Best Italian White Wines Under $20
White wines in Italy are generally overshadowed by red wines. This is not difficult to understand given that Italy’s most internationally famous wines (i.e., Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello di Montalcino) are red while the most popular white Italian wines consumed in the U.S. have until recently been easy-drinking, rather ordinary (think Soave and Pinot Grigio!) wines.
But Italy does produce good — if not great – white wines that are only now beginning to step out of the shadows of their red siblings. While white wine varietals are grown all over Italy, they do especially well in selected regions such as Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Piedmont and Campania. However, regardless of region, even the lowly white Trebbiano varietal can, in the hands of talented producers, result in white wines of character and intensity. As a general rule, white wines from northern Italy are lighter, aromatic and more delicate than wines from the sunnier south which tend to be more full-bodied, rounder and more fruit-forward. But like any general rule there are always exceptions to the rule.
Indicated below are twelve noteworthy Italian white wines with high value to price ratios. These are wines of character and distinction that are priced under $20 so they won’t vaporize your wallet at the check-out counter. They are listed alphabetically by producer. I’ve also indicated at least one retail store that carries each wine but prices and availability are subject to change.
Argiolas, Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2006 ($13)
“What is Vermentino?” you ask. You’re probably in good company with this question since its safe to say that this varietal is unknown to most Americans other than grape pros.
Vermentino is a white grape varietal grown in Sardinia (or Sardegna) and other areas along the Mediterranean coast. Vermentino carelessly produced results in a bland, undefined wine but in the hands of passionate vintners can produce heavenly scented wines with nuanced apple and pear aromas.
Antonio Argiolas’ Costamolino is made with 90 percent Vermentino and 10 percent other grapes from his Costamolino vineyard on Sardinia. This wine has “refreshing and elegant” written all over it and it is sooooo good. It is a full-bodied but elegant white wine and it’s delicate, refreshing taste and bracing acidity will appeal to those tired of big, oaky California-style Chardonnays popular these days. Costamolino is the wine of choice to accompany antipasti, shellfish and seafood dishes. Try it with angel hair pasta with clams.
Available at MacArthur Beverages and Pearson’s Wine.
Braida-Bologna, Vigna Senza Nome Moscato d’Asti 2006 ($17)
Made entirely from the Moscato Bianco grape, Moscato d’Asti is an aromatic, lightly-bubbly (“frizzante”), low-alcohol (5.5 percent) wine from the Piedmont region. Although Moscato d’Asti is pleasant anytime of year, I seem to imbibe more of it in summertime.
The Braida-Bologna estate has a flair for producing exuberant wines of style and character and it’s Moscato is no exception. It is brilliant straw yellow in color and has a fresh, fruity bouquet with aromas of orange blossoms and roses. It is ever-so-slightly spritzy and sweet – but not cloying - with hints of dried apricots and orange zest that dance in your mouth. Absolutely delicious!
Moscato d’Asti is best when served with dessert but is versatile enough to have as an aperitivo. It goes well with fruit, tarts, panettone, hazelnut cake and other not-too-sweet cakes. Moscato d’Asti poured over fresh strawberries is one of the cosmic food-wine matches.
Available at MacArthur Beverages and other area wine stores.
Marco Felluga, Molamatta Collio Bianco 2006 ($19.99)
Marco Felluga is one of the premier producers in the Collio Gonziano (or Collio) in the extreme northeastern section of Italy, arguably Italy’s foremost white wine region. Molamatta is the geographic name where the vineyard sourcing the grapes for this wine is situated. The Molamatta is a blend of Tocai Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Ribolla Gialla. With 13 percent alcohol this is a wine for those who favor big whites and then like to ratchet it up a notch.
Interestingly, it has delicate citrus and almond aromas, but its taste is rich and full-bodied with lively fruit and a long, persistent finish. An outstanding wine by any measure.
This wine goes well with grilled swordfish or tuna, rustic soups, risotto and even sushi. A great match with white bean and kale soup
This is the most expensive wine in this list and at $19.99 and it requires some fancy limbo footwork to come in under the $20 price bar.
Available at MacArthur Beverages.
