An Affordable Intro to Italian Wines
Quite often I have customers tell me they are interested in Italian wines and want to learn more about them, but they are intimidated by our Italian wine section and don’t even know where to start. I completely understand.
Italy makes more wine than any country and mostly from grapes we’ve never heard of, and the Italian wine label doesn’t offer too much assistance as Italian wines are sometimes named for the appellation and sometimes named by the grape and region they come from.
So last month I hosted an Italian Wine 101 class at The Wine Country where I presented guests with an affordable range of red and white wines from the major wine regions of Italy that I feel are great “introductory” Italian wines and wines I want people to become familiar with when shopping for new wine options. I thought it would be nice to share these wines here for those who couldn’t attend the event but were still interested in learning more about Italian wine.
Rule #1 about Italian wine is that Italian wines are made for food!
The one thing I always tell people when they are first trying Italian wines is that Italians never drink wine without having food and their wines are made for pairing with food. The wines tend to be higher in acidity and firmer in the mouth and usually not great for just sipping on their own. They really shine though when paired with foods and are not limited to just Italian foods.
Keeping that rule in mind, here are some of my recommendations for approachable and affordable wines that I feel are a great starting point to taking on the wonderful world of Italian wine.
2017 Araldica ‘La Luciana’ Gavi, Piedmont
Gavi is a commune in Southern Piedmont that produces a crisp, dry white wine from the Cortese grape. This wine is almost always named for the region so look for Gavi or Gavi di Gavi on the label for the best examples. The crisp wine was made for serving in the seafood restaurants in Genoa and typically has bright citrus and melon flavors with pronounced citrus floral aromas. This medium bodied wine matches perfectly with seafood but can handle grilled white meats, hearty salads and vegetable pastas.
$12.99 per bottle
2016 Fattori ‘Runcaris’ Soave Classico, Veneto
Soave was once the most imported and sold Italian wine in American back in the 1970’s but got a bad reputation from large winemakers producing simple, flavorless, bulk style wines to feed the huge demand. Soave wines have come a long way since then and are now being recognized as some of the best quality white wines produced in all of Italy, especially when they produced in the Soave Classico region with its mineral rich, volcanic soils. Fattori is a small, 3rd generation producer in the region but their wines always stun people with their beauty and amazing value. The ‘Runcaris’ Soave is the classic expression of high quality Soave with lovely white flower notes, fresh citrus and stone fruit flavors and crisp mineral undertones. This is an easy drinking dry white yet complex enough to pair a wide variety of foods like salads, seafood, pastas and white meats. A steal at this price!
$13.99 per bottle
2017 Kermit Lynch Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Marche
Verdicchio is an ancient grape grown in the hilly Marche region of Italy’s Adriatic coast, mostly grown in the Castelli di Jesi commune, and Italians from Marche are quite proud of their world class white wine. This is another dry, crisp white wine built for seafood but it also carries enough weight to pair well with a wide variety of foods. I was quite happy when Kermit Lynch began importing this great value Verdicchio from Azienda Santa Barbara. Their Verdicchio is slightly more generous and round with fruit than most but still offers that classic zippy minerality and freshness. A perfect introduction to this sophisticated white wine.
$11.99 per bottle
2017 Marco Felluga ‘Mongris’ Pinot Grigio, Friuli
Unfortunately Pinot Grigio has got a bad rap here in the U.S. due to the insipid, cheap versions being mass produced for the American market. I’m here to tell you that excellent Pinot Grigio is being produced across the northern regions of Italy in places like Friuli and Sudtirol-Alto Adige. (Samantha likes to call them “grown up Pinot Grigio.”) Pinot Grigio wines from these regions are packed with flavor, complexity and stony minerality. Friuli is located in the northeast corner of Italy on the borders of Slovenia and Austria and is known for producing some of the best white wines in the world. The Felluga family has a long history of winemaking in the Friuli region of Italy and is specifically located in the Collio hills where only white wines are produced. This Pinot Grigio delivers all the citrus flower aromas, tangy fruit flavors and minerality you want, but in an extremely elegant manner with much greater depth and richness than your average Pinot Grigio. This is not your summer sipper Pinot Grigio. This wine is made for seafood, soups, vegetable pasta dishes and even white meats.
$16.99 per bottle
2017 Piero Mancini Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia
Wines produced from the Vermentino grape can be found all over the world now but I feel some of the best Vermentino wines come from Sardinia, Tuscany, Corsica and Provence. Sardinians love their Vermentino because it pairs wonderfully with their flavorful seafood dishes and more. Gallura is a wine region at the northern most tip of Sardinia and is known for producing the best Vermentino wines from vines grown in granite soils. Piero Mancini’s Vermentino di Gallura is one of the best Vermentino wines I’ve ever had and an incredible value at this price. It’s bright and refreshing and perfectly balanced with acidity, fruity richness and the classic herbaceous and nutty undertones. This delicious dry white is perfect for seafood but has enough body to handle white meats, pizza and pasta.
