In response to a query on the International Board, DC chowhound Jeremy M. -- a reliable guide to all great things Italian -- has posted the following valuable information on great, not-too-expensive Italian wines, and where they can be found in the DC area:
There are some fantastic Italian white wines that fall comfortably within your price range.
For example, Cervaro della Sala, by Antinori, runs approximately 25 euros a bottle and is a world class wine. However, I would recommend some southern Italian wines that are really delicious and interesting.
By Planeta (a Sicilian producer), Alastro (chardonnay/grecanico) and Cometa (100% fiano di avellino) are terrific. Both have a deep yellow color and very rich flavor. The latter is a bit stronger/sweeter, with a hint of citrus or almost pineapple. Really good stuff! Planeta also makes a great red called Santa Cecilia from 100% nero d'avola, a sicilian grape.
Tasca d'Alemerita makes a really booming Chardonnay. It's one of the biggest and sweetest that I have tasted - almost like a dessert wine. On the red side, they make a very big cabernet and also a 100% nero d'avola wine called Rosso del Conte. I had a bottle of the latter on new year's day with my lentils and zampone and was really impressed.
From Campania, Feudi di San Gregorio makes a couple of exceptional whites. Pietracalda is a late harvest, single vineyard Fiano, and Campanaro is a reserve wine also based on Fiano. The former is delicious, though the oak makes it taste perhaps a little more common. I have a bottle of Campanaro, but haven't tried it yet. I've heard great things and am saving it for a special occasion. Feudi also makes a white called IDEM that I have never seen in the USA. I tried it in Ravello two years ago and have been looking ever since. I remember it being slightly sweet, but very refreshing. On the red side, Feudi makes some very nice Taurasi, and also a proprietary red called Serpico.
As for Roman enotecas, Shaki, just off via della Croce, is very nice. There is another good one on Via della Croce, and a small but good place on via del governo vecchio, nr. pzza navona, a block or two from pizzeria baffetto.
I've seen Feudi's Pietracalda at Bassin's and at the Freshfields across from Heritage India for around $25-27. It was also on the wine list when I was last at Obelisk for around $40 -in that context the price is a steal and it should definitely be ordered. I have not seen the highest end reds or whites (Campanaro & Serpico) here, but they can be had through Zachy's mail order, if delivery laws permit. The cheaper Feudi wines (whites - fiano, greco di tufo, lachryma cristi,fallanghina, albente; reds - rubrato, lachryma) are pretty easy to find at the major stores. Much as i love them, i sometimes wonder whether they are really worth the U.S. asking price (usually between $14 and $18, though rubrato and albente are in the $10 range).
Planeta is tough to find around here. I have never found the Alastro in the USA, and I've seen the other higher end wines only in NYC. I've found the entry level red (La Segreta) at the liquor store across from Firehook in DuPont circle for about $15. I think it just about justifies that price. The La Segreta white runs for about the same price in stores, and for $28 at 2 Amys. $28 is more than it's worth - stick to the $18 fallanghinas and grecos, which are fine.
Tasca d'Alemerita's wines are a little easier to find, though the Cabernet and Chardonnay are blisteringly expensive, often in the $50+ range (as opposed to 30 euros in Italy). Their Regaleali red and white are both excellent values at around $10. The Nozze d'Oro white and Rosso del Conte are more expensive, but generally worth it. I've gotten the former ar Bassin's for $18, and seen them both at Calvert Woodley also.