Among Italy’s most celebrated reds, there are many that define greatness; such wines include Barolo and Barbaresco from Piedmont, Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany, Amarone from Veneto, and Taurasi from Campania.
These iconic wines are among the world’s most famous and help Italy maintain its status as one of the world’s most important wine producing nations (as if that was ever in doubt).
But while these wines grab the headlines, there are dozens of other reds from around the country that are underrated; wines that consistently deliver excellent quality and typicity, often at very reasonable prices. So let’s get right to it, as I’ll praise some the best Italian reds that don’t get the attention they deserve.
Montefalco Sagrantino – In central Umbria, not far from the cities of Spoleto and Assisi, the territory around the town of Montefalco is the home of one of the country’s most distinctive reds, Montefalco Sagrantino. Produced entirely from the Sagrantino grape, a varietal that is only found in this area in Italy (with limited exception), Sagrantino is one of the most tannic varieties not only in Italy, but in the world.
This quality clearly has cost Montefalco Sagrantino a great deal of positive publicity, as the image many people have in their minds about this wine is its youthful bitterness. To be honest, numerous examples of this wine made twenty and thirty years ago were rough and lacked elegance. Thankfully that has changed, as the area producers have learned how to better manage the tannins, both through work in the vineyards and cellars. One taste of the Antonelli “Chiusa di Pannone” or the Cantina Fratelli Pardi “Sacrantino” bottlings is evidence of how the best producers of this wine have made refined, harmonious examples that offer excellent complexity, power and yes, even finesse. Look for the best examples from recent vintages such as 2013 and 2016 (as well as the upcoming 2018s). Top producers: Antonelli, Adanti, Paolo Bea, Cantina Fratelli Pardi, Bocale, Arnaldo-Caprai (look for the “Valdimaggio” offering), Bellafonte, Tenute Lunelli and Scacciadiavoli.
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Morellino di Scansano – Tuscany is so famous for its red wines, such as Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino, so it’s easy to overlook the other noteworthy reds produced in this region. One of the best wines that flies under the radar is Morellino di Scansano, produced in the Grosseto province in the southwestern reaches of the region. Morellino (”little morel cherry”) is the local name for Sangiovese; the wine is required to have a minimum of 85% of that varietal, a higher minimum percentage than Chianti Classico. Some examples are pure Sangiovese, but most examples are blended with one or several other varietals such as Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo, Colorino or even international varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Styles range from medium-bodied, ready to drink examples to more full-bodied wines that are better after five to seven years of aging after release. The Scansano area is rather warm, meaning that Sangiovese has little problem ripening here, unlike in other areas of Tuscany. This factor has lead to several famous producers from elsewhere in the region to purchase land in the Sacansano production zone and craft their own examples of Morellino di Scansano; these estates include Poliziano from Montepulciano and Castello di Poppiano from Chianti Colli Fiorentini.
While few of these wines are meant for long-term cellaring, that is an advantage, as far as pricing, as most offerings are priced at no more that $25 or $30 a bottle. You could insert one of the best examples of a Morellino di Scansano in a tasting of other Tuscan reds (such as Chianti Classico) and the wine would hold its own. Top producers: Moris Farms, Fattoria Le Pupille, Podere 414, Belguardo and Provveditore.
Grignolino – Yes, there are other excellent red wines in Piemonte not named Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera or Dolcetto. Grignolino (pronounded green- yo- lee– no), most frequently produced in the Casale Monferrato zone in the northern province of Alessandria or in Asti (Grignolino d’Asti) is one of the region’s most distinctive reds, combining enticing strawberry and raspberry fruit with delicate red and brown spice notes, very good acidity and refined tannins. Most examples of Grignolino emphasize the fruit, so many examples are aged in steel or cement tanks, and not in wood. This is the Piemontese red to opt for when you’re enjoying red meat and don’t want the power of a Nebbiolo-based wine such as Barolo and Barbaresco. Another plus for these wines is the price tag, as most examples cost between $18 and $22 a bottle. Best producers: Gaudio Bricco Mondalino, Accornero, Pio Cesare, Castello delle Uviglie, La Casaccia.