Episode #196: Beyond Chianti – The Wonderful World of Italian Red Wine

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Italian red wine is enjoyed all around the world and is something Italy is unquestionably famous for. Italian red wines are a true delight for wine lovers everywhere and while you may be familiar with Chianti, Barolo or the Super Tuscans, we’d like to introduce you to some different varieties to try on your travels in Italy and perhaps discover some new favorites to ship home.

Show notes

We continue our series on Italian wine with Untold Italy’s Olivia Windsor and her partner Andrea Mitti Rua from Italian Wine Tales. Liv is an Australian who’s been living and immersing herself in Italy for the last 4 years and hosts our Untold Italy Tours all over Italy. She is an Italian food and wine expert and both she and Andrea are studying to be qualified sommeliers in Italy. They are now based in Rome having lived in Andreas’ home city of Turin for a few years. Showcasing their passion for Italian wine, they run Italian Wine Tales, a great resource on Italian wine and for wine tour or winery recommendations. They introduced us to some of Italy’s sparkling wines in episode 179 and some great white wines across the country in episode 189. In this episode, we learn about what to look out for when it comes to what Italy is most known for – its red wines. You can sign up for their Italian Wine Tales newsletter here.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • Olivia has been living in Italy for nearly five years and is the host of many of the Untold Italy tours all around the country. She and Andrea are currently taking the AIS (Association of Italian Sommeliers) course which made them even more passionate about Italian wine and realizing there is not much information out there, inspired them to launch wine website Italian Wine Tales. Andrea is from the Piedmont region, specifically the famous Le Langhe wine region. He was keen to do the AIS course with Liv because he felt a sense of duty to keep alive his country and region’s heritage as well as know as much as possible about wine
  • They understand that the wine world can be a bit intimidating, stuffy and sometimes even boring at times, so they’re aiming to take a different approach and offer an online resource demystifying Italian wine, sharing the masses of information in a fun and approachable way
  • They currently are living in Rome so have some great tips on where to go for wine there
  • In terms of wines you have heard of, there is Chianti, of course, and also perhaps Barolo (the king of Italian wine which is produced in the region where Andrea is from), Barbaresco, the Super Tuscans and Brunello
  • Coming from Piedmont, Andrea admits to being biased, but Barolo is famous for a reason and is his favorite red Italian wine. So he suggests if you are wanting to buy Italian wine in your home country – Barolo is the one to go for
  • Generally speaking, the wines in the north of Italy are generally a lower alcohol percentage, because of the cooler climate. The southern part of Italy has a much hotter climate, which means that the grapes get more sunlight, so there’s more sugar content inside the grapes that converts to alcohol when it’s made into wine. If you’re looking at Sicilian wine, for example, you can get even 15 or even 16% alcohol content, which is very high
  • This is, of course, changing due to the effects of climate change. When Liv was in Tuscany for the Untold Italy tour this year, she was chatting to some winemakers and they’re quite worried about what’s happening with climate change from a wine perspective, because of the increase in the alcohol content, even in Chianti Classico, because it is really going to change the wine that they’ve been producing for many generations
  • The Italian wine makers pay great attention to so many little details. Their tenacity and commitment to what they’re doing is just unbelievable, particularly when it comes to weather and climate with so much outside of their control
  • Not only the temperatures but the terrain up in the North compared to down south is very different and has effects on the wine production. There is a huge contrast between Piedmont and Puglia despite not being that great a distance. You’ve got the mountains and greenery in Piedmont, and then you get this flat red earth and the sea in Puglia
  • We really recommend trying the local wine wherever you go in Italy. If you are in a restaurant or enoteca (wine shop) then it can be good to tell them what you like so they can pick something to suit your taste. Prepare for this by educating yourself a little on your own taste. Describing the wine you like to a sommelier is going to help them point you in the right direction. But go with an open mind. There are so many delicious wines waiting to be discovered. Italy does red wine exceptionally well
  • Katy has found in recent years, having been traveling in Italy with Liv a lot, that she is now much more confident about ordering wine back home in Australia. She feels less daunted by the Sommeliers as these conversations with Liv and Andrea provide easy-to-understand ways to describe the wines
  • There can be this element of snobbiness around wine, especially in the wine world. Olivia and Andrea really want to help people feel more confident and at the end of the day, it’s really just about drinking delicious wines!


