A Tasting and comparison of Value-priced Chianti Classico Wines

            

Typically, when people talk about Chianti wines they usually are referring to Chianti Classico wines. The term “Classico” refers to the oldest and/or the central part of a zone or area. So, the Chianti Classico zone, which lies between the popular tourist cities of Florence and Siena, is the oldest part as well as the center or heart of the general Chianti wine region.

This larger Chianti region is known simply as Chianti and the Chianti Classico appellation is but one part of the larger Chianti region. There are 7 other specific sub-zones of Chianti, each with its own soil, micro-climate, regulations as well as wine style preferences. The 7 other Chianti zones include Colli Aretini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Colli Forentini, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. On their wine labels, all put the Chianti name in front of their sub-zone appellation, e.g., Chianti Colli Senesi or Chianti Rufina.

But the Classico appellation is the premier Chianti region. It produces the most wine, a disproportionate share of the highest quality wines and is the oldest and by far the most easily recognized of the various Chianti wine regions.

Chianti Classico achieved DOCG status in 1984. As a DOCG wine, each Chianti Classico release must demonstrate certain unique properties and characteristics to qualify as a "Classico" wine. By itself, simply being produced and bottled in the Chianti Classico zone is not sufficient to qualify as Chianti Classico.

For example, regulations specify that a Chianti Classico wine must have at least 80 percent Sangiovese grapes. The 80 percent Sangiovese is a minimum - the percentage can be as much as 100 percent. Native red grapes like Canaiolo or Colorino or some “international” varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah can be used to fill out the remainder of the blend. Sangiovese doesn’t naturally yield a dark-colored wine so the supporting varieties can be used to add color and/or expand the flavor profile of the Sangiovese blend.

Other Chianti Classico regulations specify minimum ageing requirements, vineyard management procedures and the characteristics of the wine produced.

Bottles of Chianti Classio wine.Sangiovese is a difficult grape to grow and vinify but when a producer gets it right it can reward the effort by yielding wines with amazing aromas, textures and flavors.

Many producers also make a Riserva version of their Chianti Classico. To qualify for a Riserva designation the wine has to have a minimum 12.5 percent alcohol and must also be aged at the winery for a minimum of 24 months of which at least 3 months must be in bottle. The longer ageing protocol is designed to smooth out any rough edges and promote development of more complex flavors.

I recently had the pleasure of attending an informal tasting of 6 relatively inexpensive Chianti Classico wines of which 2 were Riserva. The wines all had relatively modest price tags that ranged from $20 to $30. The wines were tasted “blind”, that is the identity of the wines wasn’t revealed until after all the wines had been tasted and evaluated. Regardless of price all of the wines ranked high on a quality-to-price basis and all are available in major U.S. markets.

My favorite wine of the evening was the Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva. The energy of its red fruit aromas, light tannins and lively acidity appealed to me. The group as a whole, however, thought it a little austere and instead favored the Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico with its depth, supple texture and fruity dimensions.
The wines are listed alphabetically by producer.

Antinori, Chianti Classico Peppoli 2015 (about $24)
Peppoli takes its name from one of the satellite vineyards of the storied Marchese Piero Antinori wine estate. The Peppoli property is located a few miles southeast of Florence and consists of about 50 acres of vineyards planted primarily with Sangiovese as well as some international varieties.

2015 Chianti Classico Peppoli from the Antinori winery.The 2015 Chianti Classico Peppoli is a blend of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Merlot and Syrah, all from the Peppoli vineyard. The grapes are separately harvested and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel. After fermentation is complete, the wines are assembled and aged in oak casks for approximately 9 months then bottled and further aged for a few months prior to sale.

The Chianti Classico Peppoli is ruby red in color and offers up Chianti Classico’s benchmark red fruit, violet and aromatic spice aromas. It is medium-to-full-bodied with good mouthfeel and smooth and soft with dark cherry and plum flavors. The wine’s subtle tannins are integrated with a good vein of acidity and there’s just a hint of wood on the delicate finish.

Castello dei Rampolla, Chianti Classico 2014 (about $26)
Castello dei Rampolla is located near Panzano in the western part of the Chianti Classico zone. It is one of the pioneering biodynamic vintners in the Chianti region. Today, every aspect of the estate’s vineyard and cellar operations is implemented according to the biodynamic lunar calendar and organic, biodynamic preparations are used exclusively in place of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The estate’s 2014 Chianti Classico is a blend of 90 percent Sangiovese and 5 percent each Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine is aged for 8 months in concrete tanks followed by 12 months in large oak barrels and 6 additional months in the bottle prior to release.

