When in doubt over what wines to serve in this celebratory season, turn to bella Italia. Out of all the wine producing countries in the world, Italy offers a level of diversity and quality unmatched by the rest. From structured Chianti to vivacious Prosecco or the mineral-driven wines of Mount Etna, plus countless others in between, Italian wines provide something enticing for every palate. With a remarkable number of styles, Italy delivers the best wines for Christmas and an impeccable selection of holiday wines to make the season merry. When choosing wines for Christmas dinner, you can’t go wrong with vino Italiano.
Why Are Italian Wines So Good?
The country’s varied geography and multifaceted climate delivers a vast range of styles from which to choose.
In the north, the Alps and the fertile plain of River Po influence cool-to-moderate climate regions like Piemonte, Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and the Veneto. Styles range from the aromatic, tannic reds of Barolo to plush Amarone and vibrant Pinot Grigio or Prosecco.
Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east, Central Italy boasts a nuanced topography with the Apennine Mountains running south through the center of the country. The warmer climate here yields the robust, fruit forward, Sangiovese-based wines of Tuscany. Along with lively whites like Verdicchio, Grechetto, and Trebbiano.
In Southern Italy, temperatures climb even higher. Consequently, red wines made from native grapes, such as Primitivo, Negroamaro, and Aglianico, become increasingly full-bodied. Southern Italian white wines like Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo are also not to be missed. Then, there is an entire array of native grapes still thriving on the stunning Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily.
Though all of this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The true wonder of Italian wine lies in the astonishing number of indigenous grape varieties cultivated to date. The country is a wine lover’s paradise because there is always a new wine to discover when you know where to look.
Italian Wines for Christmas Dinner
So, which Italian wines will bring a taste of la dolce vita to your holiday season? Read on for a delightful selection of six Italian wines for Christmas dinner. I’ve included my personal recommended pairings for optimal enjoyment and traditional Italian pairings based on typical dishes of each wine region.
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No celebration is complete without bubbly. If we’re talking Italian wines and bubbly, then we’re popping Prosecco. This Italian sparkling wine is both affordable and delicious. It’s the ideal wine to serve when guests arrive as the celebrations commence to whet the appetite. Yet not all Prosecco is created equal. To find high quality Prosecco, you must know where to look. Namely, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
What Prosecco is Best?
First off, all Prosecco is made in the Veneto from the Glera grape. This variety is characterized by intense fruity flavors of pear, stone fruits like peach, and delicate floral aromas, such as honeysuckle. Prosecco is made in the Charmat method. Whereas sparkling wines like Champagne, Franciacorta, and Cava are made in the traditional method with a secondary fermentation in bottle. Prosecco’s secondary fermentation, which creates the bubbles in the finished wine, occurs in a pressurized tank. Learn more about the winemaking methods of Prosecco here.
When selecting holiday wines, you’ll likely want to level up from the basic Prosecco poured at the bottomless mimosa bar at Sunday brunch. So, keep an eye out for this appellation on the label: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
This is a step up in quality from the wider Prosecco DOC, which incorporates grapes grown in a larger area of the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Grapes for the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore designation are only grown on the steep hillsides between Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. The zone’s topography is a major influence yielding more concentrated Prosecco.
Other quality Prosecco appellations to seek out include the Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore Rive DOCG, and Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG.
La Vigna di Sarah “Grappoli Di Luna” Extra Brut Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
La Vigna di Sarah is a certified organic winery situated amongst the hills of Conegliano. Winemaker Sarah Dei Tos chose to walk the path of organic farming because she is “convinced that this is the only possible path towards the sustainability of the territory for our health and for the quality of the finished product.” As a certified organic estate, all viticulture is completed without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. In addition to other precise rules that must be followed throughout grape cultivation and vinification.
The Glera grapes for this Prosecco were harvested under the full moon in September. Hence the name “Grappoli di Luna,” or clusters of the moon. Night harvesting means grapes are brought in for processing under cooler temperatures. Thus, helping to preserve acidity, freshness, and concentration of flavors.
La Vigna di Sarah delivers a premium quality Prosecco brimming with everything you want in an Italian sparkler. Fragrant aromas of fresh juicy pear, white peach, acacia, and honeysuckle with mouthwatering acidity make this an exemplary Prosecco. With a crispy yet creamy texture, “Grappoli di Luna” is a delectable bubbly that’s light-hearted enough to kick off a festive evening. Yet brings enough complexity to pair with a variety of dishes.
