Classico – A Modern Day Benchmark
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | AUGUST 22, 2019
I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about
Chianti Classico and its wines. My July trip included a number of truly memorable
estate visits, two unforgettable verticals, and the thrill of discovering a handful
of wineries that were new to me. The top 2016s have turned out to be just as
extraordinary as I had hoped they would be, and the 2017s, while less
consistent, have plenty to offer as well.
Lorenza Sebasti and Marco Pallanti (not pictured) at
Castello di Ama made one of the epic wines of 2016 with their Merlot L’Apparita
The Magnificent 2016s….
Earlier this year, in my article Chianti
Classico 2015 & 2016: In the Right Place at the Right Time I wrote “A
balanced growing season with no shock events produced a set of truly
exceptional, highly promising wines. The 2016s are distinguished by their
superb aromatic presence, silky tannins, layered fruit and fabulous sense of
harmony. The 2016s I have tasted so far point to a high-quality vintage that
may very well turn out to be profound.” Those sentiments, originally expressed
after having tasted the straight Chianti Classicos very much ring true for the
Riservas and other top-tier 2016s, the best of which are simply extraordinary. Near-perfect
conditions with long hours of sun, well-timed rains and no excesses resulted
in relaxed, drawn out harvest under warm days and cool nights, exactly the
conditions in which Sangiovese thrives. Although the 2016s in this report are mostly
at the mid and upper tiers of producers’ ranges, I would be remiss in not
pointing out the sweet spot in 2016, and that is at the Riserva level, not Gran
Selezione (which I will discuss later), but the straight Riservas, in other
words the wines just above straight Chianti Classico. The best of these wines
offer the consumer extraordinary quality and value.
The view from the main farmhouse at Fèlsina’s Rancia farmhouse looking across Rancia and into the neighboring
The 2017 Chianti Classicos – Ripe, Racy and Forward
Two thousand seventeen is far trickier than 2016. Frost in
May was devastating, especially on the lower hillsides. Warm, dry weather, with
virtually no rain, was the theme for the rest of the year. The crop was very
light, both because of frost and then dehydration on the vine. To make matters
even more dramatic, the grapes that did come in had very little juice. As a
result, the 2017s are powerful, racy wines. Even so, acidities seemed to stay
pretty healthy. I didn’t run into too many wines that tasted jammy or cooked,
but did taste a number of wines I would rather enjoy on the young side. The
best 2017s have plenty to offer, although they don’t reach the level of the
Proprietor Luca Martini di Cigala in the original La
Ricolma vineyard. San Giusto a Rentennano follows up their majestic 2015 La
Ricolma with an equally thrilling 2016
The Latest Developments
As always in Chianti Classico, there is plenty going on
within the appellation. From all accounts, Gran Selezione seems to be working
well from a commercial standpoint. That may very well be the case. I still wish the quality bar was higher. For example, while working only with estate grown fruit (a Gran Selezione requirement) is noble, that in and of itself in no way guarantees quality. This year I tasted too many Gran Seleziones that were modest, especially for an appellation that is meant to represent the pinnacle of excellence. Some wines were, frankly, dismal. It is my hope that the producers' Consorzio will recognize that even one sub-standard Gran Selezione hurts the category, and that quality requirements will become more stringent. Lastly, some producers seem to feel the need to make super-concentrated Gran Seleziones, often with heavy oak influence, which in the end obscures varietal and site detail. Obviously, those are stylistic choices, but I often find more character in the straight Riservas than in the Gran Seleziones
At present, Gran Seleziones must be 80% Sangiovese and 20%
other grapes. A proposal currently debated calls for moving the Sangiovese up
to 90% and restricting the remaining 10% to indigenous grapes, whereas
international varieties are currently permitted. If approved, that will create
an interesting dilemma for some producers such as Castello di Ama, which would
be forced to reduce the Malvasia Nera in their Bellavista and could no longer
market their La Casuccia as Gran Selezione because of the Merlot in the blend.
Similarly, Isole e Olena’s Gran Selezione, which includes international
varieties, and is one of the finest examples of the category, would be out of the appellation. It will be interesting to see how
that plays out. Another initiative is the creation of formally designated
sub-zones that would recognize the villages of Chianti Classico individually.
So, for example, the main villages, including Gaiole, Castellina, Greve and
Radda, would all be officially delimited and those designations could be
used on labels. The current proposal calls for about ten appellations to be
created, which would cover the main villages, plus a handful of other sub-zones
such as Panzano and San Donato that, from a viticutural perspective, are very
clearly different and unique from the broader villages they presently fall
Winemaker Manfred Ing and CEO Roberto Lasorte at Querciabella
This year, I couldn’t help but notice the number of top flight wines I tasted from Radda. As readers probably know, Radda is home to the highest vineyards in Chianti Classico. That is almost certainly an asset now, a period in time future generations are likely to look back on as an era when climate change became a very real and determinant issue. Montevertine has long cast a shadow in Radda because of their historical track record of excellence, but they have been joined in recent years by Monteraponi, Volpaia, Poggerino, Istine, Caparsa, Tenuta di Carleone and Querciabella, among others. Some of these estates are more established, others are younger, but they are all making compelling wines.
Montevertine; the upper blocks are used for the flagship
Pergole Torte, while the midslopes go into Montervertine
Don’t Miss New Releases
This is my short list of the most exceptional wines being
released this year. These aren’t necessarily the highest scoring wines, but
rather those that speak most deeply to me. It is always hard to narrow a list
like this down to something manageable, so I have limited the entries to one
wine per estate in order to have the broadest representation of properties possible.