  • Katy was surprised by the size of the vineyards in Piedmont, as they tend to be fairly small. It’s a real contrast to if you ever visit France in the Bordeaux region, for example, you’ll see vines as far as the eye can see. There are lots of little vineyards dotted around
  • There’s something to be said for having small production because it forces producers to be really focused on the quality. In some places, they make wines, and there are differences based on where the vines have been planted on the hills. You can compare which side of the hill the vines have been planted to create their different wines. In the Langhe area, which is where Barolo and Barbaresco are produced, it’s a tiny area, but you can one vineyard and another vineyard 10 minutes down the road that are completely different
  • The Nebbiolo grape is one of the best and is the one that both Barolo and Barbaresco originate from.  Nebbiola is used in Australia, too but it tastes completely different to say a Barolo because again we’re talking about different weather conditions, different soil – the whole Terroir (every part of the terrain and environment)
  • In Piedmont, they are really blessed with the soil there. It must be something magical in that soil because they produce not only Barolo and Barbaresco wines, but the truffles, and particularly the white truffle which can’t be farmed. Even the hazelnut trees there are considered the variety that is the best in the world. There’s something a bit special in the soil up in Piedmont that also helps them produce these incredible wines


  • In Australia, they are really fans of big, bold, hearty red wines and Italian wines are not that feisty compared to Australian wine. Barolo is not light at all, but it’s not like the bold like Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon that you might be used to in the US and Australia. It’s very different
  • Barolo has beautiful notes and hints of tobacco or leather due to the long aging period. You will have a long finish in the mouth. It’s very tannic. You will have hints of red fruits, such as sour cherry. And it’s perfectly paired with truffle, especially white truffle, which is another delicacy of the region
  • Barolo is the king of wines and originates from the town of Barolo and the surrounding areas. There is a little town called Barolo. Andrea and Liv suggest visiting the winemaker Borgogno there. They have a beautiful tasting spot on a terrace overlooking the rolling hills which is stunning. It’s a really nice experience, and they speak English


  • Also derived from Nebbiolo, Barbaresco is also a beautiful wine. It is aged for a year less than Barolo so it is an easier drink. A good wine to start with if you want to learn more about these wines. Andre and Liv suggest you go to Ceretto, a wine producer just outside of Alba, which is a very good producer


  • If you’re visiting the area, a tip that was given to Andre and Liv by a wine producer in the region, is that since they both derive from Nebbiolo – when you go to a restaurant and you see a Nebbiolo on the wine list, which is maybe a little bit aged and it doesn’t cost as much as a Barolo or a Barbaresco, go for it because because Barolo or a Barbaresco are kind of just Nebbiolo which are aged more. This is a great tip for not spending much, but having a very good wine on your table


  • The Amarone wines of the Veneto region, of which Venice is the capital, are big and full-bodied. The alcohol content will be a bit higher than that of a Barolo and Barbaresco due to the winemaking method. What they do here is to lay out all the grapes flat and crush them.  It’s very labor-intensive because you can only get a drop or two out of each grape. It’s a very intensive process and means you get a really concentrated flavor. This is why it’s more alcoholic because once they dry, the sweetness and the sugar go up and that converts into more alcohol once the wine is made
  • Once any grape is exhausted, you use them for juice, for other alcoholic beverages – in the Vento region they use them for Grappa
  • If you do like to have a glass of wine, you’ll be in very good company in Veneto because they are considered the biggest drinkers of the Italians



