So what constitutes exactly a “best-buy” wine? Definitions vary, but for the most part, wine lovers and experts agree that in order for a wine to merit a similar qualification, it has to be:
1. relatively affordable
2. relatively available (meaning that it is made in reasonable enough volumes such that people may find and buy it, should they so choose to do)
3. relatively excellent
Now that right there is a whole lot of relativity, and so it is not at all hard to realize that when it comes to wines one person’s gem is another’s lemon. Relativity, indeed. Over the years, I myself have perused too-many-to-count “best-buy” wine lists only to be left scratching my head at some of the choices listed; and more often than not, coming away wondering if the author or group of authors had been indulging in way too much of their study matter when compiling their list(s).
And so now it’s my turn to give you a list of “Best Buy”, can’t fail, must have, “you’re a sucker if you don’t latch onto these quick” Italian wines of the year (and hopefully I won’t fail miserably at the task like so many others before me!). So fasten your seat belts, for I have an absolutely smashing set of recommendations; many of the wines I will tell you about you may never have heard of before, and some are admittedly harder to find than others, but I am willing to wager my spittoon that, should you garner eight or ten of the many beauties listed here, you’ll come away happy and relieved (and if you don’t, please refrain from telling me because I’m the sensitive type).
Fact is, thanks to the Covid pandemic (I say “thanks” with tongue firmly planted in cheek) we’re all spending a lot more time at home these days, and so what better time to do one’s homework and seize the opportunity to stock up on (relatively) high-quality, low-cost wines for everyday imbibement and never ending liquid enjoyment? And while running out to the not so-corner wine shop may not be an option in many countries currently, as we all know only too well by now most have rearranged their work habits and will deliver to your door. Should that fail, the digital world is there to rescue you from the risk of “I bought this great wine at an unbelievably low price” oblivion. Fasten your seatbelt, hit the net waves and confront yourself with the almost infinite selection of wines available at online wine boutiques from all over the world. And if you can stand the barrage of bottles unceremoniously thrown in your face (“buy me!”, “don’t miss out”, “great buy!”, “what are you, some kind of loser, why are you still sitting on the fence?”…) in a panoply of styles and colours that would make a chameleon with a degree in architectural design proud, you might just snag yourself something totally worth writing home about (and of inviting your mask-wearing friends over to your home too, provided they live in countries where it is still reasonably safe and legal to leave the house for something else than emergency or daily sustenance business).
So how exactly does one go about coming up with diamonds and not lemons? Well, following these recommendations may prove a winning strategy, given that I tasted these forty-plus wines on at least on two different occasions during 2020 and believe. A couple of caveats with the list: admittedly, a few wines are harder to find than others, and a few are more expensive than your “normal” Best Buy recommendation. But fact is, all these wines were just too good to pass on , and so you’ll find I included them anyways. Whenever possible, I did specify which wines are made in small volumes (therefore making them somewhat harder to locate).
Italy’s ability to produce great wines is well exemplified by the number of different regions and grapes that are represented here: in no particular order of preference, and just to name a few, Verdicchio, Muller Thurgau, Pinot Bianco, Ribolla Gialla, Cesanese d’Affile and Cesanese Comune, Lacrima, Grignolino, Pascale, Sylvaner, Vermentino, Recantina, Montepulciano, ….and Valle d’Aosta, Lazio, Abruzzo, Sardinia, Sicily….the beat goes on. After all , when it comes to wine, this is what Italy does best: many different wines from many different places and many different grape varieties. In fact, that is the definition of Italian wine in a nutshell. Also note that there are very few big volume producers on this list: that is unfortunately another characteristic of Italian wines, one that gets glossed over by far too many people in the wine business. The simple truth is that the vast majority of truly good wines in Italy are made by small family run domaines, and that many wines sporting the names of famous denominations that are sold all over the world are just not good enough and should never be allowed to pass the government committee taste committee inspections.
Anyhow, no matter: follow my suggestions and you should be finding yourselves plunged into wine drinking nirvana on the cheap. Or at least, that’s my hope and goal. Such that when all is said and done, the last bottle emptied, and the last man and woman left standing and accounted for, you’ll find you’re the happiest of them all with your Best Buy selections. Relatively speaking, that is. Relatively.
The wines in this article were tasted during the course of 2020, either at the estates during my visits in the Covid-plagued and hence ruefully shortened winery visit season, or in my office in Rome (during the time I lived there) or in my office in Shanghai, where I live now. As always, wines are listed in order of score, from highest to lowest: wines that have scored the same are listed in alphabetical order, by domaine.
Argiolas 2015 Carignano del Sulcis Riserva Is Solinas 94
All-right never mind the “best Buy” category: this is one of Italy’s best wines of the year, period. Amazingly refined and explosively perfumed, I promise you will not let go of the glass once you grab it. Small red berries, sweet spices, blue fruit, earth, tar, herbs…this is a complex refined, silky and well-balanced monster of a wine. Argiolas places two wines in the Best Buy list this year, and actually it could have placed a few more. Great great stuff here. Carignan doesn’t often come out on top like this. Drinking window: now-2030
Casalfarneto. 2019 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Rosae 94
Lacrima isn’t the easiest grape to vinify, but when a producer gets it right, the wine is an absolute thing of beauty. And so it is with this year’s Rosae, maybe the best they have ever come up with. Roses, violet, small red berries, cinnamon, nutmeg…the list of descriptors could go on and on, it’s just an amazingly light, fresh perfumed red wine that you never tire of. And this will go amazingly well with spicy Asian cuisine, don’t miss out! Drink: now-2024
Emidio Pepe 2019 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 94
I don’t mean to be subversive or incendiary, but I have long held that Emidio Pepe’s best wine is their outstanding Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo (a wine they choose not even to sell much outside of Italy). It’s simply great, a lusciously fruity, bright, clean, crisp mouthful of bright red cherry that straying too far away from your glass is almost impossible. I can’t remember the last time I had a vintage that wasn’t at least outstanding, and maybe never in fact. It’s not easy to find because most of it gets gobbled up in Italy, but do look for it and get ready to be surprised. Abruzzo makes some truly outstanding Rosé wines, and certainly those by Cataldi Madonna, Praesidium, Tiberio and Valentini rank with the best rosé wines in the world, but Emidio Pepe’s is really a marvel. Well done. Drinking window: now-2030.
