Unsung, Affordable Red Wines from Southern Italy - Ten under $20

While it’s Italy’s great red wines from the north - renowned wines like Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone and Super-Tuscans - that garner the greatest attention in the wine world, they also tend to be expensive and out of the financial reach of many consumers.

But there is a growing recognition that wines from various regions south of Rome - an area generally known as the mezzogiorno or “southern” Italy - have improved dramatically in quality. Even wines from lesser-known regions of southern Italy such as Abruzzo, Calabria and Basilicata, to name a few, have come to the attention of wine enthusiasts and exports to the rest of Europe and the U.S. have begun to reach critical mass.

A inspired cadre of winemakers focused on quality, a diversity of microclimates and a wealth of ancient saved-from-the-brink-of-extinction grape varieties as well as a rich patrimony of ancient farming methods and viticultural practices have reinvigorated the wine scene in much of southern Italy

Wineglass with plate of fruitAnd wines from southern Italy have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive and constitute real bargains when compared with otherwise quality-equivalent wines from better known regions in the north. While some of southern Italy’s more ambitious bottlings exhibiting greater complexities from more intensive ageing protocols can run north of $50 a bottle, there is a larger number and variety of interesting wines from southern Italy that retail for $20 or less.

As an aside, if you want to more thoroughly explore the diversity of wines available from southern Italy but crank it up a notch in terms of price and quality, see Twelve Great Wines From Southern Italy Worth Splurging On.

Listed below are ten enjoyable and interesting wines from various regions in southern Italy that retail for $20 or less. They offer a compelling alternative to wine lovers interested in expanding their wine horizons without breaking the bank. The wines are listed alphabetically by producer.

Bisceglia, “Terre di Vulcano” Aglianico del Vulture 2010 (about $14)
Mount Vulture is the extinct volcano that overlooks the prime Aglianico vineyards of the Basilicata region. The ashes of past eruptions from this ancient volcano have darkened and enriched the soil and are the basis for this wine’s proprietary name, Terra di Vulcano, which translates as “land of the volcano.”

Aglianico is one of Italy’s most interesting and versatile varieties. It generally produces structured and complex red wines with good tannins and acidity that have good ageing potential. They are often referred to as “Barolos of the South.”

Bisceglia’s "Terra di Vulcano" Aglianico del Vulture is a good introduction to this interesting variety. It is 100% Aglianico aged for 12 months in stainless steel and spends 4 months in the bottle prior to release. It has exuberant dark fruit and kitchen spice aromas and a juicy, fresh mouthfeel. This wine pairs well with tomato based pasta dishes, red meats, and gazpacho.

Cantina Frentana, “Rubesto” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2010 (about $18)
Cantina Frentana is a wine cooperative that does things right. Located in the village of Frentana in the heart of the Abruzzo wine-producing 2010 Cantina Frentana RUbesto Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riservaregion, the Cantina Frentana has up-to-date equipment and a capable staff that works closely with its 400 plus members throughout the entire grape-growing season so as to ensure the grapes ultimately offered are of the highest quality.

Frentana’s “Rubesto” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva is made entirely of carefully selected Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes that are hand-harvested, gently pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. After fermentation the wine is aged in small oak barrels for 12 months followed by a few additional months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

The 2010 Rubesto is warm and delicious with soft tannins and persistent red fruit flavors. It is a full-bodied wine that pairs well with savory dishes such as game, red meats and stews. The wine should be opened for one to two hours before serving so as to let the flavor components coalesce.

Castello Monaci, “Liante” Salice Salentino 2010 (about $12)
Castello Monaci is located in Puglia’s Salentino peninsula, the “heel” of the “boot” that comprises geographic Italy. This part of Italy is drenched in intense sunlight that is tempered by cooling maritime breezes from the nearby Mediterranean Sea.

The estate produces a range of commendable Puglian red wines from indigenous grape varieties like Primitivo, Malvasia Nera and Negroamaro. The Lianti is a classic Salice Salentino blend of 80 percent Negroamaro and 20 percent Malvasia Nera. Following separate fermentations, the wines are blended and about two-thirds of the blended wine is aged in stainless steel and the rest in small oak barrels (barriques).

This is a robust, full-bodied dry red wine with a nice balance between dark fruit flavors and acidity that make for a very food-friendly combination. This bargain wine is the one you want when serving braised meat, lamb or pork dishes.

Di Majo Norante, “Contado” Aglianico del Molise Riserva 2010 (about $16)
Founded in 1968, Di Majo Norante is a family-owned and operated estate in the often-neglected Molise region which lies sandwiched between the Abruzzo and Puglia on Italy’s Adriatic coastline. The estate has more than 200 acres under and they pursue environmentally-friendly, organic farming practices and have over the years earned a well-deserved reputation for producing quality wines at pocketbook-friendly prices.

The estate’s 2010 “Contado” Aglianico del Molise is a good example of this quality-price accord. The Contado is made entirely of Aglianico grapes from the estate’s vineyards that undergo extended maceration to increase concentration and flavors. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 18 months in a combination of stainless steel tanks and barriques and spends an additional 6 months in the bottle prior to release.

It is a big, authoritative wine, rich and intense with dark fruit flavors and velvety tannins.

