Best Value Italian Wines of 2011: Ten Italian Wines under $20          

Sniffing out my favorite lowest priced Italian wines is always difficult. There are so many good Italian wines with high quality-to-price ratios, so much competition and so little time that this endeavor is not as easy as it sounds. Nonethless, I always give it my best shot. Here are what I consider the best value Italian wines of 2011, the wines that have the highest quality-to-price ratios of all those I’ve tasted in 2011. This should be a useful list for Italian wine cognescenti in this period of diminshed expectations.

This list of my favorite value wines includes both red and white wines. Several have been described in previous postings during the year while others have not yet heretofore been reviewed on this website. These wines are generally available and most if not all are available in any well-stocked wine shop. The wines are presented in alphabetical order.

Argiolas, “Perdera” 2008 (about $16)
From the highly respected Argiolas winery in southwestern Sardinia not far from the regional capital of Cagliari comes this earthy and interesting wine. Made primarily from the indigenous red Monica grape with the addition of small amounts of Carignano and Bovale Sardo, the Perdera is a full-bodied, earthy, robust red that doesn’t hold anything back. But its vibrant aromas and jammy black fruit flavors are balanced with good acidity and ripe tannins that keep you coming back for more. This inexpensive red is a great introduction to the wines of Sardinia and a terrific value at this price.

Banfi, ”Centine” Toscana 2007 (about $12)
The Banfi estate is located near the picturesque hill-top town of Montalcino in the heart of the prestigious Brunello region in Tuscany. While most Tuscan estates focus on a small number of different wines, the Banfi estate produces a wide range, literally dozens, of red, white and dessert wines at all price points.

2007 Banfi Centine ToscanaThe Centine (chen tee’ ney) is the estate’s “entry-level” wine. 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 ’07 Centine has a ruby-red color with muted streaks of violet at the edge. It has seductive red cherry aromas and a medium body with complex dark fruit flavors. It is round and tasty with soft tannins and a lingering finish. There is a lot to this wine given its inexpensive price. It is a more approachable and easy-to-drink alternative to the more pricey super-Tuscans.

Castello Monaci, “Liante” Salice Salentino 2008 (about $14)
The 2008 “Liante” Salice Salentino is a bottle of southern Italian sunshine. Castello Monaci is in the Salento area of Puglia which is in the “heel” of the boot that is geographic Italy. While owned by Gruppo Italiano Vini, Italy’s larges wine consortium, Castello Monaci has not lost its regional identity or focus and continues to produces a range of classical Puglian red wines from indigenous grape varieties like Primitivo, Malvasis Nera and Negroamaro.

Castello Monaci’s ’08 “Liant” Salice Salentino is  a blend of 80 percent Negroamaro and 20 percent Malvasia Nera. Because the two varieties ripen and are harvested at different times, they  are fermented separately. After fermentation, the wines are blended and about half the wine is aged in barriques and the rest in steel.  

The wine has intense, complex and vinous aromas of rich, jammy dark berry fruit and 2008 Castello Monaci Liante Salice Salentinodried plums with warm balsamic notes. It has a generous and slightly rustic taste that coats the tongue with silky, dark fruit flavors. Rich and concentrated with sweet tannins this big wine just begs to be served with hearty fare like braised or roasted meats. It has a long, generous finish with black fruit and balsamic notes and just a hint of bitter almond. It’s a lot of wine for its price.

Cantina di Santadi, “Grotta Rossa” Carignano del Sulcis 2007 (about $12)
Located in the Sulcis area of the scenic southwestern corner of Sardinia, Cantina di Santadi is one of those rare Italian gems, a cooperative winery dedicated to producing quality wines from primarily local, indigenous varieties.

2007 Cantina di Santadi, Grotta Rossa Carignano del SulcisSantadi’s “Grotta Rossa” is a great and inexpensive introduction to the Carignano varietal. This spicy red is made entirely from Carignano and has lively acidity and soft tannins accentuated with subtle herbal notes in the finish. This wine has an astonishing depth of flavor and complexity that you wouldn’t normally associate with a wine this inexpensive. It is a great alternative to the more popular and overpriced Chianti wines that line wine shop shelves. 

Falesco, Merlot Umbria 2009 (about $16)
Owned and operated by the brothers Renzo and Riccardo Cotarella, two of Italy’s most famous consulting winemakers, Falesco is one of the fastest growing wineries in Italy. While the Falesco winery produces white as well as red wines, its reputation rests primarily on its high quality red wines like its powerful Montiano wine as well as some excellent value wines such as its popular Vitiano wine.

First introduced in 1999, the Umbria Merlot wine is a relatively new additio2009 Falesco Merlot Umbrian to Falesco’s extensive lineup of wines.  It is 100 percent Merlot and the grapes come from the estate’s vineyards in the hills south of Orvieto.

With a deep ruby red color and complex, elegant black fruit and cassis aromas accented with some kitchen spice notes there is no denying the wine’s instant appeal. And with lots of seductive blueberry, black fruit and vanilla flavors, the taste certainly doesn’t disappoint. Ripe acidity and muted tannins add vibrancy and structure that nicely balance the rich, lush fruit flavors of the Merlot. The finish is long and silky. Put all these together and on a quality-to-price basis you have a wine that is positively super.

