my all-time favorite inexpensive italian wines - all $15 or less
Sniffing out my favorite inexpensive Italian wines is not as easy as it sounds. There are so many good Italian wines with high quality-to-price ratios, so much competition and so little time that this endeavor can be challenging. Nonetheless, I always give it my best shot.
Italy is a complicated wine country that produces a lot of wine each year that includes red, white, sparkling and sweet wines. Some of Italy’s wines are well known and highly-regarded by the international wine community. Because of their popularity and limited supply they tend to be quite expensive. But a lot of Italian wines come from less well-known varieties grown in regions other than Tuscany or the Piedmont that are generally less familiar to wine consumers. Because they are not as well-known as Italy’s marquee-name wines they tend to be priced more competitively and generally more accessible.
I taste a lot of wine each year and my experience is that there are plenty of well-made Italian wines of substance and character that despite the irksome dollar-Euro exchange rate still sell for $15 or less. And who doesn’t love a wine bargain, especially in these challenging times?
Here are my all-time favorite inexpensive Italian wines, the wines that consistently have the highest quality-to-price ratios of the many I’ve tasted over the years. No matter your income status, this list should be useful for all wine enthusiasts in search of real wine bargains.
This list of value-priced wines includes some whites but the majority is red. Several have been described in previous postings on this website while others have are new to this website. All the wines listed below are generally available and any well-stocked wine shop will carry some if not all the wines listed.
The wines are presented in alphabetical order by producer. Even though I’ve listed a vintage year for each wine for pricing purposes one needn’t focus on specific vintages. These wines are consistently reliable from year to year so you needn’t be concerned about specific vintages.
Badia a Coltibuono, “Cetamura” Chianti DOCG 2013 (about $11)
With Cetamura the Badia a Coltibuono estate has crafted an authentic, fruity and enjoyable Chianti wine ideal for everyday meals and social gatherings. Cetamura is made with Sangiovese and Canaiolo, two of Tuscany’s prime red varietals. This ready-to-drink, medium-bodied Chianti with notes of berries and spices is tailor-made for lighter dishes like pastas, baked vegetables and simple chicken dishes.
Banfi, “Centine” Toscana 2013 (about $11)
The Centine (chen teh’ nay) is one of the estate’s “entry-level” wines. But “entry-level” doesn’t mean inconsequential. Think of it as a relaxed and approachable super-Tuscan.
It is a super-Tuscan blend of 60 percent Sangiovese and 20 percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. After fermentation the wines are aged separately for six months in small French oak barriques, blended and then matured for an additional 12 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.
The Centine has a ruby-red color with muted streaks of violet on the edge and seductive red cherry and kitchen spice aromas, It is medium-bodied, round and tasty with dark fruit flavors, soft tannins and a lingering finish. It is an immensely pleasing, easy-to-drink red wine that goes will with a wide variety of dishes from simple soups, cheeses and pasta dishes to more complex roast meats and game.
Cantele, Salice Salentino Riserva 2012 (about $12)
Negroamaro is Puglia’s signature grape variety and a major ingredient in many of the region’s DOC wines. It produces ripe, rich and delicious wines that are almost black in color with plum and prune aromas and dark fruit flavors.
Cantele’s Salice Salentino Riserva is made entirely of Negroamaro sourced from the estate’s vineyards in the Salento DOC zone in southern Puglia. After fermentation the wine spends a year ageing in a combination of both new and used oak barriques and barrels followed by two years in the bottle.
This hearty red has a spicy character with sweet tannins and dark fruit flavors that makes it a great complement to hearty meat dishes.
Castello Monaci, “Piluna” Primitivo 2012 (about $13)
The Puglia region is bathed in intense sunlight tempered only by constant, cooling maritime winds from the nearby Mediterranean Sea. This unique climate helps produce exquisitely balanced wines.
This beautiful Primitivo from Puglia has lots of ripe black fruit and spice aromas and flavors. While robust and structured, there are no rough edges here, just mouth-filling fruit flavors and good acidity accented with a long, lingering finish. Serve with braised meat, lamb and pork dishes.
