Tuscany provides us with perhaps the world’s most iconic red: Chianti. Such familiarity may cause undervaluation; Chianti can stand with the best red wines from anywhere. Like many Old World wines, Tuscan wines have seen quality improvement due to modernization in winemaking techniques.
Many people remember the straw-covered bottle called fiascho, from the Italian for flask. One rarely sees Chianti in such bottles anymore. Stronger glass and improved packing materials have diminished their necessity, unless you have a red and white checked tablecloth and need a candleholder. We carry a one liter fiascho, 09 Terre di Poppiano ($16.99), just right for a spaghetti feast.
Chianti has always starred the magnificent Sangiovese grape. Its bright cherry tones and smoky/spicy aromatics tantalize, to say the least. Sangiovese wines bestirs the appetite like few others. The other grapes in the Chianti show traditionally were lesser known varieties, including white ones. Regulations now allow producers to use more familiar varieties like Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah to flesh out and highlight Sangiovese’s charm.
Wines simply labeled Chianti DOC provide the most basic form of Chianti. These wines can hail from anywhere in the region. Those labeled Chianti Classico come from one of seven subzones in Chianti and represent the region’s historic center. Since 1996, the white grapes in Classicos have been given the bum’s rush and are restricted from the blends.
To earn Riserva status, a Chianti must be aged at least two years before release. All Chianti are ready to drink on release. The finest can be cellared 5-10 years, or even more. Yes, Chianti goes well with tomato-based sauces, but need not be restricted to such usage. Chianti matches with roasts of all sorts, grilled meats, and cheese, as well.
07 Riserva, Tomaiolo $10.99
10, Ruffino $11.99 The best selling Italian red in the U.S. Also comes in 1.5l bottles ($19.99).
08, Monastero Classico $13.99
08, Savignola Paolino Classico $14.99 95% Sangiovese, with the traditional Chianti variety Canaiolo for structure.
08 Riserva Classico, Tomaiolo $14.99
06, Monsanto Classico $24.99 No, not that Monsanto.
07 Colli di Senesi, Poggio Salvi, Caspagnolo $17.99 From the hills surrounding Siena, one of the seven Chianti subzones.
07 Reserva Ducale Classico, Ruffino $22.99
09 Isole e olena Classico $24.99
One of the great younger Chianti producers.
08 Pèppoli, Antinori Classico $26.99 Produced exclusively from Antinori’s prized Pèppoli vineyard. A small amount of Merlot and Syrah and the use of vanilla-toned American oak produce a unique and engaging Chianti style.
06 Marchese Antinori Classico, $33.99 Produced from Antinori’s exclusive holdings, including the Pèppoli and Tignanello vineyards.
Elsewhere in Tuscany
Hard to say elsewhere when speaking of wines like Brunello di Montalcino, which can be numbered among the great wines of Italy and the world.
• Brunello di Montalcino features 100% Sangiovese. Fuller in body and more intense than most Chianti, they are long-lived, intensely aromatic, and supremely delicious.
• Rosso di Montalcino, basically Brunello with less aging. More forward and less expensive than Brunello
• Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, made largely with Sangiovese under its local alias, Prugnolo. Unrelated to and finer than Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo.
07 Brunello di Montalcino, Capanna $49.99 The Wine Enthusiast rated the vintage at 95 points and the wine itself at 97 points. The math works out to an amazing wine experience.
09 Rosso di Montalcino, Sabazio $14.99 Savory and ready to drink. Exceptional value!
07 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Poliziano $29.99 Sangiovese with some Canaiolo, built in a meaty, impressive style.
Extending the modern vision of Chianti, many producers in Tuscany bottle what are popularly called Super Tuscans. These developed when creative producers started experimenting with unorthodox grape varieties or methods. Originally, these often astoundingly fine wines could only carry the lowly vino da tavolo designation. Authorities put in place a new designation, Indicazione Geographica Tipica, to indicate that the wines meet certain quality standards.
07 Villa Antinori $24.99 Great value for a beguiling wine. Sangiovese enriched with Cabernet and Merlot. Villa Antinori routinely receives 90+ ratings. Well-evolved and ready to drink, yet with the promise of further development.
99 Tignanello, Antinori $99.99 One of the first Super Tuscans, and one of the best. Tignanello originally sold itself as a Chianti. In the mid 1970s, the always innovative Antinori removed the white grapes from the blend, disqualifying it as a Chianti. In 1982, the blend switched to Sangiovese with Cabernet sauvignon and Cabernet franc. The results are super-charged. Fully-knit with boundless depth, Tignanello is a magnificent achievement, as the critics constantly aver.