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11 class-leading Chianti Classicos (Part 2)

We continue our countdown of the best Chianti Classicos from all quality levels following a comprehensive tasting of wines from this famous Italian region.

As previously reported by the drinks business, the wines featured in this list were selected by a panel of experience tasters at the inaugural Chianti Classico Masters by the drinks business, which was held on Thursday 12 March at London’s Clos Maggiore restaurant.

All the entries were tasted blind during the course of one day using Schott Zwiesel glasses supplied by Wine Sorted. Each sample was scored and discussed before the medal was awarded, with the top Chianti Classicos given Gold, Silver or Bronze medals. Meanwhile, those that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Chianti Classico Master.

The juding panel, which was chaired by myself, comprised Tom Bruce-Gardyne, a wine writer specialising in Italy; Alex Canneti, longtime Italian wine buyer and off-trade director at Berkmann Wine Cellars, where he is also brand manager for Antinori in the UK, and Roberto Della Pietra, native Italian and former head sommelier at Clos Maggiore.

As we approach the very best wines of the tasting, it is worth nothing that although the judges encountered many rich and powerful Chianti Classicos, particularly among the Riserva and Gran Selezione classifications, the wines, thankfully, remained reflective of the region’s hallmark grape, Sangiovese, with its naturally high acidity, slightly gritty tannin, and flavours of ripe red fruits and sour cherries.

Furthermore, so good were some of these wines, it was felt that Chianti Classico must be one of Italy’s most improved wine regions, and consequently underrated relative to the likes of Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello – the country’s revered fine wine Bs – and unfairly overshadowed by the excitement surrounding Etna Rosso. In other words, among fine wine lovers, Chianti Classico is worth another look.

Part 1 of this tasting report can be viewed here. As for this, the second and final listing of the very best Chianti Classicos, click ‘next’ to view the class-leading wines, all of which scored a gold medal or above.

The judges (clockwise from bottom left): Patrick Schmitt MW; Tom Bruce-Gardyne; Alex Canneti, Roberto Della Pietra

6. Casa Sola, Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione, 2010

In keeping with the high standard of Chianti Classicos bearing the new Gran Selezione tag, this was another delicious example from the region, and made without the influence of international grapes – this is a pure Sangiovese. Consequently, the style is relatively traditional compared to some of the area’s Riservas and Gran Seleziones containing Merlot of Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Casa Sola has a delicate nose, exhibiting earthy and cedary characters, rather than lots of ripe fruit. In the mouth however, Sangiovese’s characteristic cherry flavour is immediately apparent, along with its high, tight-grained tannins, while a touch of citrus peel on the finish revives one’s palate. This is not a big, powerful Gran Selezione – although it does have 14% abv – but a more refined, classic example, which is attractive now, but has great potential to age and soften in bottle over the next 3-5 years.

Blend: 100% Sangiovese
Ageing: 30 months in tonneau
Price: Approx £40
Chianti Classico Masters: Gold

5. Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione, 2010

This Gran Selezione from the Mazzei family, who have owned Castello Fonterutoli since 1435, was a textbook example of great Chianti Classico. A touch of orange coloration on the rim of the glass, and complex aromas of citrus peel, cherry and cedar, immediately identified this as a classic and class-leading Sangiovese.

The palate has similarly lovely characters, and texturally, again, it was classic Chianti Classico – it is a medium-bodied wine with high, fine, mouth-coating tannin. Notably, everything is in balance in this wine, while a touch of evolution ensures it is ready to drink now, but with its bright acidity and dense tannin, along with an intense stone-fruit core, there’s plenty of potential for this Chianti Classico to evolve and develop greater complexity over the next 3-5 years. Nevertheless, this 2010 Gran Selezione is in delicious form today.

Blend: 92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia Nera and Colorino
Ageing: 20 months in French oak barrels (225 and 500 litre / 60% new)
Price: Approx £30
Chianti Classico Masters: Gold

4. Castello Vicchiomaggio, Vigna La Prima, Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione 2011

Highlighting the range of wine styles within Chianti Classico, even at the highest level of Gran Selezione, this example from Castello Vicchiomaggio showed the less traditional side to the region. Marking it out as a more modern wine was a prominent whiff of vanilla and sweet red fruit on the nose, suggesting maturation in new French oak barriques and the use of very ripe fruit. The palate confirmed that this was a powerful Chianti Classico, with generosity and warmth – the latter evidence of relatively high alcohol – but the oak appeared more subtle on the tongue, and a typically Italianate combination of freshness and high tannin ensured this was a food-friendly fine wine, with a persistent finish. Yes, it was a bigger style, but it was still unmistakably a product of this historic, Tuscan winemaking heartland.