Antinori - Tenuta Tignanello 2016 Tignanello –
Antinori achieves stunning quality with a level of production that makes the
2016 Tignanello the most widely available wine on this list.
Caparsa 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva Caparsino –This 100% Sangiovese Riserva from Caparsa is positively stellar.
Castellare 2015 I Sodi di S. Niccolo – Quite simply
the most profound, breathtaking vintage of the estate’s flagship wine I have
Castello di Ama 2016 L'Apparita – Ama’s 100% Merlot
L’Apparita achieves a stratospheric level of finesse and class.
Castello dei Rampolla 2015
D'Alceo – Another superb edition of Rampolla's signature wine.
Le Cinciole 2015 Petresco – Le Cinciole's top Sangiovese is also the single greatest wine I have tasted from the estate.
Fattoria La Massa 2016 Giorgio Primo – La Massa’s
Giorgio Primo reaches a new level of finesse in 2016.
Fattoria Poggiopiano 2016 Rosso di Sera – Sumptuous,
alluring and exotically beautiful, the 2016 Rosso di Sera is simply magnificent.
Fèlsina 2016 Chianti
Classico Riserva Rancia – Fèlsina’s flagship Chianti Classico Riserva
Rancia melds together finesse with power, reaching an uncanny level of
Fontodi 2016 Flaccianello della Pieve – All of the
work Giovanni Manetti has done over the last few years to give his wines more
elegance is realized in the majestic 2016.
Isole e Olena 2016 Cepparello – A soaring and
stunningly pure expression of Sangiovese.
Montevertine 2016 Le Pergole Torte – An absolutely
thrilling edition of Chianti Classico’s most iconic wine. Magnificent.
San Giusto a Rentennano 2016 La Ricolma – The Martini
di Cigala family follow up the 2015 Ricolma with an equally thrilling 2016.
Podere Il Carnasciale 2016 Il Caberlot – A wine of soaring
intensity and regal bearing, the 2016 is one of the greatest Caberlot ever
Querciabella 2015 Camartina – A remarkably finessed wine for the year, the 2015 Camartina is a fabulous example of the house style.
Vecchie Terre di Montefili 2015 Anfiteatro – The 2015 Anfiteatro cements Vecchie Terre di Montefili's position as one of the top estates in Chianti Classico today.
Vecchie Terre di Montefili is making some of the most exciting wines in Chianti Classico
Chianti Classico is full of reasonably priced wines, the best of which also age well. These
are a few that especially impressed me this year. While the focus of this report is Chianti Classico, I also tasted a number of gorgeous whites from the 2018 vintage that impressed me for their freshness and energy, and that are terrific values as well.
Castellare 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva
Castello di Meleto 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna
Castello di Monsanto 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva
Fèlsina 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva
Fontaleoni 2016 Vernaccia di S. Gimignano Riserva
Il Borghetto 2016 Montigiano
Il Molino di Grace 2016 Chianti Classico
Il Molino di Grace 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva
Isole e Olena 2016 Chianti Classico
Le Calcinaie 2016 Vernaccia di S. Gimignano Riserva Vigna ai
Le Fonti 2016 Chianti Classico
Monterotondo 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva Seretina
Pagliarese 2017 Chianti Classico
Podere Il Carnasciale 2017 Ottantadue
Podere Il Castellaccio 2017 Valente
Poggio La Noce 2016 Gigetto
Querciabella 2017 Chianti Classico
San Giusto a Rentennano 2017 Chianti Classico
Tenuta di Capraia 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva
Terrabianca 2016 Campaccio
Vecchie Terre di Montefili 2016 Chianti Classico
Volpaia 2016 Chianti Classico
Riserva Castello di Volpaia
Chianti Classico fans can look forward to extensive
verticals of Fèlsina’s Fontalloro and San Giusto a Rentennano’s La Ricolma in
the near future. We will also be publishing my Tuscan Notebook, which has
tasting notes on many benchmark wines from vintages 2006 through 2009 that have
not been published previously.
Antinori’s Tignanello property, Montefiridolfi
A Thank You to Vinous Readers
The pace of change in wine is impossible to keep up with.
This year, I asked Vinous readers for a list of estates in Chianti Classico they
would like to see covered. I think I got to them all, and the one or two that
are missing will be added to this report shortly. I would like to thank Vinous
readers for their important contributions to this article. It is a privilege to
write for you. That may sound like lip service, but it is not. It is a
heartfelt sentiment. On the subject of missing estates, finding the optimal
time to taste the wines and publish a large article such as this one is always a big challenge. Last year, I opted to wait to
publish this report until I had tasted all the wines, which in turn delayed the publication
of my article. This year, I decided to publish the lion’s share of the reviews
now. I will add a handful of remaining estates and wines over the coming weeks.
All of the wines in this article were tasted in July 2019. You Might Also Enjoy
Chianti Classico 2015 & 2016: In the Right Place at the Right Time, Antonio Galloni, February 2019
Rocca di Montegrossi: Chianti Classico Vigneto San Marcellino 1995–2013, Antonio Galloni, August 2018
Chianti Classico: The Stellar 2015s and Surprising 2014s, Antonio Galloni, January 2018
2014 Chianti Classico: Better Late Than Never, Antonio Galloni, October 2019