Monte Degli Angeli, Monferrato Pinot Noir 2009 (about $10)
This Pinot Noir is from Monte Degli Angeli (“Mount of Angels”) located in the Monferrato region of the Piedmont which is not an area particularly well known for Pinot Noir. The wine is made from Pinot Noir with a little Nebbiolo added. Nebbiolo’s serious demeanor contributes some complexity and structure to the suppleness and muted tannins of the Pinot Noir.

The ’09 Monte Degli Angeli, Monferrato Pinot Noir is ruby red in color with black and red fruit flavors, modest tannins and a complex, lingering finish, altogether much more than you would expect for its price tag. The wine is aged for 6 months in barrels which, along with the addition of Nebbiolo, adds weight and structure to the wine. The Pinot Noir is both cosmopolitan in its fruit-forward flavors and Italian in its complexity and structure. Think of it as an international style Pinot Noir with a backbone of Italian assertiveness.  It is always a pleasant surprise to find enjoyable wines of this quality at such exceptional prices.

Oppida Aminia, Caucino Greco 2008 (about $15)
The 2008 Oppida Aminea “Caucino” Sannio Greco is comprised entirely of Greco Bianco grapes sourced from the estate’s vineyard in the Sannio zone of the Campania region. The2008 Oppida Aminea, Caucino Sannnio Greco grapes are fermented in stainless steel and then spend four months ageing in large oak casks and three months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

The Caucino is a full-bodied white with a textured but not ponderous mouth feel. Healthy doses of peach and grapefruit flavors with a hint of pineapple roll across the tongue. It is a structured, balanced wine with good body and alcohol, just enough acidity and a long, juicy finish. A great wine to accompany those light, end-of-summer meals or any time of year for that matter.

Suavia, Soave Classico Superiore 2008 (about $19)
Soave wines were once one of the U.S.’s most popular imported white wines but fell into disfavor in the 1960’s and 1970’s and the volume of imports plummeted. Suavia is one of a number of quality-oriented wineries that are working diligently to reintroduce Soave wines to a new generation of discriminating wine drinkers in the U.S.

2008 Suavia Soave Claaico SuperioreSuavia’s Soave Classico Superiore is made entirely of Garganega (gar gah’ nae gah) grapes hand selected from premier hillside vineyards in the heart of the historic Soave Classico zone where the grapes for the best Soave wines are grown. The “Superiore” designation is reserved for only the best, most carefully made wines.

One sip of the ’08 Soave Classico Superiore from Suavia will convince you that you are on to something special. It has a straw-yellow color with generous lemon and faint peach and apple aromas that saturate the nose. The taste is really lively and fresh with good acidity. This is a delicious Soave and a great value white wine.  

Tenuta Le Querce, “Il Viola” Aglianico del Vulture 2006 (about $20)
The production area for Aglianico del Vulture wines is in the foothills of Monte Vulture, an extinct volcanic mountain in the northwestern section of the Basilicata region, an unassuming, secluded area of Italy not particularly well known to most Americans. Here, ancient lava flows have produced a rich, fertile soil which, along with the high altitude and sunny climate, is the perfect habitat for growing grapes.

Since Aglianico del Vulture wines are very food friendly, it’s always a pleasure to see them on restaurant wine lists. They are rich and intense with earthy flavors and velvety textures. Generally well structured with tangy acidity, Aglianico wines pair comfortably with a wide variety of pasta, vegetable and meat dishes.

2006 Tenuta Le Querce, Il Viola Aglianico del VultureThe 2006 Il Viola Aglianico del Vulture from Tenuta Le Querce (teh noo’ tah lae kwert sha) is a great introduction to Aglianico for those new to the variety. It displays all the characteristics of well-made Aglianico wines, including lots of fruit flavors, zesty acidity and assertive tannins. It has a complex array of delicious black fruit, leather and spice flavors. While Aglianico wines are often referred to as “the Barolos of the South” because of their structure, tannins and ageing potential, don’t expect the elegance and gravitas of Nebbiolo wines from northern Italy. Rather, its considerable depth and concentration has a rustic edge, which only serves to enhance its appeal.

This is a delicious Aglianico del Vulture from a reliable producer at a wallet-friendly price.

Zenato, Lugana “San Benedetto” 2009 (about $14)
This wine is crafted entirely from Trebbiano di Lugana grapes from the Zenato estate located in the Lugana DOC on the southern shore of Lake Garda in north-central Italy. It is made entirely of Trebbiano di Lugana grapes that are fermented and aged for 6 months in temperature-controlled steel tanks. It then spend a few months in the bottle before release for sale.

This is a wonderful expression of a Trebbiano wine. It is dry and delicate with good peach and pear-flavored fruit, balanced acidity and pleasantly bitter notes on the finish. It is the perfect, refreshing white wine to serve with those simple and quick summer meals. Serve it with grilled seafood or gnocchi with pesto or simply drink it by itself while relaxing on the deck. This is a quality, high value white wine.


©Richard Marcis
November 26, 2011

For reviews of some relatively inexpensive Super-Tuscan wines see Top Super-Tuscan wines.

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