It’s that time of year for lists of annual favorites or “best of” events whether it be movies, iPhone apps, books, CD’s or whatever. In the spirit of the season here are my picks for the best inexpensive Italian red wines of 2010. Of all the Italian wines I tasted in 2010, these are my top twelve favorite red wines of Italy priced under $25. These wines have the added advantage that they are generally available and most local retail wine shops will carry a number of these wines and would probably also be willing to special order the others upon request.
Italy is an extremely wine-friendly country with an abundance of enjoyable wines at all price points. Italy is the world’s largest wine-producing country and a dizzying array of wines is produced in every one of Italy’s 20 regions. My list of favorite inexpensive red Italian wines reflects this geographic diversity and incorporates selections from the length and breadth of Italy. While some of my top wine selections are sure to be familiar to many readers of this post, other selections from some off-the-beaten-track wine areas in Italy will probably be less well known.
The following is my list – in alphabetical order by producer - of the top twelve inexpensive (under $25) Italian red wines that I tasted in 2010. For those interested in a more comprehensive listing of Italy’s top-rated wines for 2010 – both red and white and at all price levels – I recommend viewing Gambero Rosso’s recent annual Tre Bicchieri or “Three Glasses” awards.
Antonelli, Montefalco Rosso 2007 (about $24)
This is a fine blended wine from one of my favorite producers in the Umbria region. Comprised primarily of Sangiovese and varying amounts of Sagrantino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it has an intense ruby red color with a fruity bouquet and a warm taste, firm texture, lively acidity and a good tannic backbone. It is very versatile at the dinner table and goes well with risotto and tagliatelle as well as roasted meats and aged cheeses.
Bisceglia, "Terra di Vulcano" Aglianico del Vulture Basilicata 2007 (about $14)
Aglianico is probably southern Italy’s best red grape variety. Like Nebbiolo, Aglianico (ahl yahn’ ee ko) is a dark-skinned, late-ripening, tannic and acidic grape that traditionally produces full-bodied, age-worthy wines often referred to as the “Barolos of the south.” The Bisceglia (bee shay’ yhea ah) estate in the mountainous and remote Basilicata region produces a number of noteworthy red wines but the Aglianico wines are the crown jewels of the estate and they have received substantial praise from the international wine press.
The Terra di Vulcano Basilicata is Bisceglia’s entry-level Aglianico wine. It is a ripe, juicy wine that will appeal to those who favor bold, velvety, well-structured red wines with silky tannins. It has an almost impenetrable black color with brick-red hints at the rim and sweet dark cherry and plum aromas. This full-bodied wine goes well with hearty meals involving grilled meats, stews, roast lamb or game. It is delicious and an outstanding value at this price.
La Brancaia in Chianti Classico is one of Tuscany’s top wine-growing estates. As the name implies, Tre is a blend of three varietals – Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – that are sourced from the winery’s three estates - Brancaia in Castellina, Poppi in Radda-in-Chianti and Brancaia in Maremma. 2007 was a memorable vintage in Tuscany. This medium-bodied super-Tuscan wine is aged for 12 months in large oak barrels. It is plump and juicy, elegant, well structured and a standout in its price range.
Cantina di Santadi, “Grotta Rossa” Carignano del Sulcis 2007 (about $15)
Established in 1960 in the Sulcis area of southwestern Sardinia, Cantina di Santadi has in its relatively short existence become one of the major stars in the Italian wine firmament.
The ’07 Grotta Rossa is a great introduction to the potential of the Carignano varietal. It offers a generous bounty of red and black fruit aromas followed by waves of flavor. It is round and voluptuous with chewy fruit tannins but with enough complexity and balance to keep it from being ponderous. It is a beautiful interplay of warm, sunny fruit flavors of its Mediterranean climate with Italian finesse.
Fattoria di Felsina, Chianti Classico Berardenga 2007 (about $24)
Located a short jog north of Castelnuovo Berardenga in the far southeastern part of the Chianti Classico zone, the Felsina winery is one of Tuscany’s premier producers. The estate has been on a resolute role for several years and now offers a line-up of engaging wines that will fit many palates and budgets.
This wine is made entirely from Sangiovese grapes sourced from several small and medium-size Felsina vineyards in the Chianti Classico zone. After fermentation, the wine spends 12 months in small to medium oak barrels and 3-6 months in the bottle prior to release for sale. The wine has an elegant bouquet marked by red berry and kitchen spice aromas, solid fruit flavors, good acidity, soft tannins and a finish that just doesn’t seem to end. This is a modern rendition of a classic wine and one you will probably want to stock up on.
