I recently received a call from a friend who was looking for recommendations for an Italian wine that he could bring to Italian-themed BYOB restaurant. He liked wine, needed wine to accompany the meal, of course, but did not know really anything about Italian wines. I knew what he had in mind for “an Italian wine” was what most people think about Italian wine for a meal: red, medium-bodied, food-friendly, approachable, and likely having “Chianti” somewhere among the numerous Italian words on the main label.
The menu at this particular restaurant is very similar to most inexpensive to moderately-priced Italian-themed restaurants across the country. Red sauce, melted white cheese and bits of green basil or darker oregano along with scent of garlic are found in a high percentage of the preparations. This is the food that largely derived from immigrants of the Naples area. It is not Italian, it is Italian-American.
Ordering a red wine in Naples today, you will likely be served a wine featuring the Aglianico grape, which thrives in the region (and can make some terrific wines). In this country, by far the most common red wine at an Italian-themed restaurant has historically been Chianti from Tuscany, about 300 miles to the north. Red sauce, spaghetti and Chianti, often bottled in straw-covered bottled denotes Italian food for many. The reason that Chianti is so intertwined with Neapolitan-derived cooking popular here is that the wine industry in Chianti was much more advanced in terms of exporting their products than in other areas of Italy. The fiasco, that straw-covered bottle also became a good marketing tool. Not incidentally, good Chianti, is a terrific food wine that goes well with a lot of foods, especially Italian-American.
I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of ten high quality red wines from Italy priced under $20 which are fairly widely available that can be helpful for my friend and others in the future who want to pick up something to complement their Italian fare.