Great Wines for $20 or Less
Photograph by Michael Pirrocco

Great Wines for Ordinary Nights

The term pizza wine used to be a backhanded compliment, a polite way of saying that a wine was too simple to be served with anything fancier than what might arrive in a white box. Generally speaking, if it was cheap, red, and Italian, it qualified. But a proliferation of upscale pizzerias – like Pizzeria Locale in Boulder, Colorado, and Franny's in Brooklyn, New York, – show that quality pizzas demand a great, selective wine list. Luca Pasquinelli, who oversees wine at Franny's, says that he and his colleagues are constantly tasting new wines and tinkering with the restaurant's list. Their aim: to find bottles that complement the pizza, aren't intimidating, and are relatively cheap.

"Pizza is a simple but well-constructed dish," says Pasquinelli. "The wine you serve with it also needs to be simple, and delicious. There are a lot of choices."

This doesn't mean it's no longer OK to drink a $7 Chianti with your slice of pepperoni – but upgrading the wine a bit will enhance pizza night. One way to do this is to start by looking to Europe. Retail shelves are now groaning with inexpensive and delicious wines from Italy, France, and Greece, which all produce many more good-quality bargain wines than California. While there are still plenty of nasty cheap wines, the $20-and-under category has never been as rewarding – for pizza, yes, but also as an inexpensive upgrade to any home meal, Italian or otherwise. Here are eight bottles to try:

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