Top Italian Wine Values: Twelve Great Italian Red Wines Under $12
Italy is a complicated wine country that produces a lot of wine each year, both red and white. Some of Italy’s wines are well known and highly-regarded by the international wine community. They also are frequently quite expensive. But a lot of Italian wine comes from less well-known varieties grown in regions other than Tuscany or the Piedmont that are generally less familiar to American consumers.
Some are mediocre at best, often consumed locally or shipped in bulk to other regions or countries in Europe for use as blending wines. But there are also some gems out there that are not on most consumers’ radar screens. And because these wines are not well known to U.S. consumers, they generally tend to be relatively inexpensive wines. I taste a lot of wine each year and my experience is that there are plenty of well-made Italian wines of some substance and character that can, despite the poor dollar-Euro exchange rate, still be had for $12 or less. And who doesn’t love a wine bargain, especially in these tough times?
Listed below alphabetically by producer are twelve noteworthy red wines that generally retail for $12 or less. These are wines of some character and distinction at wallet-friendly prices. Even though I’ve listed a vintage year for each wine one needn’t focus on specific vintages. These wines are consistently reliable from year to year so you needn’t be concerned if you find different vintages at your favorite wine shops than what are indicated here.
A-Mano, Primitivo 2005/06 (about $11)
From the Apulia (Puglia) region in the heel of Italy’s boot, American expat winemaker Mark Shannon has hand-crafted (hence the name A-Mano) from indigenous Primitivo grapes a fruit-forward, food-friendly, soft and rich red wine. Like Zinfandel wines, Primitivo (which is genetically related to American Zinfandel) has big, bold flavors and good acidity that just begs to be served with grilled steaks, ribs or burgers.
Bricco dei Tati, Barbera Piemonte 2007 (about $7)
This inexpensive, fruity red is new on the scene, produced by a new, small, family-owned and operated wine estate in the heart of the prestigious Langhe region of the Piedmont. The initial releases of this extremely food-friendly wine have made quite a splash. This Barbera is marked with lively acidity, deep color and low tannins and has surprisingly good structure for a wine this inexpensive.
Capezzana, Conti Contini Sangiovese Toscana 2005 (about $9)
The Tenuta di Capezzana estate is about 15 miles west of Florence in the small wine growing region of Carmignano. The wines of the Carmignano region are often compared to those of neighboring Chianti but without the latter’s often-lofty price tags. Made entirely of Sangiovese, this wine has concentrated dark berry fruit flavors, crisp acidity, soft tannins and a clean finish. A lovely wine at a remarkable price.
Cesari, Due Torre Pinot Noir della Venezia 2007 (about $10)
One of the best inexpensive expressions of Italian Pinot Noir (or Pinot Nero as it’s known in Italy) is Due Torri Pinot Noir by Cesari. The ripe fruit flavors are rich and concentrated with lively acidity and a clean, long fruity finish. Somewhat bigger and less delicate than it’s cousins from Burgundy and Oregon state, this Pinot Noir provides plenty of pleasure at a very reasonable price.
Coltibuono, Chianti “Cetamura” 2006 (about $12)
The name “Cetamura” comes from an ancient Etruscan settlement on the Badia a Coltibuono’s (literally, “the abbey of the good harvest”) property in Tuscany. Made from 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Canaiolo, two of Tuscany’s indigenous and great wine grapes, they have crafted an authentic, fruity and very drinkable Chianti wine. This medium-bodied and accessible Chianti goes well with lighter dishes like pastas, baked vegetables and simple chicken or sausage dishes.
Di Majo Norante, Sangiovese IGT 2006/07 (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. When swirled in the mouth the wine coats the tongue, teeth and gums with plush, juicy, ripe fruit. It shows substantial acidity and structure and has the stuffing to take on sausage pizza, grilled beef, game – anything that calls for a robust red.
Falesco, Vitiano Rosso 2005/06 (about $11)
Falesco was founded in the late 1970’s by Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella, brothers who happen to be two of the most celebrated winemakers in Italy. Composed of equal parts Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this lush and fruity red is an absolute delight. While full-bodied with wonderfully juicy plum and black cherry notes, it doesn’t lose its sense of style and subtlety. This is my perennial recommendation for Italian wine bargain of the year.
Fattoria di Lucignano, Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2006 (about $12)
This delicious, medium-bodied, dry red wine is as classic a Chianti as one could ask for. But its from the Colli Fiorentini (“Hills of Florence”) area in the Chianti zone and not the traditional Chianti Classico zone and so it’s labeled Colli Fiorentini and not Chianti Classico. Despite the geographic differences, the Chianti wines from the two regions share the same grape varieties and wine-making practices and I personally find it hard to differentiate between them. Fresh, fragrant and balanced with effusive fruit flavors, this wine is a seductive charmer. As an aside, the regular price of this wine in local shops varies from $11 to over $16 a bottle and so it has to do a supple limbo dance in order to get in under the $12 wine bar.
Feudo Arancio, Nero d’Avola 2007 (about $9)
Nero d’Avola is grown almost exclusively in Sicily and is the island’s primary red grape variety where it is vinified on its own or blended with other indigenous and international varieties. It makes deeply colored, abundantly fruity, full-bodied, age-worthy wines and Feudo Arancio’s Nero d’Avola is no exception. Silky smooth with a touch of spice and an acidic backbone, it is very food-friendly and one of Sicily’s premier red wine bargains.
Monte degli Angeli, Monferrato Pinot Noir, 2007 (about $9)
From the Monferrato region in the hills east of Turino (Turin), not a region particularly known for great Pinot Noir, comes this pleasant surprise. The Monte degli Angeli (“Mount of Angels”) has fresh fruit flavor, modest tannins and a nice long finish. Monte degli Angeli’s Pinot Noir is both international in its fruit-forward flavors and Italian in it’s weight and structure. This is Pinot with an Italian swagger. Invite some friends over, throw a salmon on the grill and serve your friends this gem of a wine.
Valle Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Vigna Nuove” 2007 (about $12)
The “Vigne Nuove” (which means “first vines”) is Valle Reale’s entry-level Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. But it is a real winner. It is unoaked, full of fruit but with good texture and a long, satisfying finish. Generous and ready to drink now, it also has enough tannic structure that it will hold up very well over the next several years. This inexpensive Montepulciano d’Abruzzo really struts its stuff.
Villa Antinori, Santa Cristina Sangiovese 2006 (about $10)
The Antinori family knows something about wines, having been in the wine business for over 600 years. Antinori’s Santa Cristina has gone through several stylistic iterations since it’s introduction in 1946. The ‘06 Santa Cristina is a blend of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Merlot selected from several vineyards across the Tuscan hills. The wine has intense fruit aromas, good structure and mild, sweet tannins. This is not a knock-your-socks-off wine but offers good value, is reliable and will never disappoint or let you down. I suspect that this wine is served as the house red at many restaurants in Tuscany.
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 and check on price and availability before making the trip.
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