25 under $25

Finally: fabulous Italian wines at reasonable prices. Here are 25 stellar wines without steep price tags. Most cost around twenty bucks, and a bunch are $15 or less.  

by Ian Wolff

With prices  like these, stocking up on high quality Italian wines won't break the bank.

To celebrate Italy's growing roster of amazing wines at affordable prices, here are 25 of our favorite, yet relatively inexpensive, wines. We picked bottles from around the country, digging up unsung heroes from lesser-known regions as well as newcomers from familiar territory. Among our top picks: a racy Barbera from Piedmont, juicy Aglianico from a sleepy corner of Basilicata, and a surprising Spumante from Campania.

Our top value is a Dolcetto from one of our longtime favorite producers, fourth generation winemaker Luca Roagna who continues his family's tradition of crafting superior traditional wines at their estate in Barbaresco. Indeed the grapes that go into the $15 Dolcetto grow in some of the same vineyards that produce their prized, and more expensive, Barbarescos.

A region that's producing top quality wines at bargain basement prices is far-flung Basilicata in Southern Italy, which has a single DOC wine, Aglianico del Vulture. The Aglianico grape grown here is a different strain than in Taurasi, Basilicata's more respected neighbor to the north. The strain found in this region thrives in the red volcanic soil on the slopes of Mount Vulture, producing rich and complex wines. Thanks to the fact that wines form this region haven't caught on in the wider market, there are some great wines to be found, such as our pick, Bisceglia. 

While some of these bottles will be easy to find at a good wine store, you might have to hunt a little for others. The links below should help you on your quest and may introduce you to some other great finds as well.

Vinquire is a search engine that allows you to search for specific wines within your area as well as compare prices. 

Astor Wines in New York has an amazing inventory and also ships. 

Italian Wine Merchants in New York specializes in, you guessed it, Italian wines. 

K & L Wine is one of California's top wine merchants and has one of the country's most comprehensive collection of Italian wine. 


Photo by G. Giraldo

The twenty-five to buy

Attention La Cucina Italiana readers: The "missing" bottle is the Argiolas, the second one on the list below. 


For all of the wines, the prices are based on either the distributor's suggested retail price or on a national average, though prices may vary depending on location. 



“Palazzo della Torre,” Valpolicella, Veneto, 2006


This “baby Amarone” is a single-vineyard blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Sangiovese. Thirty percent of the harvest is dried until December and then blended with the rest of the batch, which gives the wine a touch of Amarone’s density and deep notes of dried berry, while keeping a lively brightness.




“Costera,” Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia, 2007


Sardinia’s wine tradition stems from the era of Spanish control of the island. The Spanish brought the Grenache grape to Sardinia and it took hold. Called Cannonau, it’s prevelant throughout Sardinia and is the sole grape in the Costera. Here, it’s lean yet lush with extracted berry and redolent of herbs.




"Gudarrà," Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, 2005


The Gudarrà is brimming with flavors, well-balanced and smooth-drinking. Its full body carries notes of prune and tar. Despite its depth, it's lively in the glass with a long, lingering and warm finish that hints at the volcanic soils of Mount Vulture, where the vineyards bask in the Basilicata sun.



Bruna Grimaldi

"Scassa," Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont, 2007


The Grimaldi family is known for their Barolo. Their Barbera, which comes from a single vineyard in Diano d'Alba, is surprisingly well-rounded and lush, with an eye catching garnet hue. It's full bodied, with layers of flavor and a long and pleasing finish of citrus peel and thyme.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Rabbit, Pancetta and Green Olive Skewers.


Cantina Val Di Neto

"Mutrò," Melissa Rosso Superiore, Calabria, 2004


The name Melissa is derived from the Greek term for sweetness, and the wine (75 percent Gaglioppo) has strong notes of chocolate, carob and berry on the nose. This might strike some as an unusual wine, but its unique flavors are truly pleasing, reminiscent of North African spices.