  • A Chianti wine is a fairly easy everyday type of wine. There are different kinds of Chianti –  the Chianti Classico, where you can get different aging. The tannins aren’t so stringent, it’s a little fresher, and it’s got juicy, red fruits and some spicy notes in there. It’s a more approachable wine than a Barolo, as a Barolo is quite intense. Chianti is softer in the tannin than a Shiraz, as is popular in Australia
  • Chianti Classico is well-known for a good reason – because it is really drinkable and delicious. It is based on the Sangiovese grape. Again, Sangiovese is grown in Australia and the USA but the soil and terroir is going to be different when you taste it in Italy
  • It’s generally blended with a mix of some other red grapes, but they’re very strict on the rules there. You can expect notes of cherry, violet, herbs, spices – a good freshness. It’s a really good food wine too, which goes perfectly with all of the all Tuscan cuisine like the wild boar pastas
  • Chianti Classico is easy to spot when you’re traveling in Tuscany. On the wine bottles, there is a specific symbol – a black rooster
  • The story behind the rooster comes from back in the day when Siena and Florence hated each other. They had to decide on the city borders and in order to do so, they decided to send two riders and the point where they would meet would define the border. They each had a rooster to crow at dawn at which point the riders would set off. Siena had a white rooster that was well-fed so at dawn, with his full belly, he overslept so the rider left later than the Florentine rider, with the black rooster that was not well-fed at all, virtually starving so crowed way before dawn. So when they met, they were just 12 kilometers outside of Siena. Florence ended up taking the Chianti hills. That’s why it’s a black rooster on the bottles
  • If you’re in a supermarket looking for a good Chianti to choose, these are Liv’s two top tips:
    • Look for Chianti Classico, DOCG as it denotes the highest quality – created under the strictest regulations
    • Look for ‘Reserva’, which means it has been aged for an even longer period of time
  • Andrea’s suggestion is to go with a Chianti that they really like and has a very good balance between the quality and the price. This is Laura from Querceto di Castellina. The winery is also a place they recommend visiting when you go to Chianti for a tasting. They even do lovely dinners in the vineyard which is a lovely experience. Laura from Querceto di Castellina is called Laura from the name of the mother of the producer. Liv and Andrea even found this in Melbourne, so it might be worth seeking out if you can get it near you as it is a very good wine
  • You’re not going to find that in a supermarket in Italy, but at an Enoteca – an Italian wine store

The Super Tuscans

  • You may have heard of the Super Tuscans, which became really popular in the ’80s
  • If you’re Australian or American, you’ll likely be familiar with the grape varieties that go into making a Super Tuscans – Cabinet Sauvignon (or Cab Sav if you’re an Aussie), Merlot and Cabernet Franc. They’re mixed with Sangiovese
  • At the time, when some of the wine producers first started doing this, it caused a big amount of controversy because they weren’t following the disciplinarian rules for Chianti Classico. They really turned the wine on its head and it’s totally different from a Chianti Classico
  • The most famous Super Tuscan is from the Marchesi Antinori winery, which may well have heard of if you’ve been to Tuscany. It’s a very popular winery to visit and really worth visiting as well. It’s a beautiful site to visit, and it is easy to visit and will be in English. They have a spectacular modern building in an amazing setting. You can try both Chianti Classico as well as Super Tuscans there to compare and contrast as you look out over the Tuscan Hills
  • If you’re familiar with maybe touring different wine regions in the United States or Australia, the setup will feel very familiar to you – as opposed to many of the other wineries in Italy. Most wineries are not setup for visitors in a big way and you need a local guide or connection to help you visit and you almost always need to book in advance
  • On our Untold Italy Tours we tend to go to much smaller establishments, so it’s a different vibe. We prefer the smaller, usually family-run producers for our tour experiences – many of which are with Liv, who seeks out amazing wineries

Val d’Orcia

Heading south in Tuscany, you get to the beautiful Val d’Orcia which is home to some great wines

Brunello di Montalcino

  • The most famous wine is the Brunello di Montalcino, which is also based on Sangiovese grape
  • It takes around 50 months to be made – a long aging process that leads to beautiful scents of spices, tobacco, and wood
  • It’s a really good wine and is good to have with a heavy meat or in winter
  • Liv and Andrea’s recommendation for this wine is Brunello from Tornesi – for Brunello di Montalcino

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

  • Montepulciano is the name of a town in Tuscany. The wine that’s produced here is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It is always made from Sangiovese, the dominant grape in the area. This gives birth to a different wine because the terroir and the methods of production are a bit different here
  • This wine is not to be confused with Montepulciano di Abruzzo which comes from Abruzzo. A great wine (try the Emidio Pepe) but not to be confused