Prosecco Wine Pairings
A vibrant, buoyant Italian wine like Prosecco begs to be paired with lighter fare or dishes loaded with vibrant flavors. If serving as one of your wines for Christmas dinner, pair with fresh cheeses like goat cheese or marinated feta, shrimp cocktail, or grilled scallops with herb infused butter. It’s the perfect bubbly to pair with appetizers, salads, rice pilaf with herbs and aromatics, fritto misto, or lighter seafood. Prosecco’s fruity flavors will pop alongside herbs, creamy textures, and buttery seafood.
For a traditional Italian food and wine pairing, we’ll rely on the age-old adage, what grows together goes together. Try Prosecco with Italian recipes from the Veneto like bigoli in salsa, risi e bisi alla veneta, or risotto alla trevigiana made with bitter radicchio and sparkling wine.
A selection of holiday wines would not be complete without at least one off-the-beaten-path wine. Introducing your guests to a new variety is always exciting. Plus, intriguing wines always make great conversation starters, especially when they have a backstory like Timorasso.
Hailing from the land of Barolo and Barbaresco, this Italian white variety is native to Piemonte. Specifically, Timorasso is indigenous to Tortona. Known as Derthona in the local dialect, this zone lies in southeastern Piemonte about 100km east of Barolo. Timorasso has been cultivated here since the Middle Ages and was initially one of the most prominent white Piedmontese grape varieties. However, when phylloxera wiped out European vineyards in the late 1800s, growers were devastated. Their life’s work destroyed, many replanted grape varieties more aligned with current tastes and guaranteed to bring them income. The market favored reds, so that’s what growers planted, along with the more reliable Cortese.
Consequently, Timorasso fell to near extinction until the pioneering vision of Walter Massa helped revitalize the variety.
In 1976, Walter Massa graduated from Alba’s school of enology and soon took the helm of his family’s winery in Colli Tortonesi. Situated in the hilltop village of Monleale, production had long been focused on popular Barbera with some Cortese and Croatina. Massa recognized the soil, climate, and elevation of Colli Tortonesi as ideal for cultivating white grape varieties. The soils are a mixture of calcareous clay with ancient marine deposits and limestone, which help foster freshness and concentration. The Massa vineyards had always grown some plantings of Timorasso that typically ended up blended with Cortese.
Following his gut, Walter Massa produced his first single varietal Timorasso in 1987 with just 500 bottles. From that first bottling, he knew Timorasso was going to make big waves in the world of wine. Today, Massa is growing around 10 hectares of this native grape variety and other wineries in Piedmont, like Vietti, have adopted this rising star as well. Learn more about Timorasso and the Colli Tortonesi DOC here.
Vigneti Massa Derthona Colli Tortonesi DOC 2017
Made with organic practices, the 2017 Derthona packs a big punch that’s sure to capture the hearts of red and white wine lovers alike. This Italian white wine entices with ripe peach, pineapple, white almond, and honeysuckle aromas. Expect complex texture that keeps you coming back for one sip after the next with balanced acidity and full body. Timorasso is an exceptional wine for Chardonnay fans looking to branch out from their go-to white wine. Particularly for those Chardonnay lovers who enjoy a full-bodied white wine without the overpowering notes of butter or vanilla.
Timorasso Wine Pairings
Timorasso’s complexities, concentrated fruit flavors, and vivid palate make an excellent match for full flavored, spicy, or rich dishes. Outside of holiday recipes, this white wine is a mouthwatering wine pairing for Indian or Thai food. Otherwise, as an Italian wine for Christmas dinner, savor Timorasso with shellfish or pasta dishes like spaghetti con vongole (spaghetti with clams). For Christmas in Sardinia, we like to add bottarga to spaghetti con vongole. Timorasso would be a delectable pairing for the sea salty flavors of bottarga and clams. Baked scallops, smoke fish pate, citrus roasted chicken, or roasted sea bass are also outstanding pairings for Timorasso. For a traditional Piedmontese pairing, try bagna cauda or agnolotti filled with ricotta and spinach.
Volcanic wines are all the rage lately and rightfully so. The vivacity, crisp acidity, and mineral characteristics imparted by volcanic soils are undeniably irresistible. What better place to start exploring volcanic wines than from the vineyards around Europe’s largest volcano – Mount Etna. The Etna DOC encompasses white, rosé, red, and sparkling wines. Though if you’re selecting Italian wines for Christmas dinner, I can’t recommend Etna Rosso enough.
