Terrific Italian Wines for $20 and Under

For the past few years I’ve wanted to visit Italy and sip my way through that country’s marvelous vineyards. But, I keep getting waylaid by places like France, America’s own wine regions, and sunny beaches south of the border and in the Caribbean. One of these days, I will make it back to Italy. For now, I’ll settle for enjoying great value wines from there. Each of the Italian wines featured here sells for less than 20 bucks – some, much less, making a trip to Italia cheaper than you’d think.

Pinot Grigio is the mother of Italian white wines and by far the most commercially successful varietal. One of my favorites – a great bang-for-the-buck – is Attems Pinot Grigio ($10.25). It comes from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the northeastern-most region of Italy, bordering Slovenia and Austria. Attems has more tropical-fruit flavors and aromas than much Pinot Grigio, which can be insipid. By contrast, this one is rich, complex, and brimming with ripe fruit – pineapple, pear and peach flavors, especially, along with crisp minerality. It makes for a pleasant aperitif but also pairs up well with fish dishes like halibut piccata.

Another extraordinary Italian white wine value is Mezzocorona Anterra Chardonnay delle Venezie IGT priced at (and this isn’t a typo): $5.99. This Chardonnay is crisp, a little off-dry, and closer in style to Chablis than a big, buttery California Chardonnay. Since it’s subtle and not bombastic, Anterra is a good partner for a wide range of dishes – a very food-friendly Chardonnay, indeed.

Italy produces some terrific Rosé wines – called Rosato in that country – and this is one of them. Don’t let the low price fool you; Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Rosato  ($12.99) is a world-class pink wine. Aged in stainless steel with natural malolactic fermentation, Scaia Rosato is made from 100% Rondinella, exhibiting floral aromas and juicy raspberry flavors. Another excellent wine from the same producer is Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Corvina IGT  ($12.99). I’ve written that Scaia Corvina is “one of the best Italian red wine bargains on the planet.” Renown wine writer Robert Parker agrees, saying in The Wine Advocate “This exceptional value wine may well be the best deal in Italian wine today …”

Casamatta means “crazy house” in Italian, and Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso Toscana IGT (12.95) would make for a crazy good house wine: one that is refreshing and not to serious, but eminently versatile and appealing. Made from 100% Sangiovese using the Spanish-style solera method of blending the current wine vintage with previous ones, this might just be the ultimate pizza and pasta wine.

Speaking of pizza wines, every household deserves an inexpensive, go-to Chianti for not-so-special occasions. For me, the ubiquitous Ruffino Chianti DOCG ($11.99) fits the bill perfectly. Its blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot produces fruity and floral aromas and just enough acid and backbone to pair nicely with a wide range of foods, from hamburgers and grilled pork chops to beef carpaccio and Margherita pizza.

If you’re looking for a low-price, luscious wine that can serve both as an appealing aperitif and as an accompaniment for dessert, look no further than Moscato d’Asti Cascinetta  ($16.99). As you’d expect, it’s made from 100% Moscato d’Asti grapes and weighs in at a very drinkable alcohol-by-volume level of 5.26%. The pale-yellow wine is slightly frizzante (fizzy), with peach and ginger aromas. This Moscato d’Asti tickles the tongue with slightly sweet stone fruit flavors and is a very good partner for light, fruity desserts and even robust, creamy seafood dishes and pastas where you want something crisp and light to sip for contrast.

Saluti!

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