  • Those that we have talked about so far are the more famous wines in Tuscany, but of course there are other wine varieties too that are lesser known. Something Liv really enjoyed when they were on the Untold Itlay Tuscany tour this year was trying the Chianti Classico and the Brunello but also being introduced to other indigenous grapes. A real discovery for her was a grape called Ciliegiolo
  • ‘Ciliegiola’ is cherry in Italian, and it does taste a bit like you’re drinking in an alcoholic cherry juice – in a nice way. It is really unique and just something different to discover along with the better-known Tuscan grape varieties
  • It used to be used just to cut in the blend for Chianti where they use 80% Sangiovese and 20% of other grapes, one of which was Ciliegiolo – but now they’re starting to rediscover it a bit as a standalone grape and it’s beautiful
  • Some of the Untold Italy tour guests shipped some of that back to their home country after the tour. This is a great thing to do if you get to visit these smaller wineries
  • With the smaller, family run types of producers, like the ones we visit on our tours, you can’t buy their wine outside of Italy. They don’t have an export license, so it has to be shipped individually over to people. They’re just small producers doing their thing, and they’re really happy to share it with the world, but on their own terms
  • It is a great thing to do so when you get home you do have something really special and very unique to your experience in Italy
  • The current record to beat on the Untold Italy Tours is 12 cases of wine shipped home!!


  • Nero d’Avola, which is the main red wine when it comes to Sicily. It is again very alcoholic, being from the South, at around 15%. It can be compared to a Cabernet’s Sauvignon or Syrah
  • They have started to make versions that are a bit fresher and lighter, with less tannins
  • These red wines generally have been about the tannins, the astringent feeling in your mouth. You will have hints of blackberries, sour cherries, sweet spices and hummus and it’s a little salty because it takes in the sea breeze when it’s growing and being harvested
  • This is a red wine so it can be aged if you like your wine to be a bit older, with a fuller body. Aging the wines softens the tannins out
  • It goes really nicely with the local eggplant dishes and the caponata
  • If you want to go to a winery and taste this when you’re in Sicily, Planeta and Donnafugata are two really big and well-known wineries that offer a really nice tasting experience. As before, they’re not a small family production, but they offer a good product and a good wine tour in English
  • Planeta is quite widely available around the world, so you may be able to find this locally



  • This wine from Sardinia is not very well known, but Cannonau is typical of the region. Again, a red wine that is high in alcohol percentage because of the region


  • Puglia is one of the biggest wine-producing regions in the world. For a long time, their wine was considered mixing wine. It wasn’t considered to have its own varieties that people would seek out instead used as a base wine
  • It was a very bulk wine, it was cheap and didn’t have a very good reputation. But that’s now changed, Puglia is an up-and-coming wine region now


  • Primitivo is typical of Puglia and won the best wine in the world award last year from Taste Atlas. It is a beautiful wine you should definitely try if you have the opportunity. It’s very rich, it’s full-body and it has a very high alcohol percentage again as it is in the far south east
  • If you’re from the US, you’ve probably tried a Primitivo, under its other name Zinfandel – a Germanic name which will taste very different when grown in Germany or the US than when grown in Puglia with the huge differences in terrain

Basilicata and Campania

  • Still in the south, in Basilicata and Campania, Aglianico is a really popular grape
  • It is really nice if you like spice and licorice. There’s a lot of licorice notes with leather, violets, and even prunes
  • Again, we’re in the south so it’s full body, it’s intense. If you’re used to drinking the Shiraz in Australia or something similarly full on, then you’re going to really like the Aglianico wine

Enotecas/wine stores in Rome

  • Enotecas are wine shops in Italy where you can get wines you won’t find in the supermarket and can often get something to eat
  • They’re a great place to go – a beautiful resource where you can take full advantage of the expertise that’s available there
  • In Trastevere, Liv and Andrea really love and recommend Latteria Trastevere. They’ve got a really great selection of wines, not just from Lazio but all over Italy. You can pop in there too and have a glass of wine, have something to eat like a snack – because of course, Italians will never drink wine on an empty stomach
  • Da Corrado in Testaccio market is a guy that Liv and Andrea who live nearby usually go to. It’s very friendly. You can sit down and enjoy something to eat, and he will be able to explain the different kinds of wines
  • He’s got a lot of Piemontese wines which he loves, so if you’re specifically looking for Piemontese wines that is definitely the place to go
  • In the center of Rome, there’s another enoteca called Il Goccetto. They’ve got a really good offering of wines from all over Italy too and again you can have a bite to eat in there too