Accornero 2019 Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese “Bricco del Bosco” 93
Very pretty and pure, this light on its feet but penetratingly precise Grignolino showcases rose petal, red cherry, herbs, mint, sweet tobacco, cinnamon and mineral notes. Refined, lifted, and perfumed: or in a word, beautiful. Owner Ermanno Accornero and his consultant winemaker Mario Ronco have an absolute knack for making spectacular Grignolino wines and in fact, the oaked Bricco del Bosco Vigne Vecchie bottling (from 80 year+ old vines) is a Grignolino wine that can easily last and improve for ten to twenty years after the vintage. But as good as the Vigne Vecchie is, I absolutely love the entry level, unoaked, Bricco del Bosco that showcases all of the variety’s many charms. In the words of my good friend and more importantly, super-Italian wine expert Michele Longo, this exactly what a Grignolino should be about. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Drinking window: now-2025.
Barbi 2018 Rosso di Montalcino 93
Best Rosso from Barbi in years, this bright medium dark red wine offers enticing aromas and flavors of raspberry, almond paste and blood orange with a strong floral and mineral overlay. The very pretty, benchmark Sangiovese nose is doubled up on the palate, where the juicy, vibrant and pure Sangiovese fruit flavours are very similar to the aromas. Maybe not the longest Rosso di Montalcino you’ll ever drink, but the nose alone is worth 96 points. Drink: now- 2025
Canalicchio di Sopra 2018 Rosso di Montalcino 93
Owner Francesco Ripaccioli makes one of the 15-20 best Brunellos in the denomination, but fact is, he’s no slouch in the Rosso department either. The memorable nose offers notes of flint, flowers and red berries, complicated by sweet spices, and the same descriptors repeat on the palate. red berries, violet and spices dominate the knockout nose. One of the best Rossos of the vintage, this is very pure and refined. Drinking window: now-2025.
Capanna 2018 Rosso di Montalcino 93
From an estate that makes pure essences of Sangiovese, no surprise this year, just another absolutely splendid Rosso. Exudes a refined, cool, mineral quality to its violet and red berry aromas and flavours. Knockout wine. Drinking window: now-2025.
Caruso&Minini 2017 Perricone Terre Siciliane 93
Never mind the “best buy” label, this is one of Italy’s best wines, period. Perfumed, light on its feet and graceful, it is benchmark Perricone, not at all like the many other laughable wines that sport that name on the label nowadays (Perricone’s become a hot variety) but that look, smell and taste nothing like I think Perricone should (if anything, they remind me more of Syrah than anything else, but what do I know, everyone else is so much more clever than poor me). This lovely wine will have your taste buds abuzz, your palate happy, and your feet dancing in joy. Drink: now-2028
Damiano Ciolli 2019 Cesanese di Olevano Romano “Silene” 93
Cesanese wines simply do not get better than this one. The winemaking and life team of Damiano Ciolli and Letizia Rocchi have aced another great wine and the Silene now is practically the equal in quality of the much more upscale Cirsium, But the perfume and the lightness of being of Silene is something to admire. Great great great wine. Drinking window: Now-2030
Donatella Cinelli Colombini 2018 Rosso di Montalcino 93
Light and breezy, but with serious underlying concentration of fruit, this boasts a nose of uncommon purity and complexity, with a flinty nuance complicating the expressive aromas of flavours that are typical of Sangiovese. One of the best Rossos ever from this estate. Drink: now-2024
I Clivi 2018 Malvasia 80 Anni Friuli Collio 93
Never mind the Best Buy list, like for so many other wines on this list, this was simply one of the best Italian wines I tasted all year long, In fact, a number of the Zanusso family’s wines could have made this and my Best Wines 2020 list, so it was hard to choose one wine only from the estate. This is made from very old vines (80 years old, in fact) and smells and tastes of orchard fruit, minerals, and above all depth. Great, great wine. Drinking window: now-2030.
Lano 2018 Freisa Langhe 93
Simply a marvelous wine, and that’s really all I have to say. So how’s that for a tasting note? Well, believe me, you really don’t need to know much more. Except maybe that Lano manages Freisa’s tough tannins exceptionally well, honing them to a silky entity quite unlike that of practically all other Freisa wines you’ll taste from anywhere else. Even better, the variety’s archetypal strawberry aroma and flavour is obvious, making for an absolutely delicious quaffer that will disappear from everybody’s glasses faster than you can say “Freisa”. This perfumed, lovely, balanced and extremely refined wine will make believers of everyone in the room, so much so that you’ll find everyone around you very busy looking for seconds, thirds and fourths. Drinking window: now-2027.
Lo Triolet 2018 Pinot Gris Valle d’Aosta 93
If this isn’t Italy’s best Pinot Grigio (called Pinot Gris here because the Valle d’Aosta, where this winery is located, located high in the Alps next to France is a rather French part of Italy) it’s certainly one of its four or five best. In fact, Lo Triolet’s portfolio of wines includes another classically dry and similarly marvelous Pinot Grigio that, differently from this one, is aged in oak (and hence its name, “Elevée en barrique”). Martin confirms his talent with the Pinot Grigio variety with his even more remarkable sweet wine called Mistigri, a very rare example of sweet Pinot Girgio wine (Italy doesn’t make this type of wine). Drinking window: now-2025.
Marotti Campi 2017 Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva Classico Salmariano 93
Always great, this fuller-bodied Verdicchio than most offers salinity and size by the boatload, not to mention ageability like few other Italian white wines can boast. Well done Lorenzo!
Poggio di Sotto 2018 Rosso di Montalcino 93
If Poggio di Sotto isn’t the best producer of Rosso di Montalcino, then it’s certainly one of the top five, easy. One more great Rosso from Claudio Tipa and his team this year, a beautiful bright red colour, a fantastic perfume, a luscious mouthfeel and explosively persistent nuances of flowers, marzipan, red cherry and sweet spice flavors.