Etna Rosso wines must be made from a minimum of 80% Nerello Mascalese with a maximum of 20% Nerello Cappuccio, or up to 10% of other native varieties. Nerello Mascalese brings an explosion of flavor with every sip. Expect a palate bursting with red fruit flavors like strawberry and red cherry with hints of cinnamon spice, dried orange peel, and wild herbs. Nerello Cappuccio has similar yet more lifted, perfumed aromas. Both have high acidity and balanced tannins, which make for a particularly meal-worthy wine when blended together for Etna Rosso.
For decades, Sicilian families mainly consumed the wines cultivated by bold producers on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. Once a Sicilian consortium of forward-thinking producers implemented more advanced farming practices and winemaking techniques, the wines of Mount Etna began taking the world by storm.
Girolamo Russo has been nurturing the volcanic terroir of Mount Etna for the past century. They honor the morphological complexity of the landscape by producing natural wines with minimal intervention. In fact, the Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso is one of the handful of natural wines I’ve wholeheartedly enjoyed.
‘a Rina Etna Rosso DOC 2019
The certified organic 2019 a’ Rina Etna Rosso DOC is the definition of lively. A charming balance between elegant and rustic, this Etna Rosso is predominantly Nerello Mascalese with just 10% Nerello Cappuccio. Fermented solely on indigenous yeasts with a 12-day maceration, ‘a Rina is awash with savory notes of wet forest floor and Mediterranean macchia coupled with energetic red fruit flavors.
Etna Rosso Wine Pairings
Etna Rosso truly is one of the ultimate Italian wines for Christmas dinner. This wine pairs with a range of dishes thanks to its underlying mineral notes, pop of red fruit flavors, and earthiness. Recipes with red sauces pair especially well with Etna Rosso, as does roasted chicken, herb laden risottos, and just about anything in a mushroom or truffle sauce.
For a traditional Sicilian food and wine pairing, opt for lobster and saffron arancini, linguine with mussels in a spicy red sauce, or eggplant caponata.
Chianti is one of the most beloved Italian wines the world over. Made predominantly from Sangiovese grown amidst the foothills of the Apennines in Central Italy, Chianti has all the quintessential characteristics of the perfect Italian wine for Christmas dinner. Aromas and flavors of red cherry, plum, and dried herbs with supple tannins and notes of spice offer a festive palate for the season.
Yet holiday wines for celebratory occasions should be a step above the rest. If you’re reaching for Chianti, opt for one of the sub-zones known for superior quality, such as Chianti Rufina DOCG or Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG. Chianti Rufina is perhaps the most famous of the seven Chianti sub-zones. It’s the furthest from the coast and the highest of all the Chianti appellations. That high altitude means there’s a bigger diurnal temperature change. Therefore, as the Mediterranean sun ripens grapes and develops flavors during the day, the nighttime drop in temperature helps preserve acidity and freshness.
Fattoria Lavacchio Cedro Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG 2016
Fattoria Lavacchio has embraced certified organic winemaking since 1978. Their Chianti is crafted to enhance moments in life that are meant to be cherished. The Fattoria Lavacchio Cedro Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG 2016 is an organic, low-sulfite Chianti made mainly from Sangiovese with a touch of Merlot. This bold yet refined wine impresses with rich aromas of wild blackberries, sour cherries, and undertones of leather. It’s an approachable Italian red wine that makes every day a special occasion. A polished Chianti Rufina sure to captivate your guests this holiday season.
Chianti Rufina Wine Pairings
Eggplant parmigiana is one of my all-time favorite wine pairings for Chianti. Decadent fried eggplant, tangy tomato sauce, and salty cheese enliven the wine’s fruity and savory qualities. Moreover, Sangiovese has enough acidity to pair with dishes doused in tomato sauce. Think pasta al pomodoro, pasta al forno (lasagna), and even pizza for more casual nights in.
If serving Chianti Rufina as one of your holiday wines, try pairing this Italian red wine with classic Tuscan recipes. For appetizers, prepare a board of Tuscan charcuterie with Pecorino cheese and Crostini Neri (chicken liver crostini). Pair with ricotta ravioli, pasta with a rich meat ragu, or ravioli with butter and sage for the first course. For your main course serve arista di maiale al forno, a popular Tuscan recipe for roasted pork loin simply seasoned with olive oil, salt, garlic, rosemary, and sage.
