The Most Expensive Wines in Italy

There's a familiar name at the top of our list, but it isn't from Tuscany.

Our series on expensive wines returns to Europe to check out Italy’s big hitters.
By Tom Jarvis | Posted Tuesday, 13-Sep-2016

A classic Barolo leads the way, the former champion has dropped out of the top 10, Super Tuscans are not as numerous as we might have thought, and there are one or two other surprises in our list of this year’s most expensive Italian wines.

For our list we have excluded discontinued wines that are only available as historic collectors’ item releases. That said, the high average prices of many of the ageworthy wines on our top 10 list is backed up by the availability of a range of wallet-emptying mature vintages.

The three wineries from 2013 who do not appear this time round are Romano dal Forno – whose Recioto would have come 10th but was last made in 2004 and is not listed on his website – Guiseppe Mascarello (still in the top 20 for Barolo Monprivato Ca d’Morissio) and Gaja, who have several wines lurking just a little further adrift. The last time we did this, in 2013, we listed the top 10 producers in Italy, judged by their most expensive wines. This time round the list is drawn together on a wine-by-wine basis and there are plenty of changes. Three years ago Ornellaia’s Vendimmia d’Artista Special Edition Bolgheri Superiore was in first place, though this has now dropped back in price from an average of $978 to $401 (and out of the top 10), perhaps because additional releases have reduced its exclusivity. Its Masseto sibling remains, however.

In this list the only estate with two entries (#3 and #10) is legendary Valpolicella estate Guiseppe Quintarelli. Regional bragging rights go to Tuscany, with five out of the 10 wines, though Sassicaia, Tignanello and the normal Ornellaia release do not feature, despite being the three most searched-for Italian wines on our website. Veneto and Piedmont have two wines each, with a single representative from Friuli – Venezia Giulia completing the hit parade.

Italy is generally known for its red wines, and so it is perhaps of little surprise that no white table wines feature in the list.

1. Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo Riserva, Piemonte

The first of three Nebbiolos on the list, the Monfertino from long-established traditionalists Giacomo Conterno is often acclaimed as the greatest of Barolo wines and it weighs in at a hefty average price of $755.

Named after the local village of Monforte d’Alba, the wine was created in the 1920s as one of the very first producer-bottled wines, and quickly gained renown for its quality and great ability to age. The latter characteristic helps place the wine at the top of our tree; the Wine-Searcher database lists vintages dating back to 1927.

2. Masseto Toscano IGT, Tuscany

Whilst Bordeaux-inspired Super Tuscan red wines have gained a lot of attention over recent decades, only one Bordeaux blend or single-varietal wine makes the list. This may reflect that some of those blue chip bottles are produced in reasonable quantities, which moderates the price a little; Ornellaia’s average price is $187 and Sassicaia comes in at $204, for example.

Masseto Merlot is a sibling of Ornellaia (both owned since 2005 by the Frescobaldis) but it is run as a separate entity with its own winery. The first wine was released in 1984 to immediate global acclaim. Global wine buyers currently have around two dozen vintages to choose from on wine-searcher.com, at an average price of $685.

3. Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva, Veneto

This estate at the heart of the Valpolicella region is widely regarded as the greatest of all Amarone producers whose wines manages to achieve a great sense of elegance while weighing in at a hearty 16 or 17 percent alcohol.

The Riserva is selected by the family from the very best barrels of the “standard” Amarone Classico. It is aged for seven years in large Slavonian oak barrels. To say that this wine is only released in the best years feels like an understatement; the five most recent vintages on our database are 2003, 1995, 1990, 1986 and 1983, and the average price is $637.

4. Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany

The Biondi Santi Family, at their Greppo estate, is another of the world’s most celebrated wine producers and the creators of blueprint wines for the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. The first recorded mention of a Brunello wine was in 1869; a record of two silver medals won by Clemente Santi for his wine at Montepulciano’s agricultural fair, and the phrase “Brunello di Montalcino” first appeared with the family’s 1888 vintage. Currently, a bottle will set you back an average of $553.

