My Favorite Value-priced Italian Red wines – 15 under $20.


Italy is a large wine market with every one of Italy’s 20 regions producing some quantity of wine for export as well as domestic consumption. Some are marquee-name estates producing highly regarded wines that often come with triple-digit price tags. However, these wines constitute a small fraction of Italy’s total wine production.

here are literally hundreds of talented and passionate winemakers producing quality, reasonably-priced wines that showcase their regions’ diverse terroirs and native grapes. But because they may be made in less well-known appellations and/or are produced by other than marquee-name producers, these wines typically fly under the radar screens of most wine consumers.

I have the opportunity to sample a number of wines each year and my experience confirms that there are plenty of well-made Italian wines of substance and character and despite the imposition of some irksome U.S. tariffs on imported wines, still sell for $20 or less. And who doesn’t love a wine bargain, especially in these challenging times?

Here are my 15-favorite value-priced Italian dry red wines, the wines that I think 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 red wines that rank high on a quality-to-price basis. No matter your circumstances, any of 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 over-think specific vintages.

The wines are presented in alphabetical order by producer.

Avignonesi, “Cantaloro” Rosso Toscana IGT 2017 (about $13)
Avignonesi is one of southern Tuscany’s premier producers. Named after the noble family that was the original owner of the estate it is one of the oldest wineries not only in Tuscany but in Italy. While the primary focus of Avignonesi today is on the production of robust Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines the estate also produces some highly-regarded super-Tuscans and other wines such as an award-winning dessert-style wine.

2017 Cantaloro Rosso from the Avignonesi WineryCantaloro is Avignonesi’s entry-level red wine. It is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon harvested from a number of Avignonesi’s vineyards.
The grapes are fermented in steel tanks for about two weeks using only natural yeasts. The wine is then aged for 18 months in a combination of steel tanks, used oak barriques and oak barrels and spends a few months in the bottle prior to release. It has 14 percent alcohol.

This dry, medium-bodied wine has inviting aromas of ripe red fruit, attractive berry-fruit and subtle kitchen spice flavors and soft tannins that offer a straight-out delicate and smooth mouthfeel.  A hint of spice gives lift to the long, dry finish.

This delicious wine is easy to enjoy with almost any food from salads and pasta dishes to roasted meats.
It is an inexpensive and thoroughly enjoyable wine that delivers much more than one could expect given its price. It’s hard to resist and you’ll find yourself coming back to it time and time again.

Banfi, “Centine” Rosso Toscana IG 2018 (about $11)
The Banfi estate in southern Tuscany markets a full portfolio of red and white wines and the Centine (chen tee’ nay) 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 pairs well with all kinds of foods and social get-togethers. 

Cusumano, “Benuara” Terre Siciliane IGT 2018 (about $18)
Cusumano’s Benuara is Sicilian a blend of 70 percent Nero d’Avola and 30 percent Syrah aged for 6 months in steel tanks with 20 percent in large format oak casks. It is not a shy wine. Dark and brooding in color, it is full-bodied with good texture and mouthfeel supported by 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.

Falesco, “Vitiano Rosso” 2016 (about $11)
This delicious red from the Cotarella Family estate is a perennial winner and may well be Italy’s best value-priced red wine. This wine is a blend of one-third each Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and it’s hard to resist. The wines are aged for 3 months in French oak barriques with an additional 3 months in the bottle prior to release. 

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 ragù to most grilled pork and beef dishes.

Feudi di San Gregorio, “Rubrato” Aglianico Irpinia 2017 (about $19)
Aglianico is a thick-skinned, tannin-rich red variety grown throughout southern Italy but that has really taken r2017 Rubrato Aglianico Irpinia from the Feudi di San Gregorio Winery in Campaniaoot, so to speak, in the Basilicata and Campania regions.
Feudi di San Gregorio’s “Rubrato” 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.

Leone de Castris, “Maiana” Rosso Salice Salentino 2017 (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 30-year-old vines in a small 15-acre vineyard. Negroamaro is known for the dark colors, tannins and dark berry-like flavors it imparts to wines while Malvasia Nera contributes rich and perfumed aromas.

The 2017 Maiana is fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in large-format oak barrels for 6 months with 3 additional months in the bottle prior to release. It has a food-friendly 13.5 percent alcohol.

It is a full-flavored, rich red wine that offers up intense, ripe dark cherry and raisiny flavors with smooth 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 any meal where braised short ribs is on the menu.

Librandi, “Duca Sanfelice” Ciro Rosso Classico Riserva 2015 (about $18)
Ciro is a wide-ranging DOC-designated wine region in Calabria best known for red wines based on the Gaglioppo (gah yhee oh’ po) grape variety. Gaglioppo 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 to different micro-climates and can produce wines ranging from lean, acidic and distinctly spicy to robust, intense wines with dark fruit flavors that can border on raisiny.

