The Italian wine industry is known for its long-lived red wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco from Piedmont, Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany, Amarone della Valpolicella from Veneto and Taurasi from Campania, to name a few of the most famous.
Wines such as these are found on the finest wine lists and on shelves of the best retail stores, and are celebrated by wine critics for their complexities, individual character and elegance. Yet while the wines listed above tend to cost a fair amount (I refuse to use the word ‘expensive,’) there are often values that are available that allow wine lovers to find examples of complex, distinctive Italian red wines for not much money.
The 2016 vintage of Barolo is the current one, and it has brought great attention to this wine again; not that Barolo is suffering from far too little attention these days, as the current decade of the 2010s has clearly been one of the most successful ever for this iconic wine. One of the things that has been most impressive about the Barolos from 2016 is their accessibility, as the tannins are beautifully refined and elegant. Normally a well made Barolo needs several years after release before it is drinkable, given the harshness of the wine upon release. However the 2016 Barolos in great number are among the most elegant and approachable in their youth as you will find in recent years.
What’s great about this is that while many examples of 2016 Barolo are drinkable upon release, they have the structure to age for many years, between 12-20 or even longer. This is perhaps the greatest praise I can give to for these wines, as they offer richness, complexity and aging potential with the reality that you don’t have to wait that long to enjoy them.
One of the most rewarding of the 2016 Barolo is that of Réva, a small winery in Monforte d’Alba. A blend of fruit from several vineyards owned by the company in various communes of Barolo, the wine has classic Barolo aromas and flavors of morel cherry, orange peel and a hint of tar. Medium-full, this has very good acidity and round, elegant tannins and a finish with a light spiciness as well as impressive persistence. The wine has the potential to drink well for 10-12 years (perhaps longer), but it is very drinkable now and would be ideal with pork roast, lamb or many red meats. (If you have the opportunity, once travel is allowed post-COVID, you must enjoy a meal at the winery’s FRE ristorante, where you can pair this wine – and the other wines from Réva – with innovative and delicious local cuisine.)
The region of Campania in southwestern Italy is famous for its white wines, such as Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina. As for red wine, there is one type from Campania that is above all others, and that is Taurasi. Made primarily (or entirely) from the Aglianico grape, this is one of the longest-lived of all red wines – not just Italy, but the entire world – as examples that are 40 and 50 years old display great freshness and vitality.
Naturally, Taurasi is a wine that will set you back at least $50 a bottle, with most examples costing more than $65, and while that may be a value compared to Barolo or most examples of Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone della Valpolicella, a bottle of Taurasi is never inexpensive. So it’s great to know that many producers of Taurasi also make less costly wines from this territory also based on the Aglianico grape.
A wine called Campi Taurasini is the next best thing, an Aglianico from local vineyards that is not aged as long as Taurasi. You probably won’t be able to cellar a Campi Taurasini for 25 years or more, but then again, you won’t pay the price of a Taurasi, and you can enjoy these wines upon release, while also having the option of being able to wait 5-7 years to enjoy them. A few examples of recommended Campi Taurasini include those from Luigi Tecce (labeled as “Satyricon”), Antonio Caggiano “Salae Domini” (an excellent value) and Fonzone.
Also, look for examples of Aglianico-based wines such as “Rubrato” from Feudi di San Gregorio, “Re di More” from Mastroberardino and the Irpinia Aglianico from Donnachiara (Irpinia is the name of the province in Campania where these wines are produced). These wines are priced between $18-25 and are among the finest red wine values in all of Italy.
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