Serafini&Vidotto 2016 Recantina 93
Without question one of the five most fun Italian wines I drank this year, I guarantee you will also be drawn to this red wine’s medium-bodied, slightly fleshy, intensely fruity personality, with aromas and flavours of cocoa, black plum, blackberry, and blueberry spiced up by hints of cracked black pepper and more ripe red and black fruit. Finishes long, very lively and ultra-smooth: there are only a few producers of monovariety Recantina wine, but on as good as this one ought to get other producers to think of planting Recantina and trying their hand at making a wine with it. Drinking window: now-2027.
Stella di Campalto 2016 Rosso di Montalcino 93
Another superb Rosso di Montalcino from Stella di Campalto, who was once actually more famous for this wine than her Brunello, which tells you just how good her Rosso is. The story is the same in 2016, with a fleshy wine of laser-like precision boasting ripe red fruit and orange peel nuances complemented by sweet spices and herbs. Well done. drink: now-2025
Tiberio 2018 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 93
Light and lively but with sneaky concentration, this beauty is once again at the top of the quality wine heap, or close to it. Raspberry, strawberry, vanilla and pink flowers all vie for your attention on the nose and palate, and you cannot help but be struck by the wine’s levity and purity, uncommon traits in most Montepulcaino wines the only saving grace of which is that they are cheap (and cheap is exactly what they are, in the totally negative connotation of that word). Balanced acidity makes this both juicy and refreshing, and the perfect way to accompany sausages, cured meats and anything with a tomato sauce or mushrooms. The estate’s Cerasuolo is just as good and one of Italy’s 10 best rosé wines. Drinking window: now-2026.
Vajra 2016 Freisa Langhe Kyé 93
The Vajra family is another one of those rare individuals who excels at making wine with just about any grape variety he works with. Most famous for his various Barolos, the man in fact also makes Italy’s best Riesling wine (Petracine), one of the best Dolcetto and Barbera wines, a Moscato d’Asti that puts most Asti producers to shame and if not the best Freisa wine then certainly the most distinctive. The Freisa wine is called Kyé (a play on words of the Italian Chi è, meaning “Who is it?, meant to draw attention to the fact it is a rather different interpretation of Freisa wine) this is the biggest, fleshiest of all Freisa wines available on the market today, redolent in dark fruit and floral notes. It also ages spectacularly well (ten year old plus Kyè tends to be memorable). It’s ageworthiness cannot surprise given that Freisa is Nebbiolo’s second-closest relative. Drinking window: 2022-2034.
Almondo 2018 Langhe Freisa 92
Simply delicious Freisa wine from a producer who is more famous for his lovely Arneis wines, but who is just as adept at making world class, absolutely delicious wines from this variety too. Freisa is Nebbiolo’s closest relative (Nebbiolo Rosé excluded), and so it’s not surprising to identify red cherry, plum, and licorice nuances, complicated by more Freisa-typical tobacco and balsamic accents. Drinking window: 2022-2028.
Argiolas 2019 Nasco di Cagliari “Iselis” 92
Nasco is one of those little-known varieties that had fallen out of fashion, but happily it is coming back thanks to passionate, adventurous winemakers and estates. Among the many Nasco selling points as a superior quality wine grape is that it can give both world class dry white wines, something that very few white wine grapes can really do effectively. The Nasco “Iselis” wine from Argiolas, Sardinia’s best known quality wine estate, is complex and deep, offering intense aromas of and flavours of yellow peach, apricot and yellow melon, complicated by hints of white flowers, delicate sweet spices and pleasant musky nuances. A deliciously textured wine that punches well above its weight class. Drinking window: now-2026.
Bonavita 2019 Terre Siciliane Rosato 92
Bonavita makes one of Italy’s best if little known red wines called Faro (from the northeastern tip of Sicily) but the real secret is just how good their Rosato is, a blend of 60% Nerello Mascalese, 30% Nerello Cappuccio, and 10% Nocera. The is 2019 version is a stunner, fresh and fragrant, with hints of sea breeze and Mediterranean herbs wrapping up red berries, pomegranate and earth tones. Drinking window: now-2024.
Bric Cenciurio 2019 Birbet Vino da Tavola 92
Birbet is the name of the wine, while the grape used to make it is the Bracchettone del Roero (a different variety though similar to the better-known Brachetto). Only 1500 bottles made of this lovely delicate, light-bodied sweet red wine, so yes, it’s not easy to find, but I think it deserves to be brought to yours and everybody else’s attention. Who knows, maybe this may lead Bric Cenciurio to make a few more bottles a year, should demand rise. Drinking window: now-2022
Bruno Giacosa 2019 Roero Arneis 92
Bruno Giacosa was known for making some of Italy’s most memorable Barolos and Barbarescos, but in fact he was remarkably adept at making great wines from just about any wine grape he worked with (witness his many numerous excellent Dolcetto, and in an earlier time, his fantastic Grignolino wines). More important, he is one of the three individuals who most contributed to the resurrection of Arneis from the depths of oblivion it had fallen into (admittedly, Arneis does pose some viticultural challenges). In fact, Giacosa’s Roero Arneis wine is a gem, relatively inexpensive by this estate’s standards (though yes, it’s just a little more expensive than most Arneis wines), a very pretty linear rendition of orchard fruit and vanilla nuances complemented by a hint of menthol. Well done given the large numbers of bottles produced (roughly150,000/year); if you are looking for a fresh white wine that will match to a huge range of dishes, from vegetables to pasta to poultry to fish, grab a bottle of this beauty and get ready to be rewarded. Drinking window: now-2023.
Bucci 2019 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 92
From the master Ampelio Bucci, another great wine, that speaks of almonds and tangerines, lemons and herbs and will age magnificently. This will match well with vegetables, fish and white meat dishes. A great wine, don’t miss out. Drinking window: now-2030
Cascina Gilli 2019 Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco 92
Cascina Gilli’s Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco makes my list of Italy’s Best Buy wines practically every year because it is just plainly delicious. Light, lively and delicately spritzy (Prosecco-like, it is made by stopping the fermentation process in autoclave so as to leave a little carbon dioxide and residual sugar in the wine), and a very pretty pale red colour, this is very much like drinking a bubbly red fruit cocktail without (much!) alcohol at all (only 5.5% alcohol, in fact). Drinking window: now-2023.
