As the year winds down and the exhausting and dreadful campaign season is now behind us we enter into what should be a more reflective end-of-year period. It’s that time of year when we start seeing numerous “best of” lists. You know what I mean - lists enumerating the best of this or that for the year such as favorite restaurants, movies, music, etc.
So, in the spirit of the season, I have assembled a list of my favorite value-priced Italian red wines for the year.
Sniffing out my favorite inexpensive Italian wines is not as easy as it might sound. There are so many good Italian wines with high quality-to-price ratios, so much competition and so little time that this endeavor is more complicated than it first sounds. Nonetheless, I always give it my full attention.
So here is what I consider the best value-priced Italian red wines of 2012. Specifically, the twelve best red wines I’ve tasted over the course of the year that retail for $20 or less. While one wine on this list broke through the $10 price barrier, the rest are in the upper half of the under-$20 price range. This should be a useful list for Italian wine cognoscenti in this period of diminished expectations and financial belt-tightening.
While a few on the list have been reviewed this year in previous postings on this website, most are new to the website. These wines are not particularly hard to find and most can be found in any well-stocked local wine shop. If not available, most wine shops would be happy to special-order it for you. They are presented in alphabetical order by producer.
Argiolas, “Costera” Cannonau Di Sardegna 2009 (about $15)
This is another terrific wine from the Argiolas estate. The 2009 Costera from Argiolas is predominantly Cannonau with a few splashes of other local red varieties added to the blend. A little swirling of the glass releases generous, complex and appealing dark fruit aromas. It is a richly structured wine with kitchen spice and dried fruit flavors and a slight rustic edge that enhances the wine's appeal. This is a wine that reflects its warm and sunny Mediterranean heritage and this inexpensive, robust red is a great introduction to the wines of Sardinia.
Banfi, Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (about $17)
Banfi, more formally known as Castello Banfi, is a prominent estate and winery located near the picturesque Tuscan hill-town of Montalcino. Banfi owns a big chunk of prime real estate in Tuscany and is a major player in the Tuscan wine scene. It produces and markets a wide range, literally dozens, of red, white and dessert wines at all price points.
Banfi’s Chianti Classico Riserva is primarily Sangiovese with a splash of Cabernet and Canaiolo Nero. The wine spends two years ageing in large oak barrels and 6 months in the bottle before release for sale. This red is smooth yet complex with cherry, raspberry and spice flavors. It's backed by fine tannins with sweet spice notes on the finish.
Brancaia, “Tre” 2008 (about $18)
“Tre” is Italian for “three” and in this case stands for the three grape varieties - Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon - in the blend that are harvested from Brancaia’s three Tuscan estates. The mouthfeel is velvety and rich without being heavy because the fruit flavors are balanced with good acidity. This inexpensive Super-Tuscan is a super star that exhibits elegance, complexity and intensity and is a great buy at this price.
Castello Monaci, “Piluna” Primitivo 2010 (about $13)
This beautiful Primitivo from Puglia has lots of ripe, dark fruit flavors balanced with juicy, food-friendly acidity. There are no rough edges here, just mouth-filling fruit flavors accented with a long, lingering finish. Serve with braised meat, lamb and pork dishes.
Cusumano, “Benuara” 2009 (about $15)
The 2009 Benuara is a blend of 70 percent Nero d’Avola and 30 percent Syrah grapes harvested from the estate’s extensive vineyard properties in Sicily. It is a striking Sicilian wine, dark and brooding in color, full-bodied but softly textured with an enticing rustic edge to it. The wine’s dense, dark fruit flavors complement classic dishes of southern Italy like grilled red meats, roast lamb, pork, tuna steak and hearty pasta dishes.
Duca Carlo Guarini, “Vigne Vecchie” Primitivo Salento IGT 2008 (about $18)
The wine is made entirely from Primitivo grapes grown in Duca Carlo Guarini’s vineyards in the Salento area in southern-most Puglia. It has a deep purple color that borders on black and ripe fruit and blackberry aromas with a hint of aromatic herbs that are evocative of its Mediterranean origins.
There is nothing shy or reserved about this wine. It coats your mouth with deeply concentrated blackberry and dark currant flavors with plum and spicy fruit nuances that follow through in the finish. It also has good tannins that complement its considerable density and is best served with roasted or braised meat, game, salami or aged cheese.
I Sassi, Basilicata Aglianico del Vulture 2007 (about $12)
This wine is produced and bottled by the highly-regarded producer Donato D’Angelo exclusively for U.S. importer Siema Wines. It is produced entirely of Aglianico from the foothills of Monte Vulture in the Basilicata region in southern Italy. The wine has considerable depth and concentration with a certain earthiness around the edges that adds character to its appeal. It is a great and inexpensive introduction to Aglianico wines for those new to the variety.
La Valentina, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 (about $14)
Generally, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines are reliable and satisfying wines that provide real value. This Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from La Valentina consists of 100 percent Montepulciano grapes manually harvested from 25 to 35 year old vines on the estate’s vineyards. It is absolutely delicious, soft and warm with juicy plum and dark cherry flavors, muted tannins and a hint of black pepper on the finish.
Nicolis, “Testal” Rosso del Veronese IGT 2007 (about $18)
Even though the Nicolis estate is located in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico zone in the Veneto region of Italy, the Testal is labeled a Veronese IGT so as to permit greater flexibility in blending and winemaking operations. Taking the Super-Tuscan wines as a cue, think of it as a Super-Veronese wine.
The ’07 Testal is primarily Corvina, the red grape that is the predominant variety in Valpolicella wines, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot added. The grapes are late-harvested so that they become more raisiny in character and then air-dried for several weeks in special drying lofts. After a fermentation that involves an extended maceration, the wine is aged in oak barrels for 18 months.
Almost black in color, this full and intense wine delivers a smooth mouthfeel bursting with plum and dark fruit flavors accented with sweet spice and vanilla notes. Yet the wine has good structure and its juicy fruit flavors are balanced with good acidity. A long, persistent and smooth finish with sweet spice notes seals the deal.
Tormaresca, “Neprica” 2009 (about $10)
Tormaresca’s Neprica is a blend of Negoamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its name, 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 enveloped by a cashmere texture. And its long, rich finish is a real 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 2010 (about $14)
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. Since the 2010 Vigne Nuove is unoaked, it is medium-bodied, full of fruit and food-friendly acidity with good texture and a long, satisfying finish. This Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine from the talented Valle Reale winery is a real winner.
Vietti, “Tre Vigne” Barbera d’Asti 2009 (about $18)
The Vietti winery is based in Castiglione Falletto in the heart of the Piedmont's Langhe wine region. It has extensive holdings across the Langhe’s prime vineyard areas and produces a full range of wines that include Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Dolcetto, among others. The ’09 “Tre Vigne” Barbera d’Asti is medium-bodied with soft tannins and sprightly, food-friendly acidity that make it the perfect accompaniment to risotto, pasta dishes and not-too-heavy chicken, veal and pork dishes.
Note – prices indicated are averages of available retail prices in the local market and individual prices will vary from store to store. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed. Best to call to check on price and availability before making the trip.
For reviews of some relatively inexpensive Super-Tuscan wines see Top Super-Tuscan wines.
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