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Sipping the Soul of Italy: Tips to Memorizing Wines + Regions for Your Exam

WSET Level 2 in Wines

With this wine map of Italy in hand, embark on a fascinating journey through the world of Italian wines tailored to the exacting standards of the WSET Level 2 in Wines exam. First up, we have word games and special tips for memorizing Italian grapes and wines. Finally, our meticulously crafted map serves as your visual compass and unlocks the secrets of Italy’s diverse wine regions, grapes, climates, and winemaking influences. Delve into the intricacies of the famed DOCs and DOCGs and secure that coveted ‘Distinction’ grade.”

Table of Contents

Tips for learning Italian grape varieties for your WSET Level 2 in Wines exam

Just when you think you have the 8 noble grape varieties down for your WSET Level 2 in Wines exam, we hammer you with 5 more red and 4 white Italian grapes! Handily, Italian grapes, PDOs and PGIs also come with ridiculously long names.

Most students find Italy challenging to remember and you’re not alone!

Here are some tips when studying Italian grape varieties.

Most Italian grapes have high acidity
but when they don't - understanding geography helps you memorize them


Think about Italian cuisine, lots of tomato sauce; and tomatoes have high acidity. Therefore, the wines Italians drink also have high acidity. This makes it an idea food and wine pairing.

Now, look at the map below and understand where these grapes are located. Those from the northern part of the country will all have high acidity, those further south will have medium acidity. Of course, one of the reasons is due to the warmer climate in the south.

From the map, you can see that Fiano (a white grape) is further south, and Montepulciano (a black grape) is further south – both of them have medium acidity, and everything north will have high acidity. 

But that’s not all! Because of the warmer climate, both Fiano and Montelpulciano have different flavours compared to the others.


Most Italian White Grapes Have Less Ripe Green and Citrus Fruit... Except Fiano.


For example, Fiano has stone fruit and tropical fruit. All of other white grapes (Verdicchio, Pinot Grigio, and Cortese) have less ripe green and citrus fruit. Well, Garganega has green fruit, citrus fruit AND when fully ripe can have stone fruit (peach). But still, no tropical fruit!


Most Italian Black Grapes have Red Fruits ... Except Montepulciano


Moreover, Montepulciano in Abruzzo has black fruit of black cherries and black plums, all of the other black grapes from Italy have red fruit of red cherries and red plums (Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Corvina)

Do you remember the black grape Primitivo from Puglia IGT in southern Italy (from Chapter 7?) This also generally only has medium acidity although your book doesn’t bother to mention it. Perhaps you could remember that Primitivo (as mentioned after Zinfandel) is the only Italian black grape that can have either red or black fruits or both.

With this in mind, it becomes very easy to remember the new Italian grape varieties and their characteristics from Chapters 21, 22, and 23.


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Use mnemonics to pass your WSET Level 2 in Wines Exam

Additionally, utilizing mnemonic word games can be a useful tool to prepare for your exam. As an illustration, within Veneto, there is a white grape Garganega that makes Soave DOC and Soave Classico DOC. So how I used to remember it was, “The Villain Gargamel isn’t suave.” You know, the smurfs… anyone?

Perhaps I’m dating myself here! 

For a more contemporary example how about “Lady Gaga is in Veneto solving some problems.”  But please come up with your own creative ideas! It’s fun!!!

Pastel Pink Illustration Final Study Tips Infographic Facebook Post1

To boot, you will also notice that in Veneto, there are a lot of V’s. Corvina, Soave, Valpolicella, Verona, Venice.

Just be aware, the only V you learn that is not in Veneto is Verdicchio, the white grape in Marche!!!

The only 'V' word you learn (in WSET Level 2) that is not in Veneto is Verdicchio!

Here’s another fantastic way to remember Italian grapes for your WSET Level 2 in Wines exam.

The black grape Nebbiolo has two B’s in the spelling. And look! The 2 famous PDOs that make wines with 100% Nebbiolo in Piedmont are Barolo DOCG + Babaresco DOCG – also two Bs.


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How to get the most out of this map of Italy

Click the red button to download a pdf version of the map below. Once downloaded, you should print it and scribble information all over it. Or upload it into an app that lets you write on it.

What kind of information should you write on it, you ask?

All of the topics that WSET wants you to know such as…

  • are there any special features or Location Factors that moderate the climate in the area. For example, Piedmont, actually means ‘at the foothills of the mountains’ and this area sits in the foothills of the Alps. These mountains and hillsides provide cool air at night keeping the grapes cool and maintaining their mouthwatering acidity levels.
  • Grape Growing Options – I’ve listed the grape varieties on the maps. But what do they taste like? How would you describe these wines to someone else? Your WSET text would ask the same questions this way, “what are the characteristics of the grapes that contribute to the style and quality of the finished wine?” Do these grapes have characteristics (high acid, high tannin, high quality and concentration) to make them suitable for ageing? If so, what notes do the wines develop with age?
  • Winemaking options – will these wines be aged in inert vessels or will they be aged in oak. Will it be aged in used oak (imparting no wood flavours) or new barrels? Or, in the case of Recioto di Soave DOCG and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG, the grapes are dried indoors gaining extra ripeness and sugars. What aromas and flavours do the wines gain from winemaking or again in WSET terms… “how do the winemaking options contribute to the style and quality of the finished wine?
  • Given the above factors, are the wines very good to outstanding in quality and therefore expensive? Or are they simple, fruity and inexpensive wines?

Map of Italy for WSET Level 2 in Wines

Here is a comprehensive wine map of Italy for all of the PDOs (DOCs and DOCGs), and PGIs (IGTs) and grape varieties you need to know for your WSET Level 2 in Wines exam. And if you scrolled down here for the map and didn’t read the above – you missed the most helpful hints of this post. Go back and read above.

Again, notice how Abruzzo, Puglia and Campania are the appellations (that you need to know for your WSET Level 2 in Wines exam) that are furthest south?

Off the top of your head, what does that say about the climate there? More importantly, what does that say about the flavours and stucture of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Primitivo and Fiano di Avelino??

Now, here’s that map again but with the hints I have written above in it.

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Dive deep into the enchanting realm of Italian wines with our meticulously curated map, designed specifically to aid your journey to achieving excellence in the WSET Level 2 in Wines exam. This comprehensive resource empowers you to explore Italy’s rich viticultural tapestry, encompassing an array of grapes, climates, and winemaking factors. By utilizing mnemonics and an awareness of the geography, you’ll gain a profound understanding of Italy’s grapes and regions. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be well-equipped to secure the prestigious ‘Distinction’ grade!

Want to learn more about wine? Start here...


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1 Comment

  1. SommWine | Sipping the Soul of Italy: Tips to Memorizing Wines + Regions for Your Exam

    What’s with all the apostrophes? There are NO apostrophes in plurals.
    DOCGs not DOCG’s.
    To someone who values accurate punctuation and grammar these errors are so annoying that they make your map (and other sections of website) unusable. If you’re going for MW you’ll find the examiners insist on a high standard of written English including punctuation.

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