For the past few years I've wanted to visit Italy and sip my way through the 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 imports. Each of the Italian wines featured here sells for less than $20—some, much less, making an Italian staycation 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 2015 ($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 most pinot grigios, 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 value is Mezzocorona Anterra Chardonnay delle Venezie IGT 2014 priced at (and this isn't a typo) $5.99. It's a new-ish product that isn't easy to find in the U.S. However, we're lucky to have it here in Utah on a trial basis. 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 wine.
Italy produces some terrific rosés—called rosato in that country—and this is one of them. Don't let the low price fool you; Tenuta Sant'Antonio Scaia Rosato 2015 ($12.99) is a world-class pink vino. Aged in stainless steel with natural malolactic fermentation, it's made from 100 percent rondinella, exhibiting floral aromas and juicy raspberry flavors. Another excellent wine from the same producer is Tenuta Sant'Antonio Scaia Corvina IGT 2014 ($12.99). I've written that Scaia Corvina is "one of the best Italian red wine bargains on the planet." Renowned critic 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 too serious, but eminently versatile and appealing. Made from 100 percent 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 complement.
Speaking of pizza pairings, 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 percent sangiovese and 20 percent merlot produces fruity and floral aromas, with 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 2015 ($16.99). As you'd expect, it's made from 100 percent moscato d'Asti grapes, and weighs in at a very drinkable alcohol-by-volume level of 5.26 percent. The pale-yellow wine is slightly frizzante (fizzy), with peach and ginger aromas. It 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.