Fattoria la Lecciaia, Toscana Sangiovese Montalcino 2005 (about $16)
The Fattoria La Lecciaia (pronounced lah lech chai’ ah) is a relatively new winery by Tuscan standards but has in its relatively short existence become well established in the Tuscan wine scene. The estate produces a range of Sangiovese-based wines including a highly regarded Brunello, a Rosso di Montalcino and several super-Tuscan wines as well as this, its entry-level Sangiovese wine.
The 2005 Toscana Sangiovese is medium-to-full bodied with a concentrated medley of ripe purple fruit and blackberry flavors that caress the palate. It is well balanced with good acidity, discreet tannins and a lingering finish. This unassuming Sangiovese is a lot more wine than what you would expect from its price tag.
Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico 2007 (about $22)
Isole e Olena is one of the most celebrated estates in the Chianti zone and its wines just seem to keep getting better. Made primarily of Sangiovese with small percentages of Canaiolo and Syrah, the estate’s ’07 Chianti Classico is an aromatic, concentrated medley of ripe purple fruits, blackberries with hints of kitchen spices and a solid, balanced palate of good depth and persistence. This is one of the finest and most reasonably priced Chianti Classico wines on the market.
Librandi, "Duca San Felice Ciro" Rosso Riserva 2007 (about $18)
This is a red wine from Calabria (yes, Calabria!) made entirely from the unusual indigenous Gaglioppo (gah yhee oh’ poh) grape. However, don’t let that dissuade you. This is a super red wine that regularly wins awards from top Italian wine guides such as Gambero Rosso (see Gambero Rosso awards for 2010). The ’07 Duca San Felice Riserva is medium to full-bodied with explosive fruit flavors, good tannic structure and a long finish. This is a serious wine that should satisfy any discerning wine drinker’s needs for complexity and flavor.
Marchesi di Frescobaldi, "Nipozzano" Chianti Rufina Riserva 2007 (about $20)
The Castello di Nipozzano estate is one of the Marchesi di Frescobaldi family’s nine estates in Tuscany. Located in the village of Nipozzano in the heart of the Chianti Rufina area, this is probably the estate’s most famous wine. It is a classic Chianti Rufina wine that consists primarily of Sangiovese with small amounts of other varietals like Malvasia Nera, Colorino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Consistent with DOCG regulations, it spends 24 months in barrel plus another 3 months in the bottle prior to release for sale. This wine is a charmer. Balance, character and flavor – what’s not to love?
Prunotto, “Fiulot” Barbera d’Asti 2007 (about $15)
The Prunotto estate was acquired by the Antinori Group in the mid 1990’s and with the Group’s considerable financial resources, the estate was able to make some very attractive vineyard acquisitions.
Prunotto’s Fiulot consists entirely of Barbera grapes sourced from their Agliano vineyard located about 12 miles from Asti. It is as intense and engaging as a good Barbera wine should be. It has ripe red fruit flavors, a forthright texture, a crisp acidity and spicy vibrancy and soft, understated tannins. It is a benchmark Barbera d’Asti wine and at this price is an exceptional value for a quality-driven wine.
Rocca di Frassinello, “Poggio alla Guardia” Maremma Toscana 2006 (about $24)
Rocca di Frassinello is a joint venture between two boldface names in the wine world – the Chianti estate Castellare di Castellina and the Bordeaux super-star French estate Domains Baron de Rothschild. The estate is comprised of 1,300 acres in the center of the up-and-coming wine area southwest of Florence called Maremma
The ’06 Poggio alla Guardia consists primarily of the French varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a little Italian Sangiovese added. After a little swishing, aromas of plums and cherries and a hint of kitchen spices fairly leap out of the glass. This medium-bodied super-Tuscan wine is smooth and supple with good acidity and dusty tannins. This French-style beauty is as bright as a summer day in Tuscany.
Villabella, "Montemazzano" Rosso Veronese 2005 (about $15)
The Corvina grape, more formally known as Corvina Veronese, is not well known to many Americans but it is the main red grape variety of the Veneto region in northeastern Italy. It is the major varietal used in the production of light and fruity regional wines like Valpolicella and Bardolino and the primary varietal used in heavyweight reds like Amarone and Recioto.
While Corvina is typically blended with other varieties, Villabella’s Montemazzano is comprised entirely of Corvina. Aged in large oak barrels for 18 months, it has a dark ruby red color with an aromatic medley of ripe plums and black currant fruit aromas. The flavors are rich, full-bodied and opulent with notes of dried fruit and spice. It is a real crowd-pleaser.
Note – prices indicated are averages of retail prices in the local market as of the date of this posting. Individual prices will vary from store to store and some wines may be on sale so prices may be lower than indicated above. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed. Call to check on price and availability before making the trip.
January 8, 2011
For other reviews of the best Italian wines for 2010 see Italian Wine Reviews.