Librandi is Calabria’s most well-known and recognized winery and is leading the initiative to raise the profile of Calabria’s wines on the world stage. The estate has approximately 580 acres under vine and a fair amount of that is planted with Gaglioppo.

Librandi’s 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 2 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 some ageing potential that will satisfy any discerning wine drinker’s need for complexity and flavor.

Luigi Einaudi, Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG 2019 (about $18)
This easy-drinking, traditional wine from one of the Piedmont’s best producers is made exclusively of Dolcetto from 3 Einaudi vineyards in the Dogliani appellation. The wine is aged in steel tanks for 8 months and 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, soft tannins and 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.

Masi, “Campofiorin” Rosso Veronese IGT 2016 (about $17)
Masi’s “Campofiorin” Rosso Veronese is a distinctive IGT wine that employs a version of the appassimento technique that Masi refers to as a “double fermentation” process. The newly fermented wine made from recently harvested Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes undergoes a second fermentation when a small percentage of semi-dried grapes of the same varieties is added to the recently fermented wine. The refermentation imparts a darker hue, greater structure and richer flavors for a more complex and intriguing wine. It’s rich and intense with soft tannins and sweet spice notes.

It is a lot of wine for a very modest price and is an ideal companion for any gathering where grilled or roasted red meats is on the menu and has an enviable potential for long-term ageing.

Santadi, “Grotta Rossa” Carignano del Sulcis 2016 (about $17)
Santa2016 "Grotta Rossa" Carignano del Sulcis from the Santadi Winery in Sardiniadi’s “Grotta Rossa” is a great introduction to the Carignano varietal that thrives in the Sulcis area in south-western Sardinia. This spicy red is made entirely from Carignano and has lively acidity, dried berry flavors with some spicy accents and soft tannins enhanced with subtle herbal notes in the finish. This medium to full-bodied wine has an astonishing depth of flavor and complexity that is hard to find in value-priced wines like this and is an ideal table companion when roast veal or pork tenderloin dishes are on the menu. 

Sant’Antonio, “Scaia” Corvina Rosso 2018 (about $13)
Corvina is a late-ripening, thick-skinned grape variety with a blue-black color 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 two of the Veneto's most prominent wines - Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso.

However, Sant’Antonio’s Scaia (sky’ ah) is made entirely of Corvina. The grapes are harvested from the estate’s vineyards and 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 Scaia’s Corvina production.

The 2018 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 2018 (about $16)
Cannonau is the most widely-planted variety on the island of Sardegna (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 di Sardegna Riserva is made entirely of Cannonau grapes that are vinified in stainless steel tanks for two weeks after which the wine is aged for two years in large oak casks and then a few months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

The 2018 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 2017 (about $18)
Tasca d’Almerita is Sicily’s largest and, arguably, most famous winery. Founded in 1830 in hilly central Sicily it today owns other vineyard properties throughout Sicily. They collectively total 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 several of 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 2017 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” 2017 (about $11)
This wine is from the Tuscan-based Antinori family’s winery in the Salento DOC area of Puglia in southern Italy. It is an awesome blend of Negroamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its name “Neprica”, a 2017 "Neprica" from the Tormaresca Winery in Pugliacombination 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.

Zeni, “Marogne” Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2018 (about $18)
Zeni’s “Marogne” is made with hand-selected clusters of grapes from the estate’s hill-side vineyard near Lake Garda. It is a blended wine made with Valpolicella’s traditional Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara varieties.

The grapes undergo a traditional 2-week fermentation and maceration after which the newly fermented Valpolicella wine is decanted on i.e., “passed over” the pomace (leftover grape skins and yeast cells) from the estate’s recently-fermented Amarone wine. This induces a second fermentation that imparts additional structure and concentration and also increases the Valpolicella’s alcohol 2018 "Marogne" Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore from the Zeni Winery in Venetocontent. The Ripasso wine is then aged in oak barrels for 12 months followed by a short stay in stainless steel vats prior to bottling.

The 2018 “Marogne” is a real winner with intense perfumed aromas of a dried fruit compote. A sip reveals a full bodied, seductively smooth wine with ripe dark cherry and berry flavors, controlled tannins and acidity and a lengthy, pleasantly earthy finish. It has 14 percent alcohol.

This Ripasso is a perfect companion to hearty dishes like grilled red meats, most full-flavored pasta and risotto dishes and strong cheeses where the Ripasso’s flavors will complement rather than overwhelm the food.

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 check their websites or call them to determine price and availability.


©Richard Marcis
June 8, 2021

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