$14.99 per bottle
N.V. Sorelle Bronca Valdobbiadene Prosecco Extra Dry, Veneto
These days I think most of us are familiar with Italy’s most famous and popular sparkling wine called Prosecco. It’s light, fruity and uncomplicated. We’ve either had it served to us at brunch or been lucky enough to enjoy an Aperol Spritz while vacationing in Italy. There is a lot of inexpensive Proseccos on the market and they serve their purpose for making mimosas or spritzes. But in the Valdobbiadene region of northern Italy, they take Prosecco very serious and produce high quality Prosecco wines that are excellent on their own and too good for mixing. Valdobbiadene Prosecco is ideal as an aperitif with hors d'oeuvres, preferably of the salty or fried variety. Think Fritto Misto or Prosciutto and cheese. The Sorelle Bronca Valdobbiadene Prosecco has been a store favorite for several years and always surprises people with its elegance and concentration of flavors. The wine dances on your tongue with perfectly balanced ripe fruit and crisp acidity.
$17.99 per bottle
2016 Farnese Fantini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Montepulciano is a grape grown in the central regions of Italy, mostly on the Adriatic coast in the Abruzzo and Marche regions. It’s not to be confused with the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany, which has no Montepulciano grapes in it. It’s hard to find bad Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines so don’t fret too much picking one out. Most are very affordable, juicy with dark red berry & plum fruits and somewhat soft on the palate, making them crowd pleasing and quaffable. It's a medium-bodied, rustic wine with plenty of spicy tones that pairs wonderfully with flavorful American-Italian foods, burgers, pizza, grilled meats and more. Farnese’s Fantini Montepul-ciano is an incredible value, so grab a couple bottles because it will probably be gone before you know it.
$9.99 per bottle
2017 Damilano Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont
You’ll often hear me say that Barbera is one of Italy’s greatest food wines. It is Italy’s third most planted grape but especially produces great wines when grown in the cooler, hilly regions of Asti and Alba in Piedmont. It’s here that Barbera retains its freshness and acidity and the vibrant red and black cherry fruits really shine. Barbera has somewhat soft tannins making it approachable and crowd friendly. Damilano’s Barbera d’Asti is medium bodied but packed with bold fruit with spicy undertones. It’s one of our best sellers year after year. The Damilano winery dates back to 1890 and is still run today by the 4th generation of family members.
$18.99 per bottle
2016 Monte Tondo ‘San Pietro’ Valpolicella Superiore, Veneto
Valpolicella is a wine region in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. Valpolicella wines are produced from grapes you’ve probably never heard of like Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Corvinone and you’ll mostly likely never see those grapes on the label anywhere. The wines are simply called Valpolicella and come in different styles from light and accessible to rich and powerful. The styles, ranging from lighter to heavier, are noted on the wine labels as such; Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicella. Valpolicella is another great Italian wine that is often overlooked for more familiar wines like Chianti. Young Valpolicella is light to medium bodied and known for its fresh sour cherry fruit and herbaceous aromas. It pairs wonderfully with a wide range of foods from seafood, pizza, pasta and roast meats.
$14.99 per bottle
2016 Colosi Terre Siciliane Rosso, Sicily
Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s main red grape and is known for its bold, dark berried fruity wines. These wines can range from medium bodied, young and fresh, to full bodied and rich with oak aging. Younger wines are great week night wines that match well with bold flavored foods, light red sauced pastas, pizzas, burgers and sausages. Colosi’s Rosso is made from 90% Nero d’Avola and delivers quite a punch for the price. It’s medium bodied and bold with plenty of dark fruit, yet soft and approachable. Keep plenty on hand for pizza.
$9.99 per bottle
2014 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany
As the name implies, Vino Nobile is one of Tuscany’s most noble and historic wines with mentions of the great red wine in the town of Montepulciano dating back to the 1600s. Montepulciano is a medieval city located in the southern part of Tuscany. Like its neighbors Chianti and Montalcino, Montepulciano wines are primarily produced from Sangiovese grapes grown in vineyards surrounding the ancient village. Vino Nobile is a serious wine and usually costs around $30 for a quality bottle. I was elated when I discovered this amazing Vino Nobile at this price. Fattoria del Cerro’s Vino Nobile is medium to full bodied and packed with black cherry fruits. Hints of forest herbs, spice and Tuscan earth add complexity to the satisfying wine. This is a great wine to pair with rich meat pasta dishes, grilled and roasted meats.
$17.99 per bottle
2016 Paolo Scavino Langhe Nebbiolo, Piedmont
Barolo and Barbaresco are two of Italy’s most revered wines, famous for their haunting aromas, powerful structure, complex earthy flavors and agability. Barolo and Barbaresco are actually names of villages in Piedmont and wines bearing those names are made from the Nebbiolo grape. These wines can be pricey and both need years of aging before they are ready to drink. A great alternative and introduction to the flavors of these wines are wines called Langhe Nebbiolo. Langhe is the broader area that encompasses the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco and producers often make Nebbiolo wines from their young vines or vines that don’t make the cut for their best wines. Langhe Nebbiolo wines are softer, lighter and more approachable than those expensive wines but still offer those same distinctive Nebbiolo qualities. The Scavino family is world renowned for producing high quality Barolo wines so getting any Scavino wine at this price is a treat. Their Langhe Nebbiolo is bright and approachable with vibrant red cherry & berry fruit and undertones of spice and leather.
$21.99 per bottle