Learning more with Andrea and Liv

The fantastic website that Andrea and Liv have created is www.italianwinetales.com. You can also follow them on Instagram for some more inspiration @italianwinetales, or join their new Facebook group ItalianWineLovers. You can connect with Liv on @livguine, or meet her in person on an Untold Italy Tour.

SUBSCRIBE: To the Italian Wine Tales newsletter here.

About our guests – Olivia Windsor and Andrea Mitti Rua

Olivia, an Australian who moved to Italy in May 2019, and Andrea, an Italian from Piemonte, Northern Italy are based in Rome and have recently launched the Italian wine site Italian Wine Tales, where you’ll find not only the best wines to try, but also information on all the Italian wine regions, the best wine tours and wine clubs you can join. Follow them for Italian wine inspiration on Instagram @italianwinetales, join their Facebook group Italian Wine Lovers or sign up for the Italian Wine Tales newsletter here.

Olivia writes a blog called Livguine, named after her love for pasta and her nickname Liv.  She has explored the country south to north, working in agriturismi and organic wineries before settling in Turin, Piedmont for a time after meeting a local Piemontese Andrea. They are both now based in Rome and Olivia hosts various Untold Italy Tours throughout the year in Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany Capri and Puglia.

You can find Liv and Andrea on these channels:

Untold Italy Tours

Join Liv on one of the many Untold Italy Tours she hosts around Italy. Untold Italy Tours helps you discover your authentic Italy and discover the Italian places, faces, stories, and tastes whose memories linger for years to come.

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Places mentioned in the show

  • Le Langhe – a hilly area in the province of Asti in Piedmont, northern Italy
  • Siena – ancient Tuscan city south of Florence
  • Montepulciano – a medieval hilltop town in Tuscany, famous for its wines
  • Montalcino – town known for its wine in the province of Siena
  • Abruzzo – region of Italy east of Rome which includes the Adriatic coastline and Apennine Mountains
  • Basilicata – southern region in Italy with forests and mountains, bordering Calabria and Puglia
  • Campania – the south-western region which includes Amalfi Coast but extends further south to lesser-visited coastal areas
  • Latteria Trastevere – wine bar/store in Trastevere, Rome
  • Da Corrado – food and wine stall in Testaccio market
  • Il Goccetto – enoteca in central Rome with great selections of wine

Recommended wine/wine makers

Food & Drink

  • Barolo – famous Piedmont red wine
  • Barbaresco – red wine made in the Langhe wine region
  • Super Tuscan – a term used to describe red wines from Tuscany that may include non-indigenous grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Brunello di Montalcino – red DOCG wine from around Montalcino
  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – famous red wine from Abruzzo
  • Primitivo – red wine, popular in Puglia
  • Nero d’Avola – red wine grape indigenous to Sicily
  • Cannonau – a deep red wine indigenous to Sardinia
  • Nebbiolo – grape variety
  • Amarone – a rich red wine from the Valpolicella area in the Veneto region
  • Sangiovese – adaptable red wine grape, deriving its name from the Latin ‘sanguis Jovis’ – the blood of Jupiter
  • Ciliegiolo – a red wine grape named from the word ‘cherry’ used in Tucany and Umbria
  • Syrah – also known as Shiraz is a wine grape popular all over the world and used primarily for red wine
  • caponata – a condiment or a side dish made with fried eggplant and then depending on where you are, a mix of other ingredients like celery, capers, carrots, tomato, pine nuts, olives, almonds, sometimes raisins or pear


  • terroir – a French term used to describe the environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices, and a crop’s specific growth habitat
  • enoteca – the name of specialist wine shops in Italy

Resources from Untold Italy

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