Top 10 Italian Red Wines

What are your favorites?


Having recently tasted a few 2006 Brunellos, my thoughts turned to the reputation of Brunello and where it fits within the hierarchy of Italian wines. While there are some lovely wines from Brunello, it has never been one of my go-to regions in Italy.

This has as much to do with pricing as it does with quality. Sangiovese is a fantastic grape that produces tremendous wines, though I have typically gotten my Sangiovese fix in Chianti or Rosso di Montalcino, which can also be great values.

All this got me thinking, what are my favorite Italian red wines? And why? Some may surprise you, but all are worth further investigation!

Photo courtesy via Flickr/CC

#10: Valpolicella

Leading off my list in position 10 is Valpolicella. Mind you I’m not talking about the super Valpolicella, just the plain old, crisp and light, brilliantly red-fruited and easy drinking Valpolicella you’re likely to be served while sitting on the shores of Lake Garda enjoying lunch and the view.

Sadly, there aren’t many crisp, fresh Valpolicella imported into the U.S., probably because of economics more than anything else. This is really too bad since these wines are so easy to enjoy and pair so well with food too!

Two producers whose wines I enjoy are:

Zenato $$

Vaona $$

#9: Aglianico

Aglianico is the perennial “Greatest Italian Wine You’ve Never tried.” While the wines are convincing, they’re also rustic and tend to be tough, requiring cellaring to soften and become expressive.

That rusticity, or perhaps the reputation for rusticity since the wines have improved markedly over the past decade or so, has tended to keep the prices fairly moderate for these wines. Today, the leather and smoke of Aglianico is paired with bright black fruits and supported by rich tannins. For bang for your buck, they are tough to beat, no pun intended. These are mid-priced wines.

Two producers whose wines I enjoy are:

Molettieri $$$

Tenuta le Querce $$

#8: Frappato

Frappato is a bit of a secret, bottled on its own or along with Nero d’Avola in Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and they tend to be difficult to track down. You can ask if that’s because there is a cult of Frappato drinkers out there, which may very well be true, or if these wines are simply so good, so drinkable and so satisfying that everybody who tries them turns into a buyer. This seems entirely more likely to me.

The wines can best be described as the biggest of the very light red wines. Delicate and perfumed with red fruit in a supple, yet lightly tannic style. The Cerasuolo di Vittoria, with it’s Nero d’Avola, is notably larger scaled, but retains an approachability at its core that makes you want to guzzle it down!

Two producers whose wines I enjoy are:

Valle dell’Alcate Cerasuolo di Vittoria $$

Arriana Ochipinti Frappato $$$

#7: Brunello

And here we come to the catalyst of this list. You might be surprised to find where Brunello shakes out in my top ten list, but the past few years have been difficult for this lovely if often misunderstood appellation.

I love Brunello when it tastes like and feels like Sangiovese, which is to say when it is fresh and elegant, redolent of flowers and herb, and rich with nervous, vivid red fruits. Sometimes finding a wine that fits the bill can be a challenge, and the hype surrounding the 2006 vintages seems to have pushed prices up once again after a brief respite during the past few years. Still, when the heart calls for Brunello there is nothing quite like it, except of course for Rosso di Montalcino!

You can check out my recent Brunello tasting notes for specific recommendations, but I want to add two producers whose wines I did not get to try last week:

Silvio Nardi $$$$$

Tenuta Caparzo $$$$$

#6: Amarone

I drink about as much Brunello as I do Amarone, but somehow I think Amarone deserves to be ahead in this list. There is simply no other wine like Amarone out there. With its soul warming richness that comes from the dried grapes to the wonderful array of flavors that stretches from dried citrus peels and red fruits to mulling spices and chocolate, it’s a wine perfect for thawing frozen bones.

And that of course is also the problem with Amarone. While it really isn’t exclusively a winter wine, per se, it is a big wine and one that can be challenging to pair with foods, though break out the cheese board and you’ll almost always find a brilliant match!

Two producers whose wines I enjoy are:

Masi from $$$$

Le Ragose from $$$

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  • Snooth User: Giacomo Pevere
    Hand of Snooth
    806471 999

    Barolo and Barbaresco on first place is dam right! I love Produttori del Barbaresco, cheap and high quality, 2007 reserve bottles from 9 different cru will came out soon.
    Despite the problems around Brunello di Montalcino appellation average quality is too high for just a 7th place. Onestly i haven't see prices moving up or down (here in italy, maybe US distributors did it), anyway it's still possible find good bottles for good price.
    Generally i agree with your picks but i put in my personal top 10 Taurasi.