Clelia Romano/Colli di Lapio 2018 Fiano di Avellino 92
This is almost always one of Italy’s top twenty-thirty white wines of the year, but almost better than its sublime quality is its price tag, which, for a wine of this quality level is really too low. Pure and precise, with notes of pear, peach, hazelnut, and menthol dominating on the nose and in the mouth, it is complicated by hints of minerals, lime, sage that help turn it into something profound. Boasting lovely balance, the pleasant, honeyed and citrusy finish offers a distinctly refreshing saline bite that will have you looking for food. Drinking window: 2021-2029.
Cogno 2019 Nascetta del Comune di Novello “Anas-cetta” 92
The Cogno estate takes the name from Elvio Cogno, one of Barolo’s great old men who did much to foster knowledge about the wine and its quality, and also the father of Nadia Cogno, who now runs the estate along with her husband Walter Fissore (who makes the wines). Cogno is one of those rare estates where just about anything you try will be either the best or close to the best of its category, and so it is with their Nascetta, without question the best wine made from this highly local (it is native to the commune of Novello), semi-aromatic white grape variety. Notes of lemon, lime, green fig, sage, vanilla, and beeswax all emerge from the glass, with plenty of lively acidity nicely extending them on the long crisp but suave finish. One of the best Nascetta wines from Cogno in some time, and to help you put that statement in perspective, keep in mind that this estate has made a bunch of great ones.
Col d’Orcia 2018 Rosso di Montalcino 92
From one of the star estates of Montalcino, a bright red beauty that is lively and juicy, boasting lively red cherry, dark berry and herbal notes but lifted by an inebriate perfume that is really explosively fruity and floral. Wow! What a Rosso! Drinking window: Now-2024.
Crivelli 2019 Grignolino d’Asti 92
Over the years I have met many talented wine people, and one such person that sticks most in my mind is Crivelli. His Ruché del Monferrato Casalese (made with the Ruchè variety) is a marvellous wine and if not the best single Ruchè wine then one of the two or three best, and his Grignolino d’Asti is even better, simply one of the most delightful and delicious light red wines of Italy (and hence the world). Perfumed and lively, with notes of wild roses and strawberries lingering nicely, this has sneaky concentration and juiciness on the long precise finish. Because Crivelli does not make Barolo or Brunello, he’s little-known to the general public: but in fact, just about every grape he works with he manages to turn into a wine that if not the best in its category is certainly in the top three. Think about that. Drinking window: now-2026.
D’Attimis Maniago 2019 Malvasia Friuli Colli Orientali 92
Always one of this estate’s best wines year in and year out, the 2019 Malvasia is light and fresh, speaks to your nose and palate of fresh herbs, minerals and delicate spices to go along with orchard fruit and white flowers. Juicy and fresh, but with the variety’s typical weight. Well done. Drinking window: Now-2024.
Dettori 2018 Pascale Romangia “Ottomarzo” 92
Another outstanding Pascale wine from Dettori, who practices minimal interventionist winemaking and farms organic grapes. The Pascale is a wine I have praised on numerous other occasions during the course of the last twenty years, and this vintage is as good as others before it. High acid but balanced, with noteworthy tannic bite that is nonetheless noble, the small red berries, herbs and cherries leave a juicy, succulent note behind. Really lovely medium-bodied red. Drinking window: 2021-2028.
Di Barrò 2018 Mayolet Valle d’Aosta 92
Some grape varieties like Mayolet are especially good at giving headaches due to the difficulties pose, but with some individuals none of that really seems to matter, because the wine always turns out great. And so it is that Valle d’Aosta’s pretty little Di Barrò estate, manned by the supertalented husband and wife team of Elvira Rini and Andrea Barmaz. Their Mayolet vines are located at about 800 meters in the alpine foothills and mountains around the towns of Saint-Pierre and Sarre. Sagely managed by our dynamic duo, the grapes grown give a creamy, slightly less aromatic Mayolet wine than many others I’ve tasted over the years but one that also has a touch more body and staying power than most other ones too. Drinking window: 2021-2027.
Donnafugata 2017 Moscato di Pantelleria “Kebir” 92
With the Zibibbo or Moscato di Alessandria (Muscat of Alexandria) variety, Donnafugata makes what might well be Italy’s best dessert wine (the Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryè) but their off-dry Moscato di Pantelleria Kebir deserves a little time in the sun too (not that the grapes don’t receive plenty of sunlight on the volcanic, wind-swept and sundrenched island of Pantelleria). Orange flowers and tangerine peel dominate the nose, but the complementing elements of rose petals, jasmine, and sweet spices make for a much deeper, interesting wine. Pure and precise in the middle and on the long aftertaste, this finishes with a hint of residual sweetness that will make it lovely not just with shellfish and crustaceans but also with fish stews and fish steaks coupled with citrus fruit-enhanced sauces (halibut and swordfish, sure: but tuna and salmon are even better). Drinking window: now-2024.
Felline 2016 Susumaniello Torreguaceto Salento “Sum” 92
This fleshy, supple, medium-bodied wine is characterized by rather intense aromas of red and dark berries, licorice, dried herbs and a slight minerally-inky tinge adding complexity. Noteworthy balance on the long, herbal chocolate-accented delicious aftertaste, this was the first monovariety Susumaniello wine ever made in Italy, a variety the merits of which were first clearly understood and showcased by Felline’s owner Gregory Perrucci. And that’s his merit. Drinking window: 2022-2032.
Feudi di San Maurizio 2019 Mayolet Valle d’Aosta 92
Mayolet is a medium aromatic variety, offering strong floral overtones on the nose and in the mouth, and a rather light-body; in this respect, there is nothing really quite like it in Italy, because other aromatic red varieties like Lacrima, the red berried Moscatos and Ruché all tend to give much bigger, fleshier wines. And so this offering from Michel Vallée and his Feudi di San Maurizio estate represents a fairly unique wine, also given that there just aren’t too many Mayolet monovariety wines made in Italy (but driving home the fact that Mayolet is a world class grape, another Mayolet wine, from the Di Barrò estate, is also included in this 2020 Best Buy list). For all its charms once successfully turned into wine, most producers do not want to work with Mayolet because its really compact bunch makes for a rotfest. This is such a big problem that many simply refuse to work with Mayolet, and hence the variety risks disappearing; I think this would be a tragedy, given that it gives one of Italy’s most delightful refreshing red wines of all. I am willing to wager that you’ll love this wine’s aromatic profile of spicy and floral red berries and mountain herbs as much as I do. Unfortunately, this wine is made in very small volumes. Drinking window: now-2025.
