Fifteen of My Favorite Italian Red Wines under $20

 

Sniffing out my favorite value-priced dry Italian red 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 quite challenging. Nonetheless, I always give it my best shot.

Over the past 20 to 30 years the Italian wine scene has changed dramatically. Not only has the overall quality of wines dramatically improved, so has the number of producers. And as quality has gone up so have overall prices for Italian wines with the most highly-regarded wines from the best-known estates typically sporting triple digit price tags.

But Italy is a large wine market with every one of Italy’s 20 regions producing some quantity of wine and much of it is good if not great. The best-known estates with the most expensive wines constitute a small fraction of Italy’s wine production. There are literally hundreds of other talented and passionate winemakers producing quality, reasonably-priced wines that showcase their regions’ diverse terroirs and native grapes. But because they may be made from less well-known varieties and/or are produced by other than marquee-name producers these wines typically fly under the radar screens of most wine consumers.

I taste a lot of wine each year and my experience affirms that there are plenty of well-made Italian wines of substance and character and that, despite the irksome dollar-Euro exchange rate, still sell for $20 or less. And who doesn’t love a wine bargain, especially in these challenging times?

Here are my 15 favorite inexpensive Italian dry red wines, the wines that consistently have the highest quality-to-price ratios of the many I’ve tasted in recent years. This list should be useful for all wine enthusiasts in search of real wine bargains. No matter your income status, these wines will enable you to drink like an aristocrat.

All wines listed below are generally available in the U.S. and most well-stocked wine shops will carry some if not all the wines listed. Even though I’ve listed a vintage year for each wine these wines tend to be consistently reliable from year to year so one needn’t focus on specific vintages.

The wines are presented in alphabetical order by producer.

Banfi, “Centine” Toscana 2016 (about $11)
The Banfi estate in southern Tuscany markets a full portfolio 2016 "Centine" Toscana by Banfiof red and white wines and the Centine (chen teen’ ay) is one of their entry-level wines. But in this case “entry-level” doesn’t mean second-rate. 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 is medium-bodied, round and tasty with dark fruit flavors, soft tannins, some spice notes and a lingering finish. It is an immensely pleasing, easy-to-drink red wine that goes well with a wide variety of dishes from simple soups, cheeses and pasta dishes to more complex roast meats and game.

Coppo, “Camp du Rouss” Barbera d’Asti 2014 (about $19)
The healthiest and ripest Barbera grapes are hand-selected from the estate’s Piedmont vineyards to produce this structured, flavorful wine. The wine is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. It has red cherry flavors with spirited spice notes and the structure and acidity to handle most pasta as well as meat-based dishes.

Cusumano, “Benuara” Terre Siciliane IGT 2016 (about $19)
Cusumano’s Benuara is named after the small red flower that grows throughout the Mediterranean area and that is discreetly displayed on the wine’s label. The Benuara is a blend of 70 percent Nero d’Avola and 30 percent Syrah that is aged for 6 months in steel tanks with 20 percent in large oak casks.

The 2016 Benuara is not a shy wine. Dark and brooding in color, it is full-bodied and clocks in with 14.5 percent alcohol. The Nero d’Avola and Syrah blend is softly textured with fine tannins, dense dark fruit flavors and an enticing rustic edge that hints at its warm Mediterranean patrimony.

Decugnano dei Barbi, “Villa Barbi” Umbria Rosso 2015 (about $18)
A tripartite blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes that are fermented and aged in stainless steel vats for 8 months with an additional 3 months in the bottle prior to release.

The varietal blend as well as the fermentation and ageing in steel tanks results in a smooth, polished, medium-weight wine. There are no rough edges here, just an abundance of ripe dark fruit flavors with a spicy edge, smooth tannins and a sleek finish.

Falesco, “Vitiano” Rosso 2015 (about $11)
This delicious red from the Cotarella Family estate may well be Italy’s best value-priced red wine and maybe even of the world. This blended wine is one-third each Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and it’s hard to resist. The easy tannins and inherent softness of Merlot complement the earthiness of Sangiovese and the austerity and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a versatile red that adapts easily to various dishes, from a Pizza Margherita or pasta with ragu to most grilled pork and beef dishes.