Blend: 100% Sangiovese
Ageing: 16-20 months in French oak barriques
Price: approx. £35
Chianti Classico Masters: Gold

3. Castello di Volpaia, Coltassala Chianti Classico Riserva, 2010

Although this Chianti Classico from the family-owned and operated Castello di Volpaia was not classified under the new Gran Selezione uppermost tier, as a Riserva, it promised great things – and didn’t disappoint. With 18 months ageing in French oak barriques, the wine displayed a milk chocolate scent on the nose, although the palate showed no sweetness. Indeed, this Chianti Classico has plenty of appeal for both the lover of traditional wines from the region and those in search of more modern expressions, combining the area’s characteristic cedar and cherry flavours with a chewy texture, along with a rather less classic note of coffee chocolate. Importantly, the wine is generous and lively, making it both enjoyable now, but capable of lasting – indeed, it would improve with a further 2-3 years evolving in bottle, and could be kept for at least another decade. This is certainly an impressive wine, whether judged against its peers within Chianti Classico, or the wider world of fine wine.

Blend: Sangiovese and Mammolo
Ageing: French oak barriques for 18 months
Price: Approx £35
Chianti Classico Masters: Master

2. Nittardi, Chianti Classico Riserva Selezionata, 2011

For those in search of a further outstanding Chianti Classico Riserva, then look no further than the Nittardi winery. This high-class producer was one of the few to gain the top title of Master in the Chianti Classico tasting, winning praise from the judges for its Nittardi Riserva Selezionata 2011 in particular, although its straight Riserva from the 2009 vintage was also highly-rated, achieving a Gold (see below).

The Riserva Selezionata is made using Nittardi’s best Sangiovese grapes, and a small percentage of Merlot, from its single vineyard called Vigna Alta – so named because it is located 500m above sea level. With two years ageing in 30% new 500 litre oak barrels, the wine displays an appealing note of cigar-box, complementing the rich black cherry fruit. It’s a powerful Chianti Classico, and dense tannins surround the ripe fruit at its core, but the wine is not tiring; rather it is an impressive and joyous to drink now, although it has plenty of potential to evolve greater complexity in bottle if left to age in a cool cellar.

Blend: 95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot
Ageing: 24 months in 500 liter French oak barrels (30% new), 12 months in bottle
Price: Approx £35
Chianti Classico Masters: Master

Nittardi, Chianti Classico Riserva, 2009

Also worth trying is the slightly less expensive Nittardi Chianti Classico Riserva, particularly from the 2009 vintage. This wine, like the Selezionata, is a full-bodied Chianti Classico, and also shows a lovely combination of cedar and ripe, black cherries. There’s lots of tannin, and, once again, this example has been built to last.

Price: Approx £30
Chianti Classico Masters: Gold

1. Antinori, Badia A Passignano, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, 2009

Despite extremely stiff competition, the top wine of the tasting was Antinori’s Badia A Passignano Gran Selezione, made using the best Sangiovese grapes from the Chianti Classico property of the same name. Described by one judge as “sexy and elegant”, this wine showed a rare and wonderfully harmonius combination of ripeness and freshness. Texturally, there is a chalky sensation from very fine, integrated, high tannin. In terms of flavours, ripe cherry fruit, cedar, and tobacco combine to create a lovely fleshy, gently smoky effect, without any sweetness. This is a wine in a lovely condition, and would be delicious to drink now, ideally with meaty foods, but, as a very fine Chianti Classico, it could be cellared for a further decade to develop more savoury, leathery flavours, and even greater complexity.

Blend: 100% Sangiovese
Ageing: 14 months in 225 and 300 litres Hungarian oak barrels (along with a small percentage of French oak barrels)
Price: Approx £30
Chianti Classico Masters: Master

And finally…. Castello d’Albola, Acciaiolo, Toscana IGT, 2011

No, this isn’t a Chianti Classico, but we thought it would be fun to recommend a further wine, and one that steps outside the region’s strict rules, above all concerning the proportion of Sangiovese in the blend. Because this wine contains less than the 80% minimum of Sangiovese necessary to be labelled Chianti Classico, although it comes from Radda in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone, it can’t carry the name of the appellation – and must instead be classified as Toscana IGT (although this does mean that can be classed as a “Super Tuscan”).

What we liked about this wine, which marries Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon in a 50:50 blend, is the harmonious combination of red and black fruits; a fleshy and chalky mouthfeel, as well as peppery spice and gently cedar-wood characters. It also retains a fresh finish associated with its source region, and, in short, represents a very fine wine at a good price – it retails for under £50.

Blend: 50% Sangiovese, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon
Ageing: 12 months in French oak barriques (50% new)
Price: Approx £45
Chianti Classico Masters: Gold

Click here to see the Chianti Classicos that featured in Part 1 of this selection.

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