Feudi di San Maurizio 2018 Vuillermin Valle d’Aosta 92
As good as their Mayolet wine is, it strikes me that Feudi di San Maurizio’s Vuillermin wine is the best one I taste from the estate every year. It is in fact one of Italy’s best and least-known wines of all. Unfortunately, Vuillermin is not productive enough to warrant estates planting it, as most people prefer to grow varieties that produce lots of grapes (of course they then go on about their low yields, but meanwhile are busy growing grapes that produce a lot). This 2018 Vuillermin is as good and glamorous as it gets, neatly putting at the fore the variety’s semi-aromatic nature and capacity to give full-bodied wines, making for a really interesting and I dare say unique glass of wine. Let me be crystal-clear: Vuillermin makes amazing rich, deep, slightly aromatic red wines that are absolutely delicious and relatively long-loved: they deserve to be much better known and sought after. Drinking window: 2022-2032.
Francesco Versio 2019 Dogliani 92
Hard not to get excited by a wine like this, from one of the best areas for the Dolcetto variety and a super-talented young man making it. Fruity and juicy, perfumed and light on its feet, this is a real Dolcetto wine, even if it comes in a slightly bigger body frame than you might remember from the Dolcetto di Dogliani wines of yesteryear. Drinking window: now-2025.
Girolamo Russo 2017 Etna Rosso ‘A Rina 92
Always a sure-fire bet for quality red wines, Girolano Russo is one of the best Etna Rosso producers today though he doesn’t always get the ripess he deserves compared to other more media-savvy Etna names the wines of which are really nothing to write home about. Not so with Russo’s offerings: they are all great, though more expensive than the average and that might be a reason why his ascent has been held somewhat in check. But this Etna Rosso, both luscious and suave, is an example of just how good Etna wines really are, and how good Russo’s are in particular.
Il Poggione 2018 Rosso di Montalcino 92
Even better now than when I first tasted it at the estate this past February, Il Poggione’s Rosso di Montalcino has filled out nicely and is now delivering a truly exotic, explosively spicy and fruity ripely nose. The ripe red cherry and sweet spices are very typical of the S.Angelo in Colle terroir. Closes juicy and fresh. Made from 15 year old vineyards. Drink: now-2023
2017 Jacuss Verduzzo Friuli Colli Orientali 92
Rather unfortunately, Verduzzo is out of fashion: this is because it is mostly used to make dessert wines from air-dried grapes, and currently sweet wine sales and consumption are at a near all-time low, unfortunately. But in fact it is an outstanding variety that deserves to be better known and to have more producers betting on it. This version by Jacuss is one of Italy’s thirty or so most delicious wines: bright, lively and delicately sweet, it will match splendidly with fatty dishes such as sausages but also fish dishes in sauce, its ripe pear, caramel apple, toffee, tangerine, briown sugar and lemon. Drinking window: now-2024.
Kofererhof 2019 Sylvaner Alto Adige Valle Isarco 92
Sylvaner doesn’t get much better in Italy, and this for a couple of reasons. First off, the talent level of owner Gunther Kerschbaumer, who probably couldn’t make a bad wine even if he set out to do so on purpose (and with that in mind, just check out how good his Kerner and Mŭller-Thurgau wines are). Second, Sylvaner (and Mŭller-Thurgau) have always been the most planted varieties in Alto Adige’s Valle Isarco (Eisackthaler, in German, as this apart of Italy used to belong to Austria before the end of World War I), and so the area is littered with numerous vineyards populated by fifty and sixty year old vines, a sure-fire ingredient of most world class wines. This beauty is redolent of stone fruit, coriander and mineral nuances, and will put every Italian Riesling and Gruner, which admittedly are not much to write home about, to shame. But it will do so with many world Sylvaner wines too. Not happy to make one excellent Sylvaner wine, Kerschbaumer also makes a more expensive reserve wine from his oldest vines, simply labeled “R” (a reference to it being a reserve wine). Drinking window: now-2030.
Les Cretes 2018 Fumin Valle d’Aosta 92
Les Cretes is the brainchild of Costantino Charrère, not just Valle d’Aosta’s most famous producer but also of Italy. Charrère has also single-handedly done more to safeguard (and broadcast the quality of) the region’s old native grape varieties and to propagate them. His Fumin wine has always been the best of the region, and over the years Charrère has tinkered with it considerably, going as far as air-drying the grapes Amarone-style, though I like his non air-dried versions better. This is made with normally harvested grapes and offers lovely notes of violet, black pepper, herbs and black plum, lip-smacking acidity and noteworthy youthful tannic bite. Will age. Drinking window: 2023-2030.