Feudi di San Gregorio, Cutizzi Greco di Tufo 2004 ($16)
The area of Irpinia, close to Mount Vesuvius, in the Campania region has an international reputation as one of Italy’s premier wine areas for both red and white wines. While relatively new — at least by Campania standards - the Feudi di San Gregorio winery is one of the most progressive in Campania and has played a leading role in enhancing the quality and reputation of Campania’s wines in general and white wines in particular. The estate’s consulting enologist, Ricardo Cotarella, is one of Italy’s premier wine consultants.
Made from 100 percent Greco di Tufo grapes, the Cutizzi is pale gold in color with aromas of apple and pear. It is rich, full-bodied, fruity and flavorful but balanced with good acidity and an elegant finish. This wine would pair well with vegetable-based dishes, grilled fish, roast pork and it has enough acidity to work with tomato dishes and some pizzas such as pizza pescatore (shrimp, squid and capers).
Available at MacArthur Beverages and Circle Wine.
Nino Franco, Rustico Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut NV ($13)
The Italians love their Prosecco - and who can blame them? It is just plain fun to drink. This light, refreshingly effervescent (“frizzante”) treat from the northern Veneto region is a staple at luncheons, as an aperitivo and at most weddings and birthday parties. It is a real crowd pleaser.
Valdobbiadene (vahl doh bee ah’ deh nay) is the best production zone for Prosecco and Nino Franco is one of this area’s leading producers. The Rustico is just one of several Proseccos that this estate produces.
Crisp, fresh and tangy, this non-vintage sparkler has aromas of apple and ripe apricot but with a dry and refreshing taste and a good but not brash acidity. Prosecco is the consummate aperitivo and pairs well with most hors d’oeuvres. It is wonderful with Thanksgiving turkey with herbed, cranberry stuffing but I think it’s best match is with spicy Asian dishes such as an Asian noodle salad with spicy peanut sauce.
This is one of the finest expressions of Prosecco and at this price you can buy it by the case for those festive occasions when something sparkling is in order.
Available at Calvert Woodley Wines and MacArthur Beverages.
Alois Lageder, Pinot Bianco 2006 ($14)
In a region dominated by large, cooperative wineries, this family-owned winery is one of the largest and best privately-held wineries in the Alto Adige region. And this little region in northeastern Italy has been turning out some classy wines in recent years as evidenced by the fact that 22 Alto Adige wines received Gambero Rosso’s prestigious Tre Bichierri (Three Glasses) awards this year.
A lovely, luscious white wine with apple and peach fruit flavors. A medium- to full-bodied wine with a clean, crisp, citrus taste, pleasant acidity and a long finish — it will have you coming back for more.
Suitable for seafood and pasta dishes and hearty risottos such as risotto with mushrooms and herbs.
Available at Pearson’s Wines and Calvert Woodley Wines.
Lungarotti, Torre di Giano Torgiano Bianco 2006 ($16)
The Lungarotti winery is one of the oldest and largest in Umbria, Italy’s landlocked “green heart” region. Although the Lungarotti family has been producing this wine for almost a half-century, it is only in the last few years that it has evolved into a focused wine of some character and distinction.
A blend of 70 percent Trebbiano and 30 percent Grechetto, it has a wonderful floral nose and fresh apple and citrus fragrances. Pleasantly dry, fruity taste with more body and substance than the bouquet would lead you to expect. It has a long, clean, lingering finish.
At $16, it is a remarkable bargain. Not that I have to name drop, but I should note that Gambero Rosso, the arbiter of good taste for Italian wine and food, recently awarded it’s “Best Buy White” wine award to the 2006 Lungarotti Torre di Giano.
It pairs well with a wide range of foods such as soups, pasta dishes, risotto, fish and shellfish and vegetable soufflés. Try it with risotto with leeks, shiitake mushrooms and truffles.
Available at MacArthur Beverages.