Di Majo Norante, Sangiovese IGT 2013 (about $11)
This is one of my favorites, a reliable and engaging wine from a prominent producer that I have served on numerous occasions when a big red wine is in order. The bouquet fairly leaps out of the glass with aromas of black currants, spices and leather. A gentle swirling of the wine in the mouth will coat the tongue, teeth and gums with plush, juicy, ripe black fruit. It shows substantial acidity and structure and has the stuffing to take on sausage pizza, grilled beef, and game – anything that calls for a robust red.
Fontanafredda, “Briccotondo” Barbera Piemonte 2013 (about $13)
Fontanafredda’s “Briccotondo” is made entirely of Barbera grapes harvested from the estate’s vineyards in the Monferrato and Langhe areas of the Piedmont region. Following fermentation the wine is aged in wood casks for five months before bottling.
It has a medley of ripe dark fruit aromas and flavors backed up by soft tannins and Barbera’s signature acidity. It has good fruit appeal and is distinctly Italian in terms of its structure, balance and food-friendly acidity.
Il Molino di Grace, “Il Volano” Toscano Rosso 2012 (about $15)
Il Volano is the estate’s entry-level wine and is a blend of 75 percent Sangiovese and 25 percent Merlot. The grapes are manually harvested in late September to early October, undergo a 20 day fermentation and then the wine is aged in steel and bottle prior to release for sale.
It’s a youthful but immensely appealing wine with fruity and floral aromas, smooth tannins and zesty red cherry and currant flavors. While it lacks the intensity of the estate’s more famous and more expensive red wines it is, nonetheless, an impressive Sangiovese and Merlot blend that is sure to please and a great value at this price.
La Lecciaia, Toscana Sangiovese Montalcino 2011 (about $11)
La Lecciaia (lah leh chia' ah) has approximately 38 acres under vine in the prestigious Montalcino area and its neighbors are some of the area’s oldest and most celebrated producers of the prestigious Brunello wine.
About half of La Lecciaia’s vineyards are devoted to growing Sangiovese for the production of Brunello wines. But it also produces a range of Sangiovese-based wines including a Rosso di Montalcino, several Super-Tuscan wines as well as the entry-level Toscana Sangiovese Montalcino.
The estate’s Toscana Sangiovese Montalcino is an exceptional wine at its price point. A deep purple color leads to fresh, fragrant and vigorous aromas of plums and cherries. The wine is medium-to-full bodied and concentrated with a medley of ripe purple fruit and blackberry flavors that caress your taste buds. It is well-balanced with good acidity, modest tannins and a lingering finish. I think it is just plain delicious when served with a plate of pasta, vegetable lasagna or a pizza or go more upscale and serve with roast veal with fresh figs.
Rocca della Macie, “Sasyr” Toscana IGT 2012 (about $13)
Rocca delle Macie is a relatively young and energetic winery that has over the course of a few decades firmly established itself as one of Tuscany’s most reliable and popular producers. While the estate’s headquarters is in Castellina in Chianti in the heart of the Chianti country, it has over 500 acres under vine spread among six wine properties throughout Tuscany. The estate has a full line-up of red, white and specialty wines that are sold extensively throughout Italy and exported to numerous countries.
Sasyr is a blend of 60 percent Sangiovese and 40 percent Syrah. The name "Sasyr" is a proprietary name derived from the first few letters of the two varieties that comprise the blend. The varieties come from the estate’s vineyards in the Maremma district in southwestern Tuscany. The Sangiovese and Syrah are fermented and aged separately. A small percentage of the Sangiovese is aged in small oak casks (barriques) for 6 months. After ageing, the wines are blended and bottled for distribution.
Sasyr is smooth, balanced, fruity and a real pleasure to drink, There are no rough edges here, just pure drinking pleasure. It has substance and balance with buoyant acidity and discreet tannins. But it is the profusion of juicy, ripe blackberry, cherry and wild berry fruit flavors that takes center stage.
Santadi, “Grotta Rossa” Carignano del Sulcis 2011 (about $14)
Santadi’s “Grotta Rossa” is a great introduction to the Carignano varietal that thrives in the Sulcis area in south-western Sardinia. This spicy red is made entirely from Carignano and has lively acidity, spicy accents and soft tannins enhanced with subtle herbal notes in the finish. This medium to full-bodied wine has an astonishing depth of flavor and complexity that is hard to find in value-priced wines like this and is a great alternative to the more popular and often-overpriced Chianti wines that line wine shop shelves. It is an ideal table companion when roast veal or pork tenderloin dishes are on the menu.