Manni Nossing 2019 Muller Thurgau Alto Adige Valle Isarco “Sass Rigais” 92
Muller Thurgau in Italy gives far better results than most people realize, especially when picked at high altitudes and from old vines. There are many wines in fact that stand out amongst the country’s very best (Tiefenbrunner’s magical Feldmarschall comes to mind, but also those of Pacherhof and Kofererof, for example) and it’s literally crazy that people go asking or even looking for Italian Rieslings or Gruners that are for the most part, a joke, by world standards. This wine is pure, precise, linear, offering lovely minerality and herbal nuances to the pretty white stone fruit and mineral echoes that linger long in your memory and on your taste buds. A refined, majestic wine. Drinking window: now-2030
Montecappone 2016 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva Utopia 92
A very serious Verdicchio wine that manages to be at once deep and fresh, precise and lemony, but with real weight to the citrus and stone fruit aromas and flavours. Always a great Verdicchio. Drinking window: now-2030
Praesidium 2019 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 92
The best wine from this estate never disappoints and so it is again this year. Luscious, rather large-scaled for a pink wine, this will match well to meat dishes and mushrooms. It’s more like a light red wine than a rise in fact. No matter, it’s just swell. And it will age. Drinking window: now-2025
Sandrone 2019 Dolcetto d’Alba 92
Bright red with purple hues. Flowers and plum and blackberries on the very grapey and dare I say Dolcetto-like nose, this is just lovely! Then rising tannins and structure, with a joyful red cherry nuance on the long finish. About 33,000 bottles of this are made a year, so this is one Best Buy wine on this list you really ought to be able to find (almost) easily. In fact, the Dolcetto wine represents roughly 30% of Sandrone’s annual wine production which is pretty unheard of these days (given the fact that Dolcetto is really out of fashion with winemakers these days, as it’s both hard to work with in the vineyards and in the cellar). A wine of real structure, with not just size but complexity too but that stays Dolcetto-like offering the grape’s lovely, typical drinkability. Only stainless steel, note the cocoa note on the finish that is typical of the grape variety’s pips (bet you didn’t know that, huh? So please let me tell you about the Italian wine terroir course I run at…).
Sartarelli 2018 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Balciana 92
This might be a bit more expensive than most of the wines in a Best Buy list, but the wine is so unique and good that it deserves its place here, especially because in light of the quality in the bottle. As is usual with this beauty, traces of noble rot late and the signs of a late harvest lead to honeyed, golden, and intense essence of Verdicchio that you won’t soon forget. Strikes me as just a touch bitter on the finish, and that’s why this vintage of Balciana scores less than it has in other vintages. Drinking window: now-2029
Alois Lageder 2019 Pinot Grigio Porer Alto Adige 91
Always dependable, the Porer Pinot Grigio by Lageder has more concentration and depth than most wines sporting that grape variety’s name on the label and is a very good buy for the price. Offers easy drinkability and a matching ability to many dishes (even those with white meats), that is uncommon in Italian whites. Well done as always by Lageder. Drinking window: now-2024.
Bisol 2019 Prosecco Valdobbaidene Brut Crede 91
A real classic and a bubbly that puts most other Prosecco wines to shame, this is lovely fresh and mineral with a note of refinement coming from the Pinot Bianco in the blend, though this wine really speaks of the Glera variety mostly. Green apples and pear persist nicely on the vanilla-accented aftertaste. Drinking window: now-2023.
Caravaglio 2019 Malvasia delle Lipari 91
Malvasia di Lipari is the grape, Malvasia delle Lipari is the wine. Now that we got that out of the way (it’s always better to be precise, and anyways, why come across as ignorant?), it behooves me to tell you that Caravaglio uses this wine grape to make one of Italy’s most delightful delicately sweet wines (as well as many other wines with the same grape but in many different styles). This is the traditional interpretation and it’s a beauty, serving up a mess of dried apricots, peaches, dried herbs and perfumed flowers enlivened by refreshing acidity and noteworthy saline bite (which only heightens the sensation of welcome acidity). Typically light-bodied (Malvasia di Lipari is a variety that cannot give wines of Sauternes-like thickness) and tasting less sweet than it really is, this will work very well with shrimp and scallop dishes and all sorts of pumpkin and celeriac soups, plus anything involving dried salt roe (bottarga), not to mention oven roasted squashes and ravioli dishes sauced up with one of the world’s many blue cheeses. Drinking window: now-2025.
Cave du Mont Blanc/de Morgex et La Salle 2018 Prié Blanc Rayon 91
A true mountain wine made high in the Alps, but in a less extreme (meaning high acid), rounder style that has many admirers. Personally I like the high acid style of the Vini Estremi bottling, but no matter, it’s just a case of different strokes for different folks. The Cave du Mont Blanc de Morgex et La Salle is one of Italy’s best cooperatives, turning out a range of high quality sparkling, still, and sweet white wines the likes of which very few coops and estates anywhere can boast. Drinking window: now-2025.
Cherchi 2019 Cagnulari Isola dei Nuraghi 91
The Cherchi estate brought the little-known Cagnulari variety to everyone’s attention (in parts of Italy, at least) and did well to do so, because the wine grape has many arrows to its bow and deserved to be brought out into the limelight. Differently from some other Cagnulari wines on the market nowadays that smell and taste more of Bovale or Carignan than they do of Cagnulari, Cherchi’s version is bright and easygoing, smooth as silk and loaded with a very high quaffable quality. In other words, this juicy, fresh little number will have you driving back to the bottle time and again: so my advice is to always bring two bottles of this lovely wine out to the table or the garden or wherever you might find yourself. Because I guarantee you’ll empty the first bottle much sooner than you had anticipated. Drinking window: now-2027.
Cingilia 2019 Cococciola Colline Pescaresi 91
Not exactly a common variety in the Colline Pescaresi, but young Fabio seems to have a real knack with the variety, and so be it. Made with organically grown grapes, this lemony, bright and effusive, but with sneaky concentration and real stuffing behind it, this very clean bright white wine will match well with many simple fish dishes and will be perfect lightly chilled on any hot say this summer. The name of the estate. Cingilia, is the old name of Cugnoli, the town in Abruzzo where the winery is located. Drink: now-2022.
Colacicchi 2018 Lazio Cesanese Tufano 91
One of Lazio’s historic estates is extremely well run by the Trimany family with the help of star consultant winemaker, local boy Daniele Proietti who probably knows more about the Cesanese varieties than anyone else. Cesanese d’Affile likes heat and so 2017 worked in its favour. This is pretty, with spicy red fruit and lively acidity to carry the perfume and the flavours on the long back end. The vines are still young so this wine will only get better in the future. Minimal intervention winemaking here. Drinking window: now-2026.
Frank Cornelissen 2018 Terre Siciliane Rosso “Munjebel” 91
In the non-interventionist low sulfur style that is all the rage nowadays, Frank Cornelissen’s lovely Munjebel Rosso is an example of what these wines can be in the hands of a truly competent winemaker (but that frankly very rarely are). With Munjebel Rosso, a wine made with a portion of grapes grown in the estate’s high quality contrade vineyards, you get a clean and perfumed wine that is loaded with bright red fruit and mineral elements, all kicked up a notch by a dash of sweet spice and botanical herb nuances. Chalk up another great wine from Frank Cornelissen. Drinking window: now-2026.