Palazzone, Campo del Guardiano Orvieto
Classico Superiore 2006 ($18)
This is a terrific and intriguing wine from Orvieto, an area not traditionally known for noteworthy wines. This blended wine is made from grapes harvested on the Palazzone estate’s finest vineyard, the Campo del Guardiano (loosely translated as “The Warden’s Field”). Aged for 6 months in steel tanks and 24 months in the bottle, Campo del Guardiano is straw-colored with intense fruit aromas and a rich viscosity that gives it a silky mouth feel. At $18 this Orvieto Classico is a real bargain and is the one to pull the cork from when you feel the need to reward yourself.
This wine has the weight to complement roasted or broiled fish dishes, sauteed white meat, risotto and pasta dishes.
Available at MacArthur Beverages.
Pieropan, Soave Classico 2005 ($19)
If only all Soave wines were this good! Often dismissed as a mass-marketed wimpy Italian white, Soave can be a revelation in the hands of a talented producer like Leonildo Pieropan. This Soave Classico is made from 90 percent Garganega and 10 percent Trebbiano di Soave grapes grown on Pieropan’s superbly situated hillside vineyards overlooking the beautiful, medieval walled town of Soave. Delicate aromas of lemon with notes of apple and peach percolate on the nose. With a crisp taste and zingy acidity balanced by good fruit and a long, fresh finish, it is a stunning wine. Another bravo performance by one of Italy’s most respected white wine producers.
This medium-bodied white is very versatile with food and can be served as an aperitivo or with seafood or vegetable dishes. Serve it with butternut squash and sage lasagna for a real taste experience.
Available at Pearson’s Wines, Circle Wines and MacArthur Beverages.
Terredora Dipaolo, Falanghina Irpinia 2006 ($14)
The Terredora winery was established in 1994 when Walter Mastroberardino split from the family winemaking business and set up his own vineyard in Irpinia close to the still-active Mount Vesuvius in the heart of Campania’s best wine growing region. Although one of the newest wineries in Campania, Terredora Dipaolo (or Terredora for short) quickly gained a reputation for consistent, high-quality wines.
Overshadowed by Campania’s two other more famous, indigenous white varietals - Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo — the Falanghina varietal is just now starting to gain the recognition it deserves for producing nuanced, delicious wines.
Made entirely from Falanghina grapes from Irpinia, it is pale straw yellow in color with lemon and other spritzy citrus flavors. This is a medium-bodied wine with a fresh, clean, dry taste, good acidity and a long, floral finish. It is the crisp, lively fruit that steals the show.
This wine goes well with hors d’oeuvres, soups and salads but may be at its best when served with grilled seafood. I recently had this wine with grilled shrimp and polenta and it was excellent.
Available at MacArthur’s Beverages and Calvert Woodley Wines.
Tiefenbrunner, Pinot Grigio 2006 ($18)
Pinot Grigio is the most popular white Italian wine in the U.S. and most are easy-drinking, light-bodied, undefined wines. But some producers, primarily in the Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions of Northeastern Italy, make Pinot Grigio wines that are crisp and fragrant with character and concentrated flavors. Tiefenbrunner is one of the most talented Pinot Grigio producers in the mountainous Alto Adige region.
Made entirely from Pinot Grigio and fermented in stainless steel tanks, it is bottled and released in the spring following harvest the previous year. With fragrant pear and lemon aromas, this intense yellow Pinot Grigio is dry and full-bodied with zippy acidity. Full, rich-tasting with a solid finish — this is my kind of Pinot Grigio! While this wine goes well with a range of simple, uncomplicated dishes, its citrus flavors perfectly complement a chicken and pink grapefruit salad.
Available at Rodman’s at White Flint and Circle Wines.
Zenato, Lugana Trebbiano di Lugana 2006 ($16)
This wine is crafted entirely from Trebbiano di Lugana grapes grown on the Zenato estate on the southern shore of Lake Garda on the Veneto — Lombardy border 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 before release for sale.
This is a wonderful expression of a Trebbiano wine. No wood is used in either the fermentation or aging — what you taste is the pure fruit without competing extraneous flavors. A dry, delicate wine with good peach and pear-flavored fruit and balanced acidity. Wonderful with dishes such as a herb-basted roast chicken and also my wine of choice for meditative sipping while contemplating the state of things.
Available at Pearson’s Wines.
Note – prices indicated are generally the lowest available and 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. It's advisable to call to check on availability and price before making the trip.
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