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The historical hills at the heart of the peninsula, favoured by ample sunshine and moderate temperatures, boast what seem to be the nation's most extensive natural conditions for fine wine. In the past winemaking methods were often rustic. The practices of overproducing grapes and undervaluing scientific techniques too often squandered the excellent potential. But today the central regions, led by Tuscany with Chianti and other noble reds, are rapidly moving to the forefront of Italian enology.

Between them, the six regions produce less than a quarter of the nation's wine, yet they account for about a third of the DOLC or DOCG. The conflict between progress and tradition persists in places, but overall the renaissance in Italian wine has generated unrivalled momentum in the heartland. There is no doubt that greater things lie ahead. The regions of central Italy are divided physically, and to some degree culturally, by the Apennines. To the west, on the Tyrrhenian side, lie Tuscany, Latium and landlocked Umbria. To the east, on the Adriatic side, lie the Marches, Abruzzi and Molise. Viticulture on the Tyrrhenian side is dominated by the dark-skinned Sangiovese (whose various clones include some of Italy's noblest grapes for red wine) and the lightskinned Trebbiano and Malvasia (designed chiefly for quantities of tasty if rarely inspiring whites).

The realm of Sangiovese is Florence's region of Tuscany, where it prevails in Chianti - the nation's archetypical wine - as well as in Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and most of the noteworthy classified and unclassified reds. White Malvasia reigns in Rome's region of Latium. It is prominent in Frascati and the wines of the Alban hills, and combines with the ubiquitous Trebbiano in Est!Est!!Est!!! and most other whites of the region. Umbrians have had the chance to pick and choose, favouring Sangiovese for their reds and the Procanico strain of Trebbiano for their prominent white Orvieto.

The trend, though perhaps more evident in Tuscany and Umbria than elsewhere, is to introduce noble outsiders - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, the Pinots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon. But efforts are also being directed at upgrading such worthy natives as Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Umbria's Sagrantino and Grechetto and Latium's Cesanese.

The Adriatic regions have a rather neat and straight-forward structure of vines and wines. Vineyards are almost all planted in hills running in a tortuous strip between the sea and the mountains, where the climate is tempered by cool currents.

Two native varieties stand out along the Adriatic coast, the white Verdicchio in the Marches and red Montepulciano, which originated in the Abruzzi and is now widely planted in all three regions. The influences of Tuscany and Romagna can be tasted in Sangiovese (especially in the Marches) and Trebbiano (planted nearly everywhere that worthier varieties are not). Montepulciano can be remarkable on its own, though it also has a natural affinity for blends with Sangiovese, in such fine reds as the Marches' Rosso Piceno and Rosso Conero.

1 Abruzzo grape varieties
2 Abruzzo
3 Lazio
4 Marche
5 Tuscany
6 Umbria

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