San Giusto a Rentennano Chianti Classico: 2001-1990


When was the last time a grower presented a vertical of their entry-level wine where the youngest vintage was more than twenty years old? Never, in my experience. That’s exactly what Luca Martini di Cigala did during my most recent visit to San Giusto a Rentennano. It was a remarkable tasting and a fitting continuation of themes I explored last year in my report on vintages 2002 through 2010.

I have long sung the praises of Chianti Classico and its wines well before the wave of interest currently sweeping through the region. Not just the most famous wines from the top estates but also the straight Chianti Classicos that every producer offers as their entry-level bottling. Readers might be amused to learn that the first wine article I ever published was on Chianti Classico, some 25 years ago. Time and experience have taught me these wines often age beautifully. And they cost a fraction of the more coveted wines. This vertical offered plenty of data points to support those views. 

Producers sometimes cherry-pick the best vintages for vertical tastings, happily showing the best wines while quietly putting aside those that did not turn out well for whatever reason. Not here. Over the years, I have tasted many wines at San Giusto, including complete verticals of La Ricolma and Percarlo flagships. Luca Martini di Cigala has consistently shown all vintages in verticals, the good, the great and the maybe not-so-great, always offering candid and, at times, brutally critical views of his wines. That constant drive to learn and improve is precisely what makes San Giusto one of the top estates in the world today.

A remarkable vertical of San Giusto a Rentennano’s Chianti Classico spanning vintages 2001 to 1990.

Beyond the wines themselves, this tasting was interesting for a number of reasons. For starters, vintages 1991 through 1994, all years plagued by rain at inopportune times, are a reminder that growing conditions were far less favorable a generation ago than they are today when we are confronted with mostly high-quality vintages of different styles. Climate change started to be a measurable and visible factor. “Nineteen nighty-eight was the first year in which I saw sunburn physically on the grapes,” Luca Martini explained. 

The nineties were also a decade in which winemaking evolved from the rustic methods of the past to an approach that pays far more attention to detail, starting with work in the vineyards to techniques in the cellar. Early vintages were done with manual punch-downs, while today, the wines are made with modern equipment. A major turning point takes place in 1999 with a renovation of the winemaking cellar and the arrival of well-known consulting winemaker Attilio Pagli.

Vertical tastings often reveal unexpected surprises, like the 1991 Chianti Classico, a wine from a very challenging year that has developed beautifully.

The San Giusto Chianti Classico sees 15 days on the skins, vinified mostly in cement, with the malolactic fermentation also in vat, before being racked into oak. In the 1990s, the casks were still the older 50hL casks. “In 1999, we renovated the cellar and modified our cement tanks so we could do mechanized punch-downs,” Martini added.

I have said it many times before, but it bears repeating. Chianti Classico – especially those from the very best estates – is one of the best choices for readers looking for age-worthy reds that remain accessibly priced. This tasting showed once again how rewarding these wines can be when given a few (or more) years in bottle. 

I tasted all the wines in this article during a visit to San Giusto a Rentennano in June 2023. The bottles were opened and tasted without any advance aeration.

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