Central Italy

centralRenaissance in the Heartland
The historical hills at the heart of the peninsula boast conditions of ample sunshine and moderate temperatures highly favourable to vines. What is often called the modern renaissance in Italian wine began in Tuscany, with the renovation of its noble reds. But by now the six regions between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic seas are realizing their eminent potential as they move to the forefront of Italian winemaking.

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 Marches, Abruzzo and Molise.

The realm of Sangiovese is Florence's region of Tuscany, where it prevails in Chianti – the nation’s archetypal red – as well as in the growingly prestigious Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and many of the unclassified wines known as "Super Tuscans."

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!!! di Montefiascone and most other whites of the region.

Umbria has had the chance to pick and choose. Though Sangiovese is still often used for red wines, the native Sagrantino has come to the fore in the Montefalco zone where wines of unusual depth and power are classified as DOCG. The Procanico strain of Trebbiano is prominent in the widely known white wines of Orvieto.

A trend, more evident in Tuscany than elsewhere, has been the introduction of popular outside varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, the Pinots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But efforts are also being directed at upgrading worthy natives, including the white Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Umbria's Grechetto and Latium’s red Cesanese.

Along the Adriatic coast, two native varieties stand out: the white Verdicchio in the Marches and the red Montepulciano, which originated in Abruzzo but is widely planted in Marches and Molise. Montepulciano can be remarkable on its own, as the base of the DOCG Conero in the Marches and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, DOCG as Colline Teramane. But it also has a natural affinity for blends with Sangiovese in such fine reds as the Marches’ Rosso Piceno.

Verdicchio has undergone a revolution in the Marches’ Castelli di Jesi and Matelica DOC zones, where it has surpassed its long-time reputation as a tasty fish wine to stand among the noblest native white varieties of Italy in wines that gain stature with age. Trebbiano, planted throughout the six regions, reaches heights in Abruzzo, where top producers make whites of surprising depth.

Abruzzi In a nation of myriad appellations, Abruzzo offers wine drinkers refreshing simplicity. The long-standing regionwide DOCs for Montepulciano and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo have been complemented by an appellation for Controguerra, which takes in 12 types of wine.

Abruzzi, which is two-thirds mountains and one-third hills, boasts highly favorable natural conditions for grapevines. Growers favour the predominant Montepulciano and Trebbiano, while growing some highly productive vines (the region has Italy's highest average yields) for bulk wines and table grapes, and experimenting in an increasingly convincing way with outside varieties.

Latium Rome's region is intrinsically linked to white wine, to Frascati and Marino and the other golden-hued bianchi of the Castelli Romani, as well as to the fabled Est! Est!! Est!!! from the northern Latium town of Montefiascone.

The ancient Romans drank white wines, too, though Horace and company reserved their greatest praise for the red Falernian and Caecuban, which were grown along the coast in southern Latium and Campania. Although white wine accounts for an overwhelming share of the region's production, certain of its red wines seem more convincing to connoisseurs.

Marches Verdicchio is the plenipotentiary of the wines of this pleasant Adriatic region, whose long-time devotion to whites no longer obscures the increasing merits of its reds. The Castelli di Jesi DOC zone, covering a vast tract of hills west of the port of Ancona, is the home of the Verdicchio that made an early impression abroad in its green amphora bottles. But recently producers have created a new image of Verdicchio as a white wine of special character that comes across even more convincingly in standard bottles.

Class has risen so steadily that even wine still sold in the hourglass-shaped amphora seems a cut above the general level of popular whites. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, has been described as Italy's premier wine to serve with fish. Some producers make wines that develop such impressive depth and complexity with age that Verdicchio is increasingly ranked among the noblest native white varieties of Italy.

Molise The often overlooked region of Molise, which was once an appendix of Abruzzi, gained official status in wine in the 1980s with the DOCs of Biferno and Pentro di Isernia. The undeniable aptitude for vines on the sunny hillsides between the Apennines and the Adriatic indicates that with a little more effort Molise's wine producers could match on a small scale the quality of their neighbors in Abruzzi, Apulia or Campania.

Tuscany Florence's region continues to advance its position as the nation's most dynamic producer of premium wines, following decades of turning out popular Chianti in straw-covered flasks. Tuscany's modern renaissance in wine began in Chianti, in the central hills around Siena and Florence, but it rapidly spread to take in the strip along the Mediterranean coast that was not previously noted for vineyards.

Much of the progress has come with classical reds based on the native Sangiovese vine, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano, all DOCG. But growing success with other reds (especially the stylish non-DOC wines known as "Super Tuscans") has been augmented by new styles of whites to enhance the region's reputation.

Chianti, still the dominant force in Tuscan viniculture, has long rated as the most Italian of wines. This is partly because it is the most voluminous and widely sold classified wine, but also because it has a personality that cannot be pinned down. Its multifarious nature is quintessentially Italian.

Umbria Umbria has long been renowned for white wine, thanks mainly to the historical prominence of Orvieto. But evidence is now irrefutable that the scenic hills of the "green heart of Italy" have an aptitude for a multitude of varieties, white and red, native and foreign. The region's two DOCG wines, Montefalco Sagrantino and Torgiano Rosso Riserva, are red.

Orvieto was once the most celebrated of Italian whites as a semisweet or abboccato wine, praised by the popes, princes and painters who sojourned in the hill town north of Rome with its splendid Cathedral and sweeping views over the Umbrian landscape. But as tastes changed Orvieto was modified from a soft, golden wine into a pale, pure, crisp creature of modern enology.