Feudi di San Gregorio, “Rubrato” Aglianico Irpinia 2015 (about $17)
Established in the mid-1980s, the Feudi di San G2015 "Rubrato" Aglianico Irpinia by Feudi di San Gregorioregorio estate has within its relatively short history achieved a well-deserved reputation as one of the Campania region's most exciting and dynamic wineries.

This wine is made entirely with Aglianico grapes harvested from the estate’s vineyards in the foothills of Mount Vesuvius in the Irpinia district of Campania.  It is aged for 8 to 10 months in stainless steel and an additional month in the bottle prior to release.

It is medium to full-bodied, rich and smooth with dark fruit and cassis flavors and firm tannins. It is a great, inexpensive introduction to the savory Aglianico variety. This wine really comes alive when paired with braised red meats and rustic Italian dishes.

Fontanafredda, “Briccotondo” Barbera Piemonte 2016 (about $15)
Briccotondo is made entirely of Barbera grapes harvested from Fontanafredda’s vineyards in the Monferrato and Langhe areas of the Piedmont region. Following fermentation, the wine is aged in a combination of new oak barrels and large Slavonian oak casks for five months before bottling.

The Briccotondo presents a fruit-forward version of Barbera with blackberry and plum flavors and soft tannins backed up by Barbera’s signature crisp acidity. This medium-bodied, versatile, food-friendly wine is a perfect match for appetizers, cold-cuts, soups, pizza and Pecorino cheese.

Leone de Castris, “Maiana” Salice Salentino 2014 (about $14)
The “Maiana” Salice Salentino is one of several Salice Salentino wines produced by the Leone de Castris estate in the Salento district of southern Puglia. The Maiana is made of Negroamaro with a splash of Malvasia Nera harvested from 40-year-old vines in a small 15-acre vineyard. Negroamaro is known for the dark colors, tannins and berry-like flavors it imparts to wines while Malvasia Nera contibutes rich and perfumed aromas.

The 2014 Maiana is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged in large French oak casks for 6 months and then spends 3 additional months in the bottle prior to release.

It is a full-flavored, rich red wine that offers up intense, ripe dark cherry and raisiny flavors with sweet tannins accented with some spice notes. Its up-front and opulent character is held perfectly in check with fresh acidity and an herbal, pleasantly earthy note on the long finish. The wine has substance and structure without being heavy or alcoholic and is an ideal companion for a meal with braised short ribs.

Librandi, “Duca Sanfelice” Ciro Rosso Classico Riserva 2013 (about $18)
Librandi is Calabria’s most well-known and recognized winery that has worked hard to put Calabria on the world’s wine map. The estate has approximately 580 acres under vine and a fair amount of that acreage is planted with the indigenous Gaglioppo variety.

Gaglioppo (gah yhee oh’ po)  is a prolific, hardy variety that holds up well in Calabria’s warm, dry climate and has been cultivated in the region for centuries. The variety is very adaptable and depending on location and vinification protocols can produce wines that vary from lean, acidic and distinctly spicy to robust, intense wines with dark fruit flavors that border on raisiny.

The Duca Sanfelice Riserva is made entirely of Gaglioppo from the estate’s vineyards. The grapes are fermented 7 to 10 days in temperature-controlled steel tanks and the wine aged in steel vats for 3 years followed by a few months in the bottle prior to release.

The Duca Sanfelice Riserva is medium to full-bodied with rich fruit flavors of ripe cherries and figs, good tannic structure and a long spicy finish. it is a serious wine with good ageing potential that is sure to satisfy any discerning wine drinker’s need for complexity and flavor.

Luigi Einaudi, Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG 2015 (about $17)
This wine comes from a blend of Dolcetto grapes from 3 Einaudi vineyards in the Dogliani appellation in the Piedmont region. After fermentation, the wine is aged in steel tanks for 8 months and spends another 2 months in the bottle prior to release.