    #8 have some problems, same text of #9

    Jan 19, 2012 at 11:06 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Thanks Jack,

    Updated the Frappato slide. So you don't like Aglianico except for Taurasi?

    Jan 19, 2012 at 11:28 AM

  • Snooth User: Giacomo Pevere
    Hand of Snooth
    806471 999

    Sorry i was confused about your examples, do u mean for "Aglianico" every wine produced with that grape (Taurasi inclueded)? Maybe yes... my misunderstanding.
    Taurasi is my favourite wine from Aglianico grape but Aglianico del Vulture e Aglianico del Taburno are great wines!

    Jan 19, 2012 at 12:35 PM

  • Snooth User: gcarl
    95337 3

    I also like the Taurasi, but I like the Elena Fucci Aglianico del Vulture Titolo, even more at about 2/3 the price of the Taurasi.

    For another wine/grape which usually needs some age, I like Oltrepo Pavese, especially the 100% Bonarda ones crafted by Antonella Tacci and Raimondo Lombardi at AZIENDA AGRICOLA MARTILDE. Their 1996 Pindaro (named after one of their deceased winery cats) has been drinking well since about 2007, but keeps getting better as I exhaust my stock. I was surprised by the quality of the youngest release I have had from them, the '09 Oltrepo Pavese Bonarda. At around $11, it is a steal and I need more than the 2+ cases I bought.

    Jan 19, 2012 at 12:57 PM

  • Snooth User: ednovak
    816597 28

    When it comes to Italian wines I have a hard time not liking them all... or at least have yet to come up with something that I couldn't enjoy. Primitivo is one that would be on my top 10 list for sure... but that said there's a few on your list I haven't enjoyed yet.

    Jan 19, 2012 at 1:19 PM

  • Snooth User: Ted D
    1021418 0

    Gregory Dal Piaz,
    Please Try Aglianico from De Maria vinyard in Chiusano di San Dominico. It is DOC. And they have a DOCG Fiano di Avellino

    Jan 19, 2012 at 3:26 PM

  • Snooth User: wineguyps
    974044 0

    I had a Taurasi the other night and it was a 97, it was a wild tasting wine, could someone please enlighten me on what i should expect from them it was a DOCG wine, and i am paying ten bucks a bottle for it!

    Jan 19, 2012 at 5:13 PM

  • I only buy Pilastro Primitivo(£8.99). All other southern Italian wines pale by comparison.

    Jan 19, 2012 at 7:59 PM

  • Snooth User: celts911
    925676 20

    Lord---I love Italian reds. I love valpolicella, montepulciano, barbaresco,and brunello, and amarone---I LOVE amarone!! Thanks for the nice article.

    Jan 19, 2012 at 11:26 PM

  • I was in Alba recently and I asked the waiter at a restaur to bring me a glass of their pride, barolo. I had never drunk barolo before and was frankly a bit disappointed. I indicated this to the waiter and he seemed genuinely hurt. I should have realised that the Italians love their local fare. He immediately brought me another barolo which was perfect, living up to the ballyhoo. I guess the lesson is that there is better among the good.

    Jan 20, 2012 at 5:30 AM

  • My wife and I cycled through that whole area this summer and stayed in Alba one night. We discovered the same thing. Some of the higher to medium priced barbarescos were as good or better then some of the barolos. Not all the barolo's made me smile. On the other hand, the ones that did were amazing. Shopping around and discovering the ones you like is what it is all about and lots of fun. A not so good barolo is likely still better then your average wine!


    from Toronto Canada

    Jan 22, 2012 at 12:55 PM

  • It is one thing to list the types of wine. In my experience, you get more reliability by memorising the growers names.
    The well run vineyard managed by expert wine-makers, or top az agricolas, produce a good wine every year and often do a range of wines, or occasional prestige wine made only in exceptional vintages.
    I would recommend US drinkers remember the family names of the wines they like, as well as in Italian wine case, keep trying the grape varieties as there are so many!