While light in color it has good body and mouthfeel with supple tannins and elegant cherry and blackberry flavors that gain intensity as this richly-textured red builds to a lengthy, assertive finish. It’s a complex and enjoyable wine that rates especially high on a value-to-price basis.

Felsina, Berardenga Chianti Classico 2015 (about $23)
Fattoria di Felsina is located in Castelnuovo Berardenga which is east of Siena and the southern-most point in the Chianti Classico appellation. It is a large estate – at least by Tuscan standards - with approximately 1,500 acres under vine where it grows primarily Sangiovese and other indigenous varieties.

Felsina has long been one of the great names in the Tuscan wine world with a well-earned reputation for producing complex and age-worthy Chianti wines. This Chianti Classico is the estate’s entry-level Chianti offering.

2015 Felsina Berardenga Chianti ClassicoFelsina’s 2015 Chianti Classico is made entirely of Sangiovese that is fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 12 months in a combination of small and medium-sized oak casks and a minimum of 3 months ageing in the bottle prior to release.

This medium-bodied wine has inviting aromas of ripe red fruit with some subtle kitchen-spice notes and delicious berry and other dark fruit flavors. It has a delicate mouthfeel with smooth tannins with a touch of dried-spice notes on the finish adding a measure of finesse and elegance to the wine.

Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico 2014 (about $23)
The estate’s name dates back to the 1950’s when the De Marchi family purchased and combined two ancient, adjoining estates, Isole and Olena, located near the town of Castellina on the western edge of the Chianti Classico appellation. Its hillside vineyards are planted primarily with indigenous Sangiovese grapes as well as some international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay.

2014 Chianti Classico from the Isole e Olena wineryIsole e Olena’s 2014 Chianti Classico is a blend of 80 percent Sangiovese, 15 percent Canaiolo and 5 percent Syrah. The hand-harvested grapes are fermented in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks and then aged in a combination of small and large oak barrels for about a year.

The 2014 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico has a bright cherry red color with enticing red berry, dried flower and Asian spice aromas. It has a medium body with a juicy core of red cherry, strawberry and rich spice flavors with fine tannins backed by lively acidity and a pleasant cherry-stone bitterness gives lift to the finish.

Monsanto, Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 (about $20)
The Castello Monsanto estate lies a few miles west of Castellina-in-Chianti on the western edge of the Chianti Classico zone. The estate produces a number of Chianti Classico and Super-Tuscan wines as well as a Chardonnay. Of the estate’s 180 acres of vineyards approximately 140 acres are planted exclusively with Sangiovese.

Monsanto’s 2013 Chianti Classico Riserva is a blend of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent of two other traditional red varieties, Canaiolo and Colorino. After fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine is aged in large (50 hectoliter) oak barrels for a year and then spends an additional 3 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

2013 was an excellent vintage for Chianti Classico, one in a long string of such vintages. A wet, cool spring was followed by a long, slow growing season with warm but not hot days that promoted aromatic development and good acidity in the grapes.

The Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva has a deep garnet color and a gentle swishing of the glass offers up enticing red berry aromas. It’s medium-bodied and very elegant with a lovely core of red fruit, a pleasing texture with velvety tannins and a long and deep finish.

This Riserva would go well with a dish like roasted veal with mushrooms or a serving of Tuscan sausage with beans. And with a modest retail price tag of about $20, it rates high on a value-to-price basis.

Savignola Paolina, Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 (about $30)
Savignola is the name of the locale near Greve-in-Chianti and Paolina is the name of the woman that upgraded and expanded the winery in the mid-to-late 1900’s. It is currently owned and managed by Paolina’s granddaughter, Ludovica, and her husband, Antonio. They produce a few Chianti Classico wines, a Super-Tuscan wine as well as some Grappa and olive oil. With approximately 15 acres under vine, it’s a small-scale operation and production is limited so the wines can be hard to find.

Savignola Paolina’s 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva is a blend of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Colorino. The grapes are harvested from high-elevation vineyards with good exposure and the wine is aged in French oak barriques for 14 months.

While some Chianti Classico wines can be a bit lean, Savignola Paolina’s Chianti Classico has good definition and structure with a deep core of black cherry and currant flavors supported by Sangiovese’s benchmark acidity.  While the wine has broad shoulders, it combines depth and finesse in equal measure.

©Richard Marcis
March 1, 2018

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