It is a medium-to-full bodied wine with dark fruit aromas, a silky-smooth mouthfeel and soft tannic backbone with Dolcetto’s benchmark pleasantly-bitter almond note on the finish. It is a thoroughly engaging, fruity and food-friendly wine that will charm you every time. It pairs well with everyday preparations such as cold cuts, pizzas, pasta, salmon and chicken dishes.

Sant’Antonio, “Scaia” Corvina Rosso 2015 (about $13)
Corvina is a late-ripening, thick-skinned grape variety with a blue-black color that is valued for the deep color, structure and delightful flavors it imparts to wines. Typically it's used as a blending partner with other indigenous red varieties in the production of Amarone and Ripasso, two of the Veneto's most prominent wines.

However, Sant’Antonio’s Scaia (sky’ ah) is made entirely of Corvina. The grapes are harvested from the estate’s vineyards and then fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to retain the flavors and elegance of the Corvina variety. No wood barrels or casks are used in the production of Scaia’s Corvina.

The 2015 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 discreet tannins, vibrant acidity and a smooth finish with seductive spice notes.

Sella & Mosca, Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, 2014 (about $15)
Cannonau is the most widely-planted variety on the island of Sard2014 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva by Sella & Moscaegna (Sardinia) where it thrives in the island’s hot and dry Mediterranean climate. It produces deeply-colored, aromatic and structured wines with dark fruit flavors.

Sella & Mosca is one of the island’s most prominent wine producers. Their Cannonau de Sardegna Riserva is made entirely of Cannonau grapes that are vinified in stainless steel tanks for two weeks after which the wine spends two years ageing in large oak casks and a few months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

The 2014 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva is an intriguing wine that impresses with its intense richness and depth of dark fruit flavors with a slight rustic edge evocative of its warm Mediterranean heritage. It is an ideal food companion to rich pasta, roast pork and lamb dishes.

Tasca d’Almerita, “Lamuri” Nero d’Avola 2015 (about $18)
Tasca d’Almerita is Sicily’s largest and, arguably, most famous winery. Founded in 1830 in central Sicily it today owns four other properties throughout Sicily that collectively account for about 1,500 acres under vine and total annual production of 3.3 million bottles.

Lamuri is made entirely of Nero d’Avola grapes harvested from its various Sicily estates. After fermentation the wine is aged for 12 months in French oak barriques and spends an additional 3 months in the bottle prior to release.

The 2015 Lamuri is rich, lush and smooth with ripe cherry, plum and peppery flavors supported by soft tannins and buoyant acidity. It has a long, gratifying finish infused with herbs and balsamic notes that will keep you coming back for more. This wine delivers considerably more than what one would expect at this price point.

Tormaresca, “Neprica” 2014 (about $11)
This wine is from the Tuscan-based Antinori family’s winery 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 several 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 notes 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.

Zenato, Valpolicella Superiore 2015 (about $15)
This Valpolicella comes from Zenato’s vineyards in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico zone. It is made of 80 percent Corvina, 10 percent Rondinella and 10 p2015 Zenato Valpolicella Superioreercent other local red varieties. It is aged in oak casks for 12 months.

Zenato’s Valpolicella Superiore is a dry, round, medium to full-bodied wine with delicate but enticing wild berry, almond and kitchen spice aromas and plush, black cherry flavors. It is smooth and delightful with a pleasant tannic structure and modest alcohol so everything is in balance.

This is a great wine to accompany antipasti such as cold cuts or bruschetta, grilled or roasted chicken, rice dishes served with meat or mushroom sauces and most pasta dishes.

 

Note – prices indicated are averages of national retail prices as of this posting. Individual prices will vary from store to store. All wines are generally available and most well-stocked wine shops will carry some if not all the wines listed. But stores may sell out so call in advance to check on price and availability.

 

©Richard Marcis
January 12, 2019

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