Santadi, “Villa Solais” Vermentino di Sardegna 2014 (about $14)
Vermentino is a late-ripening, white grape variety that is not particularly well known outside of southern Europe. But this variety flourishes on the island of Sardinia where it produces lean, crisp wines with subtle but enticing aromas and fresh pear and lime flavors.
Santadi’s “Villa Solais” Vermentino is a blend of 70 percent Vermentino and 30 percent Nuragus, another popular Sardinian white wine variety. The grapes are picked in phases starting in early September from the vineyards of selected members of the Santadi cooperative in the Sulcis district in the scenic southwestern corner of Sardinia. This relatively early harvest is designed to preserve the aromatics and crisp acidity of the grapes.
The wine is pale, straw yellow in color with subtle but persistent aromas of citrus and white fruit. Fine-spun pear, green apple and lemon-infused flavors glissade across the tongue backed up by Vermentino’s signature acidity.
This is a delightful wine for summer sipping or any time of year for that matter.
Sant’Antonio, “Scaia” Corvina Rosso 2014 (about $12)
This is a classy and enjoyable red wine from the Sant’Antonio estate in the Veneto region of northern Italy. Corvina is the star of most red wines produced in the Veneto region and the primary ingredient used to produce the Veneto’s famous Ripasso and Amarone wines.
While Corvina is typically blended with other red varieties, Sant’Antonio’s Scaia (ska yah) is made entirely of Corvina grapes. The grapes are harvested from the estate’s vineyards and fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks so as to retain the flavors and elegance of the Corvina. No oak barrels or casks are used in the production of Scaia Corvina.
Sant’Antonio’s Scaia is ruby red in color with a glint of purple on the edge and delicate aromas of red cherries and dried herbs. It is medium-bodied and fresh with delicate tannins, vibrant acidity and a smooth finish with seductive spice notes.
Tormaresca, “Neprica” 2011 (about $11)
This wine is from the Tuscan-based Antinori family’s property in the Salento DOC area of Puglia. It is an awesome blend of Negoamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its name “Neprica” which is a combination of the first few letters of each of the three grape names.
This wine is made in a plush, easy to drink style with soft tannins and bright acidity wrapped in a cashmere texture. And the spicy, dried herb aromas that linger on the long pleasant finish are an added bonus. This is a crowd-pleasing wine with a very modest price tag that is hard to beat on a quality-to-price basis.
Valle Reale, “Vigne Nuove” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012 (about $13)
Montepulciano is a wine varietal that grows easily and well in Abruzzo’s harsh hills and mountains abutting the Adriatic Sea. The Montepulciano variety produces reliable, ready to drink, juicy red wines that are just bursting with fruit flavors.
The 2012 Vigne Nuove is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks for 3 months before bottling. Tt is medium-bodied with red fruit flavors, food-friendly acidity, good texture and a pleasant finish. This inexpensive Montepulciano d’Abruzzo really struts its stuff.
Zenato, “San Benedetto” Lugana 2014 (about $13)
This is one of my favorite white wines and I keep coming back to it throughout the year.
The wine is crafted entirely from a special variety of Trebbiano grapes sourced from the Zenato estate’s vineyards in San Benedetto, a village just a little inland from the southern shore of dazzling Lake Garda in north-central Italy. The grapes are fermented and aged for 6 months in temperature-controlled steel tanks and then spend a few months in the bottle prior to release for sale.
This is a wonderful expression of a Trebbiano-based wine. It is dry and delicate with good peach and pear-flavored fruit but with sufficient acidity to keep it refreshing, zesty and food friendly. It has some citrus notes on the finish. Ii is a great accompaniment for appetizers, especially if they involve goat cheese or shellfish but also goes well with salads, most fish dishes and herb-basted roast chicken.
Note – prices indicated are averages of national retail prices but prices will vary from store to store. Since availability is not guaranteed and stores may sell out of the selections it is best to call or check their website for availability and price before making the trip.
Updated April 20, 2016
Return to italian wine reviews