Castel Sallegg

"Bischofsleiten," Lago di Caldaro, Alto Adige, 2008


This Schiava comes from the best Schiava vineyard, Bischofsleiten (Bishop's Slope), on the shore of Lake Caldaro, where vineyards benefit from the lake's microclimate. It can be served slightly chilled and has a vibrant ruby hue with a hint of nectarine and plum, good acidity and a clean finish.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Fontina Filled Pastry Puffs in Brodo



Niederra, Rosso Valle Tirso, Sardinia, 2004


The Contini family has been making wine from their vineyards in northwestern Sardinia for over a century. Their experience shows in this well-crafted and distinctive wine that showcases the Cannonau grape. You get desert sage on the nose, with rich flavors of cherries and raisin.



De Conciliis

“Selim,” Cilento, Campania, NV


Selim spells Miles, from Miles Davis, backwards, and the De Conciliis family does justice to the jazz great. The nose is as rich as a still wine, with notes of oregano and peach, and the body is a full spectrum of mineral, allspice and fruit. Its lively bubbles make a perfect foil for a notable hint of honey.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Sea Bass Crudo with Lemon Pesto


Fattoria Monticino Rosso

Albana di Romagna DOCG, Emilia-Romagna, 2008

Monticino's winemaker, Giancarlo Soverchia, keeps his production lean, putting out only 5,000 bottles of this wine per year. Its palate is remarkably nuanced, but you can't miss the notes of peach. It's not often you find a DOCG wine for $12, not to mention a wine with this level of complexity.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Tangerine Tart and Marinated Duck.



"Nipozzano Riserva," Chianti RùffinoDOCG, Tuscany, 2006

The Frescobadli motto, "let the land express itself," shows through in this estate bottled wine. There are herbal notes along with its length, with eucalyptus on the nose, a lean body fragrant of fennel and lavender, and a spicy finish if red peppercorn.


Recipe paring: Try it with Lardo-Studded Roast Beef.



“Braide Grande,” Collio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, 2008


Forget everything you know about Pinot Grigio. The folks at Livon have reimagined what this grape can do and have crafted a complex Pinot Grigio. The body has a unique density, with vibrant aromatics, followed by a hint of smokiness and allspice that opens up for an elegant, lengthy finish.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Little Lasagnas with Tomato, Burrata and Pesto


Luigi Giusti

Lacrima di Morro, Le Marche, 2008


You hear people talk about wine being lush. This is as lush as it gets, with an unusually deep purple color. The nose is floral yet earthy with balanced notes of tar, tobacco and red meat. It’s an elegant bruiser and deceivingly light on its
feet as it finishes with rosemary blossom and white pepper.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Roast Lamb Shoulder



Torre di Giano, Bianco di Torgiano, Umbria, 2008

Like Muscadet wines, this Torre di Giano is left on the lees until just before bottling. Lees are the yeast residue left over after fermentation, and leaving a white wine on the lees imparts a rich and creamy texture, aromatic bouquet and, in this case, a pleasing palate of crisp, green apple and citrus. Like Muscadet wines, this Torre di Giano is left on the lees until just before bottling. Lees are the yeast residue left over after fermentation, and leaving a white wine on the lees imparts a rich and creamy texture, aromatic bouquet and, in this case, a pleasing palate of crisp, green apple and citrus.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Rabbit Raviolini


Michele Calò

“Mjère,” Puglia, Salento, 2008

This rosato accounts for half the winery’s production. There’s an enticing nose of raisin and bay leaf on the nose, with a surprising and lingering note of watermelon. It highlights the Puglia grape Negroamaro. With an aggressive acidity, this wine happily accompanies a range of summer dishes from the grill.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Sausage-Stuffed Roast Quail with Potato Cakes.



