Value Southern Italians $15 and Under

With few iconic wine Southern Italy relies an amazing variety and values to woo the US consumer. Check out this list of terrific value wines!

 


We are looking for great values, and you can find them from just about every region on earth except for a small handful of regions that seem to only do well with wines that start at what no one I know is calling a value price. On the flip side, there are many wine producing regions around the globe that seem almost incapable of cracking through the value ceiling. For whatever reason their appellation or variety just has failed to gain the cache, and grab the imagination of the modern consumer.

Take southern Italy for example. With few truly expensive and important wines from the region, as I loosely define it to include the wines from Lazio, Abruzzo, and all points south, there’s not much buzz or interest from many influential players in the wines scene. And so the wines don’t get the attention they deserve. The same can be said for the wines from the Marche, of which I have included a few in today’s tasting. Nothing fancy going on there so why crow about it? And I also included them here because they otherwise would have been ignored and that's not fair, and I am all about being fair.
So these wines, Southern Italian and not, fly under the radar. They are not well understood, and generally thought of as cheap wines. Speaking of fairness, that is an unfair characterization. While the wines are inexpensive they are not without great value. As I taste through values wines throughout the year I am struck by how difficult it can be to find good value in among some groups of wines, and yet how easy it can be when I am tasting from another region. 

The wines tasted for this article certainly had some with lackluster performance but for the most part these wines rocked. Just lovely expressions of fruit and place, and one even sells for $6 a bottle? How they can do that I don’t know but let me just say that this 2008 Casato d’Alojsa Rosso Puglia  is one of the great bargains of the year!
 
Many of the remaining top wines in today’s line-up stuck closer to the top end of the under $15 price limit I impose for these tastings, but there were several wines under $10 and few just over that i would be glad to have on my table. With a tasting like this, across regions and with various grape varieties being used it’s worth giving a little run down of the wines I found most appealing and what you should expect from them.
 
Aglianico:
 
Primarily from Campania, though also found in Basilicata, Aglianico is often referred to as the Barolo of the south due to the wines powerful tannins, dark muscular fruit, and exceptional ageing ability. Less expensive examples retain much of the character of Aglianico with richness, complexity, and savory flavors though in a less structured, though far from easy style. 
 
Negroamaro:
 
One of the great grapes of Puglia, the black bitter, as Negroamaro translates, has benefitted immensely from the modernization of the southern Italian wine industry. previously responsible for leather, broad, supple and slightly spicy wines, more recent examples have revealed a wonderfully perfumed wine, rich with dark fruit and still retaining a vegetal hint that adds complexity to the supple, and sometimes velvety palate. 
 
Primitivo:
 
it’s Zinfandel folks! Briary and brambly fruit, modest tannins, usually with good acidity in a round, easy going style. While subtly different from Zin, and usually with less alcohol, the finest Primitivo will be right at home in a line-up of comparably priced Zins!
 
Salice Salentino and similar red blends:
 
Blended wines featuring Negroamaro with some Malvasia Nera allowed in the case of Salice Salentino or dependant on the traditional varieties that were always planted here to ensure that wine could be made each year no matter what the weather was. Fortunately for the region the weather tends to be remarkably good so everything ripens well and the resultant wines draw on the Negroamaro for ageing potential, Malvasia for spice and subtlety, Primitivo for midpalate fruit, and the Malvazia to add a little spice to the mix. 
 
Rosso Piceno:
 
Along with Rosso Conero, the mainstay wines of the Marche in Central Italy, though different in their compositions with Rosso Piceno containing between 35% and 85% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo  blended with between 15% and 50% Sangiovese, allowing for the additional inclusion of other black skinned varieties allowed in the region. On the other hand Rosso Conero is a minimum of 85% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo blended with Sangiovese. In both cases the Sangiovese is used to add red fruit and lighten the texture of the grapey, rich and slightly chewy Montepulciano, resulting in complex, fresh and yet deep wines that have plenty of fruit that tends to be paired with modest, ripe fruit tannins. The influence of new oak is popular with these wines. 
 
Armed with this primer on the wines of South and Central Italy, and the list that follows, you should be prepared to discover not only terrific values, but many unique expressions of the vine. In a world where too many wineries seem to be adopting a formulaic approach to winemaking, the variety of grapes found in Southern Italy paired with the regional attachment to tradition, offers consumers real choice and true variety in a world increasingly devoid of the same. The adoption of modern cellar protocols  should not be mistaken for the abandonment of tradition here as these wines still, for the most part, speak clearly of their origins. Perhaps more clearly and distinctly than ever before, and at this price point that is not only a discovery, but a true treasure!

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10 Top Southern Italian Values Tasted 9/2014

1.
Musto Carmelitano Maschitano Rosso di Basilicata (2010)
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2.
Felline Salento Rosso Alberello (2011)
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3.
Hisotelarayn Filari de Sant'Antoni Negroamaro Salento (2012)
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4.
Salice Salentino Riserva Sigillus Primus (2008)
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5.
Velenosi Brecciarolo Rosso Piceno Superiore (2010)
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6.
Terrilogio Primitivo (2012)
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7.
Colli Della Murgia Selvato Puglia Rosso (2009)
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8.
Perrini Salento Negroamaro (2011)
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9.
Casato d'Alojsa Rosso Puglia (2008)
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10.
Valle Dell'Asso Negramaro (2010)
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