Fuligni 2018 Rosso di Montalcino “Ginesteto” 91
Elegant, refined, steely and mineral, this Rosso di Montalcino is a proven long distance runner that will fill out nicely in the years to come, ultimately deserving an even higher score. Very well balanced and refined, this will go well with a ton of different dishes. Drinking window: now-2024.
Gaudio 2019 Malvasia di Casorzo “Molignano” 91
Most wine experts can’t distinguish between a wine made with Piedmont’s Malvasia di Casorzo and one made with Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco, another red-berried Malvasia variety from Piedmont. Yes, both give delicately sweet red wines, but Malvasia di Casorzo gives slightly darker and bigger wines than does the other grape, and the alcohol level is usually just a smidge higher too (but at around 6% abv, you’re hardly talking major amounts of the stuff). Marco Gaudio of the Bricco Mondalino/Gaudio estate makes perhaps the best Mavalsia di Casorzo wine of all (only Accornero’s “Brigantino” gives it a run for its money), characterized as it is by uncommon levels of depth and complexity. Strawberry, blueberries, hints of cocoa and balsamic oils and a very light on its feet mouthfeel leave a lasting impression. Drinking window: now-2025.
Les Granges 2018 Malvoisie de Nus 91
Saline and boasting surprising weight on the palate, this classy wine made in a low interventionist manner takes Pinot Grigio to levels it rarely reaches anywhere else in Italy Malvosie de Nus is the name of the “Malvosie” wine made in the territory of the town of Nus in Italy’s beautiful Valle d’Aosta region, but just so you know, the local “Malvoisie” grape there is actually Pinot Grigio. This beauty is thick and complex, hinting at caramelized apples and candied orange peel and balsamic oils and herbs, and will have you rethinking about Pinot Grigio altogether. Drinking window: now-2025.
Medici Ermete 2018 Lambrusco Dry Quercioli 91
A classic Italian bubbly red wine that is best enjoyed lightly chilled with fatty foods like sausages and all sorts of cured meats, but with soups too and of course tortellini. Small red berries and herbs linger long on the zingy saline finish. Medici Ermete also makes a lovely sweet white wine that I recommend highly, their Malvasia Emilia Nebbia d’Autunno; should it be available, don’t miss it. Drinking window: now-2022.
Mora & Memo 2018 Monica di Sardegna “Ica” 91
Young Elisabetta Pala was born into the outstanding Pala winemaking family (owners of the eponymous estate), and has created her own brand that has met with considerable success from the get-go. Her Monica wine is simply outstanding, and more often than not it is her best wine, as it is again this year. Light and juicy, with a fruit-forward in your face personality but lots of complexity and layers to discover with more attentive sipping, it is a wine you can enjoy slightly chilled with vegetable and more structured fish dishes or at room temperature with grilled and even heartier meat fare. Drinking window: now-2026.
Ottaviano Lambruschi 2019 Vermentino Costa Marina 91
Lambruschi’s Costa Marina is one of Italy’s (hence the world’s) best Vermentino wines. Sleek and racy, with hints of rosemary and sage, with a dash of marine breeze and salty mists thrown in for good measure, there are fewer wines more enjoyable than this one to spend time with on the porch, at a BBQ or at lunch or dinner with an appropriate fish dish or plate of fresh oysters. Drinking window: now-2026.
Paltrinieri 2019 Lambrusco di Sorbara Piria 91
There are many different Lambrusco varieties, and hence many different Lambrusco wines, but there can be no doubt Paltrinieri is King, or at no worse, Prince, of Lambrusco di Sorbara. The estate is lucky enough to own vineyards in the grand cru area for the Lambrusco di Sorbara variety and it shows in many of their excellent wines, of which the Piria is but one. It showcases to full effect the strawberry, red cherry, ginger and violet notes that so typify this specific Lambrusco variety and its wines. The zingy finish just begs you to pull out the sausages, ham and/or tortellini. Drinking window: now-2022.
Paolo Calì 2019 Frappato Spumante Ancestrale Rosè “Mood” 91
Paolo Calì is remarkably capable of producing fun and easy to like wines every year, and in fact even his more important wines, such as the Cerasuolo di Vittoria Pruvenza, are also characterized by an easy to drink, delicious quality. Frappato’s typically expressive nose is obvious here in its strawberry, raspberry, bitter orange, pomegranate, with complicating nuances of wild herbs, tea leaves. Drinking window: now-2024.
Pieropan 2019 Soave Classico 91
This is an absolute beauty in 2019, and one of the best entry-level Soave wines from Pieropan in years. Perfumed, fruity, floral, with sneaky concentration and lasting aromas and flavours on the aftertaste. Really juicy and very well done here. Drinking window: now-2024.
Renato Fenocchio 2018 Nebbiolo Langhe 91
Don’t miss out on this wine while you get blown away by the absolute starry Barbaresco quality at this estate, my best wine estate surprise of the year. This is pale red in colour (always a good sign with Nebbiolo wines), very elegant and steely in its Serravalian soil derived piercing sour red cherry and mineral sheen. Long and pretty. Drinking window: now-2026
Ronchi di Cialla 2019 Ribolla Gialla Friuli Colli Orientali 91
There are fewer more talented people making wine in Italy than the Rapuzzi clan, and this lovely Ribolla Gialla, that costs next to nothing given the quality it offers in every glass, is an outstanding example of what the family can do even with entry-level wines. Fresh, zingy, saline, lip-smacking aromas and flavours of lemons and green apple and pear with a hint of white pepper to liven things up make this for one irresistible drink. Well done! Drinking window: now-2024.
Rosa del Golfo 2019 Rosa del Golfo Rosato 91
Rosé (rosato) wines from Italy honestly do not get much better than what they achieve practically every year at Puglia’s Rosa del Golfo winery. Nuanced, delicate, perfumed and juicy, this fruity little number has more depth and complexity than the majority of pink wines you’ll taste from anywhere this year (and therefore, I don’t mean just Italy). Drinking window: now-2024.