 

The race for seventh spot ended in a dead heat.

© Case Basse/Miani | The race for seventh spot ended in a dead heat.

 

5. Bibi Graetz Testamatta Colore Toscana IGT, Tuscany

Bibi Graetz’s top 10 IGT Toscana wine is not a Bordeaux blend but made from one-third each of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino from 60-year-old vines in Fiesole, to the northeast of Florence. Geographically it qualifies for the Chianti Colli Fiorentini appellation, but the blend proportions do not – in any case a Toscana IGT designation perhaps fits in better with these lofty pricing levels – $533 on average.

This wine stands out from many in the list as being relatively recently conceived; our earliest vintage is 2003. This means that release price is proportionately more important with this wine and there are no museum pieces being dusted off to provide a boost.

6. Roagna Crichët Pajé Barbaresco, Piemonte

Roagna has been making wine since before the Barbaresco region was formerly designated in 1890, though the spread of vintages of Crichët Pajé on Wine-Searcher begin with their 1978. The second Nebbiolo is made from a small plot on the Pajè vineyard (yes the accents on the final “e” do change). “Crichët” is local dialect for “top of the small hill”.

After purchasing the vineyard in 1953, Giovanni Roagna spent many years experimenting with the plot and reserving the wines for family consumption and special occasions. The wine undergoes long aging in wooden vats and is released around 10 years after vintage. Maximum production is never much than 2000 bottles, reflected in the $500 average price tag.

7=. Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Toscana IGT-Brunello Riserva, Tuscany

Gianfranco Soldera is another great name of Italian wine, and candidate for the list of greatest Brunello producer, though his entry on this list requires some explanation.

In 2012, a former employee emptied tanks and casks storing vintages from 2007 to 2011, resulting in major reductions in availability. The incident and a rejected attempt by fellow producers to help by offering replacement wine led to a heavily publicized falling-out with the Brunello di Montalcino consorzio. This means that only half of the 2006 Casse Basse Riserva was released as a Brunello; the remainder was labeled as Toscana IGT, as have subsequent vintages. As many retailers continue to mention Brunello di Montalcino when listing the wine, Wine-Searcher has grouped the pre- and post-2006 wines together. Whatever the classification, the wine has an average price of $483.

7=. Miani Calvari Refosco Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

The least obvious entry in the list comes in at #7. Enzo Pontoni only makes 8000 bottles from 18 hectares of Friuli vineyards, with tiny yields and incredibly strict selection in both the vineyard and winery. His Calvari cuvée made from Refosco dal Pedunculo Rosso is the rarest wine in his lineup, made from less than a hectare of steeply terraced pre-World War II vineyards, in many years producing just one single barrel. The first vintage was 1995, and since then it has been made in all but three or four years.

Older vintages can be found in selected retailers around the globe, and according to top critic Antonio Galloni most of them should still be bucking and kicking – he gives the debut 1995 a drinking window to 2026. Tiny availability also helps explain its low search popularity – its fans probably already know where to look – and its average price of $483.

9. Avignonesi Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo di Montepulciano, Tuscany

As much as vin santo is a classic Tuscan product, Avignonesi’s Occhio di Pernice may seem like a slightly surprising representative for that region. But it is a consistent recipient of high scores from the major critics and, according to our data, ranks third in Tuscany in terms of number of prizes won. Because of its oxidized character and high sugar content, this is another wine built for the long haul, and again the average price of $460 also reflects a range of higher priced older vintages.

10. Guiseppe Quintarelli Alzero Cabernet Veneto IGT

The estate’s second entry is an oddity for the Valpolicella region, a blend typically featuring 40 percent each of the two Cabernets and 20 percent Merlot, but definitely made in a blockbuster Veneto style. The appassimento technique is employed – the grapes are laid out in single layers across mats for 60 to 100 days. Unlike the other wines from the estate, Alzero is aged in barriques, not larger oak barrels. As with many of the wines on this list it is only released in certain years, though with a little more frequency than the Amarone Classico Riserva from the same estate, and has an average price of $431.