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Sangiovese, nebbiolo, barbera and dolcetto are varietals sometimes referred to as the “Italian Mob of wine.” They earned this reputation because of their dominance in the Italian wine industry. You may sometimes find these grapes listed on labels but many times they are identified only by region.

Most may be familiar with sangiovese as the main blending grape in mass-produced Chianti in its iconic fiasco, as the basket-wrapped bottle is known in Italian.

In the past these grapes were grown haphazardly in random vineyards or for a large-scale production with cooperatives. Today, many Italian producers have placed emphasis on growing sangiovese with care, making it brilliantly concentrated with spiced plum, black cherry and an integrated spice. Simply said — a beautiful wine.

Nebbiolo, the famous grape behind Barolo wine, is grown in Italy’s northwest region of Piedmont. When compared to other grapes in this lineup, it is by far the most renowned for making aggressive, highly tannic red wines with alluring aromas and flavors — floral, roasted meats and spice.

Barbera is similar to nebbiolo with less assertive tannins. Many of us love this grape because of its refreshing cherry and raspberry flavors. But as with the other grapes it can also be produced in a serious full-bodied style.

Dolcetto is unlike the others in this lineup of Italian grapes. It generally does not have the potential to age as well as the others. Its light tannin and mellow body makes it uncomplicated compared to sangiovese, barbera and nebbiolo. This is a wine to enjoy for its simplicity and refreshing berry flavors.


  • 2016 Da Vinci Chianti DOCG, Italy (about $12 retail)


  • 2016 Banfi Chianti Classico, Italy (about $18 retail)