Italy produces more wines from different grapes than any other country. If you can't find a white or red wine from anywhere else that makes you happy, then give Italian wines a try. Below are some reds for $20 or under that you can choose from.
Dolcetto D'Alba, Verduno Italy, 2010 - Dolcetto is supposed to be a light wine, so this one surprised me with a heavy cedar/wood flavor. It is from the Piedmont region of Italy, which produces many of the nation's well-known and loved wines. People typically describe this wine as grapey-spicey and bitter-chocolate, so I decided to let this wine breath a little before trying it again. Then the grapey flavor was there, but still with a strong bitter-wooden finish. Remembering that wine is better with food, I finally drank the wine when eating, and the bitter finish was gone.
RossoCube, Umbria Italy, 2009 - This wine is made from 60% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo, and 20% Ciligiolo. It is medium bodied and light flavored, probably excellent with pasta or lasagne. It is a good table wine that will pair easily with the right foods. I liked it with creamy soups! As long as your food's flavor isn't stronger than the wine, you'll enjoy the wine.
Where there's Sangiovese, there is also Chianti, so I also tried...
Sorelle Palazzi Chianti, Colline Pisane Italy, 2009 - In a word, YUM. I chose this Chianti, which is one of many in the $15-20 price range, because it is organic. There is a small but devoted number of organic wine drinkers, so it is worthwhile to include an organic wine in my writing when I can. That said, this Chianti is outstanding, I loved it. I'd drink it with cheese, pasta, soup, or by itself. It is 85% Sangiovese, 10% Malvasia Nera, and 5% Canaiolo. The grapes are grown on old vines, which could be what gives this Chianti such intense and great flavor. This is an Italian wine that I would easily make my medium-bodied table wine. Give it a try!
Note: There is Chianti Classico, and then there is Chianti from other regions. The distinction is not necessarily in the name, but the Classico wines are distinguished by a black rooster somewhere on the neck. Chiantis made in Classico regions are made from vineyards that were included in older, more "original" Chianti regions. In the days when those regions were selected, Italy was more particular about what is the Chianti region. Over time, more people wanted to grow grapes for Chianti, so the Chianti region expanded. Some people think that Chianti Classico tastes better than other Chianti. This is up to each individual to decide, I am letting you know so you are more familiar with what you're buying. A decent wine store will have the same prices for both wines, so you should not be forced to make the decision based on price. Good luck!
Burlotto G.B. Comm. Verduno Pelaverga, Italy 2011 - Recommended by three different people, this wine is under $20 and is a table wine for one colleague. It has a light mouth feel, light red color and is full of a flavor and very balanced. Some wine professionals would say that the wine is elegant or delicate. What they mean is that this wine strikes you as being delicious without having the strong, blunt flavor that other Italian wines have. I drank this wine while eating a spinach & cheese lasagne, and the two went well. Elegant chicken and pasta dishes would pair well with this wine. If you want to pair food with this wine, think of foods that have flavor but not in a blunt way (such as sauteed food and not grilled food.) An excellent wine for not much money, I'd especially recommend it to red wine drinkers who crave flavor and complexity in lighter red wines.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Italian wines!!