savory and herbaceous. Look for versions from quality producers like Librandi and Ippolito, as well as the 2017 Cirò Rosso ($16) from Enotria. It’s rife with aromatics that hint at pine and sweet mint notes, with a mouthful of dark plum and fresh fig flavors. It’s an excellent match for grilled sausages and sautéed dark, leafy greens.

2. Carricante

From Sicily, carricante is a medium-bodied white grape that thrives in the volcanic, mineral-rich soil near Mount Etna. It’s often bottled straight, without blending, and labeled as Etna Bianco. It tastes as if a crisp riesling was married with a complex chardonnay. I Vigneri and Ciro Biondi are excellent vineyards, although their output is on the small side. Easier to find is Planeta’s 2017 Etna Bianco ($35), a white that tastes of lemon zest and dried pineapple with a tiny pinch of sea salt.

3. Pugnitello

Tuscan wine is synonymous with sangiovese, and its popularity has overshadowed other grapes like pugnitello. But this red varietal, named for the tight bunches it grows in, has blossomed since the 1980s. Excellent producers like San Felice, Nino Sequerciano, and Santa Vittoria Leopoldo are to thank. The latter’s 2013 vintage ($26) spent a year in oak barrels developing the grape’s trademark black olive notes with a lip-smacking finish, which is similar to a cabernet franc.

4. Schiava

Alto Adige, Italy’s northern enclave next to Austria, tends to make waves with its whites. But schiava (pronounced ski-AH-vah) is an easygoing sipper, perfect for a backyard barbecue or a weekday supper. Vintners like Elena Walch and Abbazia di Novacella make excellent bottlings, but keep your eyes peeled for Peter Zemmer’s 2018 Vernatsch Schiava ($16), an immaculate version that tastes like a mouthful of crushed cherries and strawberries but finishes dry and slightly spicy.

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