Fans of Zinfandel can turn to Primitivo when selecting Italian wines for Christmas dinner. These two red varieties are genetically similar and exhibit comparable flavor profiles and characteristic. Primitivo is widespread in Puglia located in the hotter more maritime south of Italy. Historically, vines in this Italian wine region were bush trained to provide enough leaf cover to protect the grapes from sunburn. Old bush-trained vines are still prominent here today. The intense heat from the sun develops robust, full-bodied wines with concentrated fruit flavors and high alcohol.
Tenute Chiaromonte Muro Sant’Angelo Gioia del Colle DOP 2018
When in search of a quintessential Primitivo from Puglia, look no further than the outstanding wines of Tenute Chiaromonte. This is an old, family-owned winery that’s been passed down with respect for tradition from one generation to the next since 1826. Many of their Primitivo wines come from old vines. Tenute Chiaromonte honors their historic territory of Puglia with organic practices and the Muro Sant’Angelo 2018 is a certified organic wine.
This exceptional Primitivo grows in the Gioia del Colle DOP, which lies in the center of the heel of Italy’s boot just south of Bari. Red wines labeled Primitivo must be made from 100% of this variety under DOP regulations and have a minimum of 13% abv. Although the Adriatic Sea borders the region on one side with the Gulf of Taranto on the other, the climate is still incredibly hot and dry. Vineyards tend to grow on slopes to provide some respite from the heat at a slightly higher altitude. Soils are mainly red earth and limestone, adding further concentration to these robust reds.
The 2018 Tenute Chiaromonte Muro Sant’Angelo Primitivo is an absolute delight offering a prime expression of this Italian grape variety. A deep, dark ruby color in the glass, this wine explodes with intense aromas of dark cherries, blackberries, blood orange zest, and dried flowers. The palate delivers balanced acidity, round, supple tannins, and a luxurious mouthfeel.
Primitivo Wine Pairings
This Primitivo is one of the best holiday wines for Christmas dinner because it’s deep and concentrated enough to pair with meat dishes, but elegant enough to pair with heartier seafood. It makes a beautiful match for a saffron tomato seafood paella or grilled swordfish with an herbaceous chimichurri. Other classic Christmas dinner pairings include roasted lamb chops, prime rib with a creamy horseradish sauce, or bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin. For a traditional Primitivo wine pairing from Puglia, try cavatelli in a hearty ragu sauce, orecchiette with turnip tops, or lampascioni, lamb baked with potatoes and onions.
No Italian wines for Christmas dinner list would be complete without a sweet wine option to round out a festive evening. Personally, I enjoy dessert wines with freshness that aren’t overly cloying and sweet. Brachetto d’Acqui ticks all the right boxes for me. Plus, it’s native to perhaps my favorite Italian wine region – Piemonte.
Brachetto is a highly aromatic red grape variety with aromas of wild strawberries and fresh rose petals. The Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG utilizes solely this grape variety to produce lightly sparkling (frizzante) or sparkling (spumante) red wines, a rosato, and a rare passito wine. Any sweetness comes from the natural sugars in the Brachetto grapes and these wines are bottled at low alcohol levels around 5% abv.
Marenco Pineto Brachetto D’Acqui DOCG 2019
The Marenco Brachetto D’Acqui is a splendid, sweet frizzante wine to serve with dessert at your holiday gatherings. I’d imagine some of the wine’s vibrancy is derived from Marenco’s sustainable vineyard practices and winemaking methods. To create the slightly sparkling, sweet wine, fermentation is stopped by cooling the must to lower temperatures. As a result, most of the natural sugars of the grapes are not converted to alcohol. With a cherry rose color in the glass, the Brachetto D’Acqui energizes the senses with strawberry, rose, and herbal aromas. This wine is lively on the palate with a tantalizing sparkle, low alcohol, and a kiss of sweetness.
Brachetto D’Acqui Wine Pairings
Thanks to its fresh, fruity character, aromatic nature, and balanced sweetness, Brachetto D’Acqui makes a delicious pairing for most desserts. This Italian dessert wine is tasty alongside fruit pies and tarts, chocolate cake with hazelnuts, and other nutty treats. For an authentic Italian pairing, try Brachetto with torrone, an Italian nougat, or baci di dama, buttery hazelnut cookies sandwiched around chocolate.
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