    There are Italians who make a good wine when all around them fail to, in fairly dull regions. Eg Frascati, Colli di Catone used to be waxy and interesting. There are also so many Soaves and Valpoicellas, but you can get genuine by remembering the names of the ones that taste of almonds and cherries respectively, likely to have classico or superiore or both in the title. Some also are skirting regs so get called Vino de Tavola, but cost a lot because the wine is profound and the maker is trusted.
    VIDE on labels used to be on good wines. anyone know what it meant?
    The price I ma being quoted for good barolos here is now £300 for 6. At such times it is great to remember that youll likely drink better with an expensive barbera than a cheap barolo.

    Jan 23, 2012 at 6:35 AM

  • Snooth User: celts911
    925676 20

    I think we all should know the varieties of Italians wines as a starting point--then refine our tastes from there. Because I KNOW now, after years of practice and tasting what types I DO like, I can look to the vineyards who specialize in them, to finalize my favorites list., and what years produced the best flavours.

    Jan 23, 2012 at 1:56 PM

  • For years I thought Valpolicella and Soave were rubbish wines served in 1.5 litre bottles at cheap parties, until I tasted the real Mc Coy made by a handful of producers like Allegrini and Anselmi.

    The same was true of Chianti. Older readers will remember the wickerwork flasks that came in, which used to decorate Italian Restaurants. But will the wine was often thin, light red, nothing special. Even now, selecting good chiantis can be a surprisingly difficult task

    I wanted to save readers a few years of trial and error, or even misperception about a grape variety, that can be caused by buying on region or style, rather than winemaking practice. As usual the truth is that mostly, you get what you pay for, and the better producers will not be in the chaepest ranges.

    There are a huge variety of Italian wines, and if youve not heard of them it still makes sense to try. If anything, the more obscure and regional, the more likely it is to be interesting.

    Jan 24, 2012 at 4:46 AM

  • Snooth User: celts911
    925676 20

    Isn't that funny---I still can't get past the chianti of old---in the flasks with candles in them? I really hated that stuff. Maybe after 40 years, it's time for me to end my boycott?!!

    Jan 24, 2012 at 8:55 AM

  • There's probably a support group for victims of "flaskophobia" , still having nightmares about what used to pass for Italian Wine, and needing the accompaniment and guidance of trained personnel to visit the wine section in Italian delicatessens.

    Until we find it celts911 the general tip from a fellow sufferer that confronted the phobia head on thanks to a great shop in Wandsworth, long since bankrupt, is to look for Chianti Classico Reserva in normal style bottles, often dark brown glass. The few successes to date that I have had were branded Quercia al Poggio, Felsina Berardenga, Rocca Della Macie, Fontodi and Selvapiana. They were tannic and brooding wines that needed food, and we found their best match was just cooked livers - chicken, lambs or calves. There are probably others. Just avoid humming O sole Mio and thinking of wickerwork and you will probably cope quite well.

    Best of luck

    Jan 24, 2012 at 10:05 AM

  • Snooth User: celts911
    925676 20

    For the info of anyone who is a barbera lover, I have just ordered a second case of Fontanafredda 'Briccotondo' Barbera 2010. It truly is one of the nicest wines I've ever tasted. The last case was a 2008 and was just spectacular.

    Jan 24, 2012 at 6:49 PM

  • Snooth User: celts911
    925676 20

    And thanks for the update on the chianti---I'll "try" to find some worthy of my taste buds!!!

    Jan 24, 2012 at 6:52 PM

  • Snooth User: celts911
    925676 20

    Oh gosh, just one more comment about the big bold Italians--On my second case of Pico Maccario Barbera di Asti BERRO 2009----Just magnificent!!

    Jan 26, 2012 at 2:13 PM

  • Snooth User: Baysh
    138915 2

    I love Italian wines and enjoyed seeing someone list their top 10. Problem is, there are so many grape varities in Italy and so many different wines produced, coming up with a top 10 is difficult if not impossible. Consider the many wines of Tuscany that are commonly called Super Tuscans. It iscrazy to try and put these tremendous wines in any one catorgory. Additionally one region that rarely receives mention for its wines is Umbria. The Montefalco Sagrantino produced in this there is one of my all time favorite Italian wines.

    Feb 07, 2012 at 12:01 PM

  • A very strategic take on Italian favorites ... for those with the patience or perserverence to wait. Roughly 3 people in America come by either attribute naturally. Another 3 are rumored to have acquired it via psychotherapy ... which is why Amerone occupies a top 3 spot on most of our lists. What's on your "dead solid perfect today" list? Regards, egj

    Feb 18, 2012 at 7:54 PM

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