Duca di Salaparuta, “Làvico” Nerello Mascalese IGT 2007 (about $17)
Founded in 1824, Duca di Salaparuta is one of the oldest and most influential producers in Sicily and they market a wide range of wine offerings. Their extensive vineyard holdings include the Vajasindi estate on the northern slope of Mount Etna, an active volcano in eastern Sicily. This vineyard is rich with volcanic soil and an ideal habitat for growing wine grapes.

Lavico is made entirely of Nerello Mascalese, a little-known indigenous variety that is produced only in the Mount Etna region. It is a deeply colored, thick-skinned variety that imparts gritty tannins and vibrant acidity to wines. The Lavico wine is aged in small oak casks for 12 months and spends an additional 12 months in the bottle prior to release.

The 2007 Lavico has a resolute personality - intense, structured, spicy and complex with staunch tannins. It is a maximum wine at a minimum price.

Feudi di San Gregorio, “Rubrato” Aglianico 2010 (about $15)
Established in the mid-1980s, the Feudi di San Gregorio estate has within its relatively short history achieved a well-deserved reputation as one of Campania's most exciting and dynamic wineries.

The estate’s “Rubrato” wine is a wonderful wine and a real bargain on a value-to-price basis. It is made entirely with Aglianico grapes harvested from the estate’s vineyards in the Irpinia region of Campania. The wine is aged for 8 months in barriques and spends an additional month in the bottle prior to release.

Medium to full-bodied, rich and elegant with ripe black fruit flavors and smooth oak notes, this wine is a great accompaniment to typical Mediterranean cuisine such as branzino with lemon and parsley sauce, grilled lamb chops, lamb and eggplant casseroles and braised red meats.

Mastroberardino, Aglianico 2011 (about $15)
Mastroberardino is my favorite winery in Campania and I love any wine produced by this estate. Established in the mid-1700s in the ancient region of Irpinia, this family-run and operated winery has long favored and vigorously promoted the indigenous varieties of Irpinia, which includes Aglianico.

Mastroberardino produces several different Aglianico wines and this simply labeled “Aglianico” is their entry-level version. It is a good introduction to Aglianico for those not familiar with this intriguing variety.

It is made entirely of Aglianico that spends four months ageing in barriques and three months in the bottle prior to release. This a medium-bodied Aglianico, round and textured with soft tannins, good acidity and bursting with dark fruit flavors.

It’s a delicious wine made from an intriguing variety by a top producer at a remarkable price. What’s not to like about it?

Morgante, Nero d’Avola 2010 (about $15)
Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s best red variety and is grown almost exclusively in Sicily where it can be vinified on its own or blended with other varieties. Nero d’Avola typically produces opulent wines that are definite, intense and exploding with ripe fruit flavors and muted tannins. Too many Nero d’Avola wines are dark, dense and dull but the wines of Morgante show just what can be done when care and attention is lavished on this variety.

This 100 percent Nero d’Avola undergoes fermentation in stainless steel tanks and then aged in small oak barrels for a brief 4 months with an additional 4 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

Morgante’s 2010 Nero d’Avola is a gem - big, ripe and suffused with plush notes of ripe blackberries, prunes and spices followed by a warm, mouth-filling, rich taste. It delivers ripe fruit that is international in appeal and backs it up with Sicilian weight and structure.

It is surprisingly complex for a wine intended to be drunk in its youth.

Sella & Mosca, Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2009 (about $15)
Cannonau is the most widely planted variety on the island of Sardinia (Sardegna) located southwest off the coast of the Italian mainland. This grape is ideally suited to the island’s hot and dry Mediterranean climate.

Located in the northwest corner of Sardinia not far from the popular coastal resort of Alghero, the 1,600 acre Sella and Mosca estate is the largest and most well-known winery in Sardinia.

The estate’s Cannonau de Sardegna Riserva is made entirely of Cannonau grapes harvested in late autumn. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks for two weeks after which the wine is aged in large oak casks for two years and a few months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

Sella and Mosca’s 2009 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva is an intriguing wine that impresses with its intense richness and depth of dark fruit flavors. It is full-bodied with good acidity and rich, ripe, plummy flavors backed by firm tannins. It is a delicious and unpretentious wine with a slight rustic edge evocative of its warm Mediterranean heritage. When cellared properly, wood-aged Cannonau riserva wines such as this can age gracefully for another decade or more.

Odoardi, Savuto DOC 2009 (about $17)
The Savuto DOC is situated in the hills facing the Tyrrhenian Sea between the cities of Cosenza and Catanzaro in the mountainous Calabria reg2009 Savuto by Odoardi in Calabriaion. The Savuto DOC is one of only 12 DOC’s in all of Calabria.

Savuto DOC wines are blended wines with the primary variety being Gaglioppo, an indigenous grape variety best known for producing soft red wines with shy tannins and medium to high acidity. Gaglioppo is the main red grape variety of Calabria and has been used in producing wines here for centuries. Typically, Gaglioppo-based wines are full-bodied and robust with fragrant aromas and pronounced blackberry and plum flavors.

Odoardi’s 2009 Savuto is comprised of 45 percent Gaglioppo with the remaining 55 percent consisting of four other indigenous red varieties. The wine is aged in steel tanks for 16 months and 3 months in the bottle prior to release. The wine is rich with dark fruit flavors and is spicy, earthy and structured.

Note – prices indicated are averages of national retail prices but individual prices may vary from store to store. Since availability is not guaranteed and stores may sell out of the selections it is best to call to check on price and availability before making the trip.

©Richard Marcis

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