Tenuta Barac 2018 Langhe Nebbiolo 91
A baby Barbaresco, as this is made from grapes the estate decides to make a Nebbiolo wine with, but could very well use them instead to make a Barbaresco. Fleshy and darker in profile than some other Nebbiolo wines I tasted this year, but with the easy-drinking charm of the San Rocco Seno d’Elvio commune of Barbaresco. Easy to love. Drinking window: now-2024
Tiberio 2019 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 91
Clean and precise as usual, this year Tiberio’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo sports a little more palate weight and ripeness than usual, making it even easier to like. The usual white flower, herb and white fruit aromas and flavours will accompany any fish and pasta dish with vegetables extremely well, and it will do so with you too. Drinking window: now-2025.
Volpe Pasini 2019 Pinot Bianco Friuli Colli Orientali 91
Linear, precise, pure, Volpe Pasini has always made one of Italy’s best Pinot Bianco wines in fact was one of the first Italian wine estates to export its Pinot Bianco wine abroad. Hints of green apple and minerals linger nicely on the saline aftertaste that is brightly lifted by hints of white flowers and lime. Drinking window: now-2027.
Zucchetto 2019 Valdobbiadene Prosecco 91
There are so many bad Proseccos out there (sorry folks, just because what you are drinking is fizzy and lemony in no way means that it’s any good, and you really should know better) that when you sip something deep and complex you immediately, instinctively, turn your head and look at the label. That’s exactly what happened to me while standing at the bar at a restaurant in Burano while waiting for my table, and I sipped casually at the flute of Prosecco I was served. A quick double-take and I’ve never looked back, Zucchetto being firmly entrenched as one of my favourite Prosecco producers. Layered and deep like very few others, with notes of lemon verbena, jasmine, vanilla, green apple both pure and precise, this boasts depth, depth and more depth. Punches way above its weight class. Well done. Drinking window: now-2023.
Abbazia di Novacella 2019 Kerner Alto Adige Valle Isarco 90
Straightforward, perfumed, easygoing and very clean, this delivers the tell-tale aromatic nuances of the Kerner variety with precision. Always the best wine from Novacella, after their magical Sylvaner. Both the Kerner and Sylvaner are available in more concentrated renditions in the Praepositus line of wines. Drinking window: now-2023.
Agostino Vicentini 2019 Valpolicella Boccascaluce 90
A 70% Corvina and Corvinone, 20% Rondinella and 10% Molinara blend, this light easy-going juicy red will be perfect with hearty meat dishes and spicy foods. Not as light as the 10% Molinara in the blend would have led me to believe (a shame its presence is not more obvious, as Molinara adds amazing spicy perfume and lightness of being) , but this is actually a really pretty good Valpolicella. Well done. Drinking window: now-2024.
Contini 2019 Nieddera Rosato Valle del Tirso 90
Nieddera is a little-known local native variety of Sardinia and Contini is the only estate I know of that vinifies it as a monovariety wine in commercially interesting numbers (meaning the wine is not impossible to find). When used to make a red wine, Nieddera produces a bit of a monster with tannins upon more tannins, but as a Rosato it does a complete transformation offering a much gentler version of itself. Chill the bottle lightly, and this wine’s red berries, orange peel and a boatload of salinity will have you filling your glass over and over again. Contini is most famous for making Italy’s best Vernaccia di Oristano wines, oxidative-style gems in the manner of Sherry, but I like their Nieddera wines quite a bit too, finding it both distinctive and highly enjoyable. Drinking window: now-2022.
Librandi 2019 Greco Melissa Asylia 90
Fresh and full of early appeal, this easy-going fresh white wine will match well with all sorts of non-spicy fish cuisine such as that of Zhejiang in China, Japan and the Mediterranean countries. Librandi’s Rosato wines are very good too. Drinking window: now-2022.
Lunae 2019 Vermentino Colli di Luni Etcihetta Nera 90
Etichetta Nera, or “black label”, this beautifully perfumed white will speak to your heart and mind of white flowers, bitter honey, ripe yellow fruit and sweet spices. Multifaceted and harmonious, this sports a mineral, saline finish that persists impressively. Drinking window: now-2023.
Maccario-Dringenberg 2019 Dolceacqua 90
Delicately spicy red berry and cherry aromas and flavours are complemented by a herbal note and a hint of balsamic oils. The wine is typically (for the Rossese di Dolceacqua variety) saline and fresh, with a light bodied personality; all of which make this an ideal wine to have with fish soups and fatty dishes. Drinking window: now-2025.
Masi 2019 Pinot Grigio Masianco Veneto Bianco 90
Always a joy to sip on this lightly fruity wine that always seems to carry a hint of residual of grapey sweetness, that often in the best was clearly due to the Verduzzo in the blend. Lovely once again this year, and a really good buy. Drinking window: now-2022.
Nalles Magré 2019 Kerner Alto Adige Fels 90
Made with grapes grown in an old vineyard of the Valle Isarco that kellermeister Gottfried Pollinger has signed off on recently, this Kerner was a real surprise in 2020 as the coop has never been associated with this variety. But talent is talent, and given the large range of excellent wines made here, it is not surprising the estate would excel with Kerner too. Fresh and juicy, this delicately aromatic wine has a real explosive nose and a broad large mouthfeel that makes it totally delicious and irresistible. Drinking window: now-2025.
Santadi 2019 Monica di Sardegna 90
This little beauty boasts the grape’s typical blackberry, blueberry, and botanical herb aromas and flavours in spades. Bright fresh and juicy, this is yet another Sardinian wine and yet another Monica wine in this year’s list, and I for one am not at all surprised. The island has been making world class wines that are delicious and inexpensive for many years now and Monica is one of Italy’s best but little-known grape varieties (think of a Sangiovese-like wine but with more fruit, and darker fruit at that that has nothing to do with more or less illicit additions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). Unfortunately, Monica’s notoriety outside of Italy (and actually within Italy too) it also doesn’t help its case that there are something like at least four if not five different varieties all called Monica on Sardinia but that are not likely to all be Monica, but some other variety altogether; this explains the sometimes big differences in wines tasted. Drinking window: now-2025.