By Cristal Guiet on June 3rd, 2023

How Italian Grape varieties have become a Texan wine success story

The renaissance of the Texan wine industry only began twenty-five years ago.

Texans have toiled hard to make their name in the wine industry, today, Texas is the 5th largest wine-producing state in the United States and is gaining attention internationally by winning awards for the exceptional wines that are consistently being made throughout the state.

One of the secrets to the success of the Texan wine industry is its many growers and winemakers who are natural innovators willing to experiment with new techniques and grape varieties to find the ones that are best adapted to the varied, often harsh, and extreme weather conditions that are typical of the Lone Star State.

Texans have turned towards Italy to source new grape varieties and have been delighted to discover how well these Italian varietals have settled into their new Texan environment.

Texas has eight different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) however there are two regions where Italian varietals have taken root exceptionally well.

Italian grape vines are accustomed to a variety of different climates that have variable weather on a daily basis. The poor soil and drought-like conditions that are typical of Mediterranean countries make it easy for them to adapt to the Texan environment.

Texas Hill Country AVA - Central Texas is the home of Texas’s largest AVA, it is also the southernmost AVA in the US. With over two hundred wineries and 1,200 acres under vine, it is the perfect location for growing Italian grape varieties with its harsh steep rocky hillsides, long twisting valleys, gently rolling plains, and flat fields that resemble the desert.

The predominantly sub-tropical sun-soaked climate is hot and dry, which is just what Italian and other Mediterranean grape varietals need to grow well.

Rainfall is almost non-existent - 30 inches a year, making irrigation a necessity. With a vast array of different terroirs - limestone, sandy loam, clay, sandstone, and granite, the vineyards grow at an elevation of between 1,200 and 1400 feet.

There are many micro-climates within the region. Italian grape varieties such as Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Sagrantino have adapted particularly well in the Texas Hill Country much to the delight of local winemakers.

Texas High Plains - The second largest AVA in Texas with around 5,000 acres under vine, it is also the third largest AVA in the United States.

Most of the grapes that are grown in Texas come from this region.

Its poor sandy clay-loam soils combined with cool nights and warm days at high elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 feet on relatively flat terrain make photosynthesis from the intense direct sunlight encourage the growth of grapes that ripen better and have thicker skins, which are important attributes for more color, flavor, and tannins in a wine.

The biggest risk in this area is early spring frosts around the time that the vines go into bud, which can mean partial loss of some of the future harvest if the buds and flowers have already started to develop.

The lack of rain - less than 20 inches per year means that irrigation is essential for the survival of the vines. Despite all of these hurdles, Italian vines thrive in this relatively flat, easy-to-maintain viticultural region.

Sangiovese, Nero d’Avola, and Montepulciano grapes are particularly fruitful here.

What Italian Grapes Thrive in Texas?

A vast array of different Italian grape varieties thrive in Texas. Sangiovese is the most commonly planted Italian varietal, and some exceptional wines are being made with it.

The growing season in Texas is short, and very hot. The semi-arid climate is very temperamental weather (diurnal - the shift in daily temperatures) which impacts the successful cultivation of grapes, adding many challenges that viticulturists must surmount in order to be successful in the viticultural industry.

Grape Variety (color)


Where does it grow in Italy?

Aglianico (R)

Aglianico thrives in the sandy loose soils that are flooded with generous sunlight, low humidity, and temperature variations of the Texas High Plains. It retains its acidity better than other grape varieties despite the Texas heat.

Campania - Southern

Negroamaro (Red)

The name means black and bitter, but there is nothing bitter about this very vigorous vine that is known for good yields and adores sunny hot even drought-like conditions, the grape skins are quite thick which makes wine with dark color and great tannins and are perfectly adapted to the Texas High Plains.

Apulia and Salento - Southern 

Dolcetto (Red)

The name means “little sweet one” though most of the wines that are made from Dolcetto are dry.  Wines are made for early release and drinking and thrive in the Texan climate.

Piedmont - Northwest 

Sagrantino (Red)

Sagrentino thrives in the heat and needs a longer growing season to produce a dark, bold wine that expresses its terroir, hints of cinnamon, chocolate, and tobacco along with its red fruit flavors.  It grows well in many Texas Viticultural areas.

Umbria - Central 

Sangiovese (Red)

The most commonly planted grape in Italy, Sangiovese has a versatility that has made it particularly successful in Texas where the wine characteristics are dependent on the terroir, climate, and methods used to make the wine.

Tuscany, Umbria, Campagnia and Romagnia - Central and Southern

Barbera (Red)

Barbera grows well in the Texas Hill Country producing wines with a combination of rich flavors and light-body with light tannins and high acidity that gives it a juicy flavor and makes it perfect for summer drinking.

Piedmont and Lombardy - Central and North

Malvasia Bianca (White)

This ancient Italian variety thrives well in sunny areas with well-drained soil and moderate temperatures making it grow particularly well in the Texas High Plains, it is often used as part of a blend with other varietals.

Throughout Italy

Montepulciano (Red)

Montepulciano grapes grow well in the high elevation of the Texas High Plains. The sandy loam and deep limestone deposits in the soil produce wines with concentrated flavors, excellent balance, depth, and intensity.

Tuscany - Central

Moscato Giallo (White)

In Italy, Moscato produces a sweet dessert wine and Texas winemakers are working to decide what is the best wine style to be made from this relatively new arrival.

Piedmont - Northern

Nebbiolo (Red)

Nebbiolo grows well in Texas High Plains, wines are easily approachable when young, further aging develops flavors of crisp red berries that mellow into warm spice, mushrooms, floral, and toasty oak (from barrel aging) combined with good acidity and firm tannins that make this a delightful expression of Italy from the heart of Texas wine country.

Piedmont - Northwest

Nero d’Avola (Red)

A relative newcomer to Texas, Nero d’Avola is taking root in Texas with its rich dark red color along with creamy vanilla flavors complimented by rich ripe tannins.

Sicily - Southern

Pinot Grigio (White)

Pinot Grigio is accustomed to poor soil and the variable temperatures of Northeastern Italy. It has settled well in Texas and produces light fresh wines with high crisp acidity.

Fruili-Venezia Guilia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto - Northeast

Teroldego (Red)

Teroldego grows well in the Texas High Plains and produces wines that have mellow tannins that are accompanied by cranberry, blackberry, and pomegranate flavors.  

Trentino - Northern

If you love Italian wine then look no further than your local Texan winemakers, who have created such a vast array of wines made from Italian varietals that will leave you spoiled for choice.

The challenging growing conditions have prompted Texan viticulturists and winemakers to find varietals from around the world that will not only thrive in the eight different AVAs in Texas but also make outstanding wines.

As a new world wine region, there are no limitations or rules that Texans must adhere to during the growing and winemaking process, which permits extensive experimentation in order to find strains of grape varietals that will adapt to their new environment and produce grapes that make outstanding wines.

Italy and Texas have very similar climates and soil types creating the perfect symbiosis between the Italian vines and the Texan viticultural and winemaking skills to create a little piece of “wine heaven”.


Author: Cristal Guiet

Cristal has more than twenty three years of experience in the wine industry. In addition to creating wine lists in Michelin three-star restaurants, working with prestigious London wine merchants, and starting her own wine tourism company in France, Cristal has been writing about wine for over fifteen years. She holds the Advanced degree from Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and resides in London.

Texan Winemakers Harnessing the Power of Italian Grapes

Want more wine content like this?

Jump on board and get other great content all about Texas and wine.