Sicily, Sardinia, & the South
Wine lists in ambitious new Italian restaurants like New York City's Alto or Las Vegas's Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare make it clear what excites sommeliers: Italy's abundance of native grape varieties—over 2,000 at last count. At the forefront are those of the southern regions, such as minerally Vermentino from Sardinia, juicy Puglian Primitivo and Campania's formidable Aglianico.
2003 A-Mano Primitivo ($11) Primitivo, from Puglia, shares an ancestor with American Zinfandel, and similar flavors of ripe blackberries and peppery spice, as this robust red shows.
2002 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva ($12) The Sardinian variety Cannonau (more commonly known by its French name, Grenache) produces velvety reds like this black cherryfilled bottling from one of Sardinia's largest producers.
2004 Is Argiolas Vermentino di Sardegna ($14) Vermentino grows on Italy's coast from Liguria south to Sardinia, where the Argiolas family makes this minerally, zesty white.
2004 Cantina di Venosa Terre di Orazio Dry Muscat ($15) This dry Muscat from a well-known Basilicata cooperative has wild orange blossom aromas and a lush, succulent texture.
2003 Mirabile Sicilia Rosso ($16) This plush, earthy red, from an up-and-coming estate on Sicily's rugged southwestern coast, derives its luscious character from Nero d'Avola, Sicily's premier grape.
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina ($18) Falanghina, a variety from Campania, was famous as far back as Roman times. Feudi owner Enzo Ercolino, who's made a specialty of southern Italy's ancient varieties, uses it for this smoky white, full of white peach and pear flavors.
2000 Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi ($41) The Mastroberardinos started making reds from Campania's Aglianico variety in the 1700s; this bottling's dark tobacco aromas hint at its inky power.
Umbria & Le Marche
For years, wine from the middle of Italy essentially meant wine from Tuscany, the country's signature region. Now, delicious reds and whites from Umbria and Le Marche—made from varieties such as Montepulciano, Verdicchio, Pecorino and Passerina—are becoming more widely available.
2003 Moroder Rosso Conero ($15) The rugged mountain slopes of Monte Conero in Le Marche have produced juicy reds like this one since at least the first century. Made from Montepulciano, it smells of violets and black cherries.
2004 Ercole Velenosi Vigna Solaria ($18) A blend of Trebbiano, Passerina and Pecorino, this medium-bodied, appley white, made in stainless steel tanks, comes from one of the most ambitious small estates in Le Marche.
2004 Bucci Verdicchio Classico ($20) Bucci is arguably the greatest name in Verdicchio, the principal white grape of Italy's Marche region. Elegant and powerful all at once, this firm white's succulent nectarine and spice flavors last and last.
2003 La Carraia Tizzonero ($21) The black volcanic soil of Umbria— and this ambitious, peppery Montepulciano's carbon- black color—prompted star winemaker Riccardo Cotarella to name it after the local word for charcoal.
Veneto, Friuli & Trentino
Italy's north is famous for Pinot Grigio and Nebbiolo, the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco. The region also produces some of Italy's most obscure (albeit delicious) varieties: robust reds, like Teroldego Rotaliano and Corvina, and zesty whites, such as Tocai Friulano and Pinot Bianco.
2004 Marco Felluga Molamatta ($17) Named for the vineyard in far northeastern Italy where its grapes are grown, this lightly spicy white blends three Friulian varieties, Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Pinot Bianco, to produce complex flavors of ripe pears and lemon zest.
2003 Foradori Teroldego ($21) Winemaker Elisabetta Foradori, who took over her family's Trentino estate in 1985, has been called the Queen of Teroldego—an obscure title, but a significant one for lovers of native Italian varieties like this red, defined by smokily sweet fruit and firm tannins.
2004 Livio Felluga Tocai Friulano ($25) Livio Felluga owns more than 300 acres of vineyards in the Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli regions, which grow the grapes for this Tocai Friulano. It's aged entirely in stainless steel, making this white's citrusy flavors bright and vigorous, ending on an almondy note.
2000 Allegrini La Poja ($95) Corvina Veronese is traditionally part of the blend in the powerful Amarone wines of the Veneto. Giovanni Allegrini was one of the first to make a wine solely from Corvina, creating one of Italy's most sought-after reds: gorgeously rich and full of tobacco, plum and blackberry flavors.