"Torrette," Val d'Aosta, 2007

In this small production blend dominated by the local Petit Rouge from family vineyards, there's an enticing aroma of fruit preserves. But there's a lot more going on here, with notes of leather and spicy menthol battling for the upper hand. The wine's firm tannins make it optimal for rich food such as braised rabbit or roasted game. 



Pavese Ermes

Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle, Val d'Aosta, 2008

This wine's Alpine roots shine through in its clean cedar scent, It comes from 100 percent Prié Blanc vineyards perched almost 4,000 feet high in the Val d'Aosta, not far from the French and Swiss borders. It has a bright acidity that carries notes of mountain flowers and herbs. 




Lambrusco, Emilia-Romagna, 2009


If you haven’t tried the red sparkling wine Lambrusco, start with this one. It’s the perfect sparkling wine for a summer evening. Serve it around cellar temperature (50°) or only slightly chilled so that you will fully experience the balanced notes of plum and fennel, and the refreshing acidity.



Recipe pairing: Try it withSpicy Smoked Chicken with Berry Sauce.



Rosso di Valtellina, Lombardy, 2006


The narrow Valtellina valley enjoys a microclimate on a sun-drenched stretch of the Italian Alps. A prime Nebbiolo region, the grapes from here tend to be a bit brighter and livelier than their brothers in Piedmont, and Plozza captures Nebbiolo’s spirit in this lean but textured wine with hints of cranberry and sage.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Risotto with Bresaola and  Valtellina Casera.


Poggio Stella

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, DOCG, Tuscany, 2005

This is a restrained wine. But if you give it some time in the glass, it opens as it breathes, and takes on elegant and bright aromatics of rose hips and thyme. Its firm tannins are great for pairing with food. It's not easy to find Vino Nobile di Montepulciano for under $25, but this one is a great option. 




Dolcetto d'Alba, Piedmont, 2008

This remarkable Dolcetto is from our longtime favorite producers, the family behind the unassailable Barbaresco Crichet Pajé. These grapes come from their vineyards in Barbaresco and have a full and juicy body and a dark berry color. There are hints of bacon, blackberry and rose hips with a warming finish.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Pork Loin Saltimbocca with Pancetta.


Rocca Sveva

Soave Classico, Vento, 2008

This 100 percent Garganega Soave has a fragrant nose of apple blossom and an unmistakeable hint of melon. The light blonde straw color carries with it an underlying spiciness balanced by a supple fruitiness. This is a unique Soave, complex and nuanced, unlike many of its compatriots.



Sartori di Verona

Pinot Noir, Provincia di Pavia, Veneto, 2007


Here’s a light-bodied, easy-drinking Pinot Noir. The grape seems to do quite well in Veneto, and Sartori delivers it at a great price. It has a fragrant bouquet of dried cherry and hibiscus. Despite the wine’s light body, there’s a suprisingly aggressive palate of herbs and wild berry.



Terredora Di Paolo

“Loggia della Serra,” Greco di Tufo DOCG, Campania, 2008


This 100 percent Greco di Tufo is aged on its lees like Lungarotti’s Torre di Giano. The wine is aged entirely in stainless steel, which captures the essence of the grapes. There is good body and notes of star anise, clove and stonefruit with a solid mineral streak running through it.


Recipe pairing: Try it with Adriatic Fish Soup.


Valle Dell'Acate

“Zagra,” Sicily, 2008


This blend of the local Grillo and Insolia grapes produces a rich nose of honeysuckle and the namesake zagra, or citrus flower. A deceivingly light straw color belies a full extraction and a full body. There is vibrant grapefruit balanced by the typical mineral notes drawn from the estate’s calcerous sandstone and clay soil.




"San Benedetto," Lugana, Veneto, 2008

This is a 100 percent Trebbiano di Lugana from the San Benedetto vineyard on the shores of Lake Garda. The microclimate makes for a unique terroir, which shines through in this well structured white wine. It's fruit-forward with a broad and floral palate that hints of honey and apricot.