When wine lovers consider red wines from northern Italy, their thoughts may go directly to the esteemed wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, made with the prestigious Nebbiolo grape. Go one level deeper and Barbera or Dolcetto come to mind, which are the region’s beloved supporting characters. But dig a little further and there’s a treasure trove of obscure red grapes to uncover. It turns out that this region, famous for powerful wines, actually offers a grocery list of juicy, lighter-bodied reds that should be stocked in your fridge all summer long.
While you may have never heard of some of the varieties listed below, they all possess a lively, refreshing acidity and fruit-forward flavor profile that should earn them a spot on your “chillable reds” radar. These hidden gems often provide a great value, and while they might be hard to find, are well worth seeking out. So if you are looking for something new to try this summer, check out this list to find your new favorite light-bodied red.
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Pelaverga is Barolo’s other red grape. Tucked away in the small village of Verduno on the northern border of Barolo, the delicate wines of the Verduno Pelaverga DOC are typically overshadowed by their more prestigious neighbor. The variety practically went extinct until Gabriella Burlotto of the Castello di Verduno estate garnered appreciation for the obscure grape in the 1970s. Burlotto planted a valued vineyard site to the grape and started bottling single-varietal expressions, which have since gained a dedicated following. This wine is a vibrant light red in the glass, and is delightfully aromatic with notes of strawberry, rhubarb, rose petals, white pepper, and earth. If you happen to come across a bottle of Castello di Verduno Basadone Pelaverga or the G.B. Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga, bring it home, chill it down, and drink it with some prosciutto immediately.
Grignolino gets its name from a local term meaning “pip” or “seeds.” This is because the variety produces an extraordinary number of seeds in each grape, giving the wine an extra kick of tannin. These wines offer searing acidity and tannin while remaining light in color and body, earning them the nickname “baby Nebbiolo.” Though some find the wine’s intense characteristics challenging, others are drawn to its tart and tannic nature. If varietal Grignolino proves to be overwhelming, opt for a Monferrato Rosso, a DOC representing blends from the more wild side of Piedmont, which often include Grignolino blended with other grapes to mellow it out. For a fun experiment, seek out the following wines from the producer Prima Piuma to try side by side. Winemaker Summer Wolff crafts a high-toned varietal Grignolino called “Lino” and a Monferrato Rosso made with 70 percent Grignolino and 30 percent Barbera, which offers a more approachable, softer style.
While Ruchè could be considered just another obscure native grape of Piedmont, the wine actually has its own DOCG appellation, the highest designation in Italy. With only about 50 hectares planted, the Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato is one of the smallest, most exclusive DOCGs in Italy, giving this lesser-known grape some serious cachet among Italian wine lovers. Similar to other wines of Piedmont, Ruchè is light in color but offers a complex and expressive flavor profile. Marco Maria Crivelli is one of the fervent believers of this variety’s excellence in the region, crafting elegant examples of Ruchè from a five-hectare plot of vineyards that his ancestors planted in 1919. The Crivelli Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato will show you the magic of this grape with its aromatics of rose petals, white pepper, and spices along with flavors of juicy wild berries held up by roaring acidity and an intense minerality.
This grape gets its name from the Latin word meaning strawberry, and the wine‘s tart and juicy red berry characteristics definitely live up to its namesake. While you may not have heard of this grape, it was incredibly popular in the town of Asti — making up about half of the acreage under vine — until it fell out of favor in the 19th century. Overshadowed by more prestigious grapes, Freisa was confined to its role as an insignificant blending grape until the historic Balbiano winery initiated an effort to restore the grape’s presence with the creation of the Vigna della Regina Freisa di Chieri DOC in 2009. Similar to Grignolino, Freisa offers intense tannins, but ultimately remains a delightfully fruit-forward, light-bodied red. Since some drinkers are put off by the rugged grip this wine can have, try pairing it with some fatty meats or cheeses to soften the tannic blow. We can confirm that drinking the Vietti Langhe Freisa alongside chunks of fancy Parmesan cheese is a worthy way to spend an evening.
Region: Trentino Alto-Adige
Situated on the Austrian border, the wines of Alto Adige can often be found under Italian or Germanic names. Such is the case for this local grape, which can be referred to as the Italian name Schiava or Germanic names Vernatsch or Trollinger. While white wines dominate Alto Adige, Schiava is the darling of the red varieties, and is adored by local producers. Schiava is often heralded as a great alternative for Pinot Noir lovers, since it offers a similarly light body, fresh acidity, and red fruit flavors balanced by a subtle earthiness. The highest quality versions can be found from the hillside Santa Maddalena DOC. Keep an eye out for the incredible Schiava from pioneering producer Elena Walch, which offers complex savory flavors of pepper and almond skin.
Marzemino might just be the most difficult wine to track down on this entire list. It can be found in small quantities in Alto Adige as well as around Lombardy and Friuli. This variety does not benefit from any DOC or DOCG status, so if you find a bottle, it can offer great value. An outstanding example is the Roeno “La Rua” Marzemino, which is bursting with juicy blackberry and raspberry flavors and tinged with an incredible herbaceousness.
Teroldego is a wine of contradictions. On the vine, the grape has distinctly thick skins, contributing to the wine’s brooding and inky appearance. But when the liquid reaches your palate, it may surprise you with its light and delicate nature. Most commonly found in the steep hills of Alto Adige, Teroldego is valued for its playful, fruit-forward profile. Foradori is an iconic producer in the region that has fully embraced the grape, producing the most sought-after versions of this wine. Foradori implements biodynamic viticulture to craft high-quality, terroir-driven Teroldego. Try the winery’s classic expression with dinner or its newer Lezèr bottling, an experimental wine made with 68 percent Teroldego, meant to be a casual, juicy porch-pounder for the summer months.
Located on the beautiful Lake Garda, Bardolino is a small area in the Veneto that produces blends with local grapes Corvina and Rondinella — the same grapes that are used in the more prestigious neighboring region of Valpolicella. Even though the regions use the same varieties, the wines of Bardolino are much lighter and more laid-back than the more serious and bold wines Valpolicella is famous for. The distinct soils of Bardolino give the wine a more lifted, high-tone profile with juicy red fruit flavors of sour cherry. The fruit-forward wines of Benazzoli and Sassara Vini exemplify the fun nature of this region in their wines, so seek them out if you can.
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Also known as Ribolla Nera, Schioppettino is a rare red grape variety native to Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a region on the border of Slovenia in northeastern Italy. As the story goes with many uncommon grapes, Schioppettino was on the brink of extinction in the 1960s, until a winemaker set out to rescue the unique indigenous variety. Paolo Rapuzzi founded the Ronchi di Cialla winery in the early 1970s with the goal of showcasing Friuli’s native grapes, including Schioppettino, and it’s now a staple in the region. The wine is seriously expressive, jumping out of the glass with aromas of flowers, licorice, and white pepper. On the palate, the wine offers a punch of tart red berry flavors and thirst-quenching acidity. If you want to seek out a classic example, look no further than winery Ronchi di Cialla Schioppettino, a champion of the grape itself.
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