Chianti Classico: The Brilliant 2021s & Variable 2020s


It’s a fabulous time for readers who love Chianti Classico. The wines have never been better, as evidenced by both the growing number of estates making gorgeous Chianti Classicos and the stylistic breadth those wines encompass. The 2021s in particular are some of the most exciting young wines I have tasted in more than 25 years of visiting the region.

Michele Braganti at Monteraponi is among the growers who have made significant strides in quality in recent years.

Getting a Handle on Recent Vintages

Chianti Classico is one of the most nuanced regions readers will come across. Getting a handle on vintages is not especially easy. Much of this has to do with the expansiveness of an appellation that spans more than 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) of land, of which less than 10,000 are planted to wine grapes. Forests and land dedicated to the cultivation of other crops account for the vast majority of the terrain. That’s quite a contrast to key appellations in Bordeaux, Napa Valley, the Côte d’Or or the Langhe, where contiguous vineyards span large stretches of land in the monoculture that characterizes many wine regions today. A quick look at a map will show that today’s wineries and vineyards in Chianti Classico are the modern-day remnants of large, self-sustaining communities that were once owned by the noble class and worked by sharecropping families going back to Medieval times.

Moreover, the taster today – professional or consumer – is confronted with a vast range of new releases. In 2023, these include fresh 2022 reds, a bevy of 2021 Chianti Classicos and then an even larger selection of 2020 Riservas, Gran Seleziones and other single-vineyard wines, plus a smattering of releases from prior years. Because of this, new releases from Chianti Classico do not have a strong association with vintages in the way that wines from other regions do, with exceptions for years that are especially strong or poor. That said, in looking at vintages 2021 and 2020, both vintages have very clear personalities, even though the factors that shaped the wines differ from estate to estate, as do producers’ own views. 

Angela Fronti at her Vigna Istine. The Istine wines go from strength to strength.

First Thoughts on the 2021s…

Two thousand twenty-one is one of the most exciting young vintages I have tasted in Chianti Classico. Readers will get a very good sense of what the vintage has to offer by tasting through the new Chianti Classicos. These wines, known as ‘Annata,’ are the entry-level bottling for each estate. Readers will find wines with tons of aromatic intensity and vivid, rich fruit, all buttressed by the vibrant acids and salinity that are such Chianti Classico signatures. It is a truly magical vintage where everything comes together. In a world in which so many wines have become either hard to find or very expensive, Chianti Classico remains one of the very best values in the world. Readers looking for wines to buy by the case that can be opened with minimal fanfare but that also deliver exceptional complexity and pedigree will find so much to admire in the 2021s. At the higher levels, the 2021s I have tasted from barrel show tremendous promise.

The 2021 growing season is described by most producers as a year with dry, warm weather, some heat spikes in the summer and a cool end of season. Harvest was a few days later than in 2020, while the window for picking was also greater. “We had stronger diurnal shifts and a longer growing season in 2021 than in 2020,” Giovanni Manetti explained at Fontodi. “It’s a very rich vintage, with a lot of fruit,” Michele Braganti told me at Monteraponi.

What stands out most in tasting the 2021s is their exceptional textural harmony and finesse. The wines are a bit richer than the 2020s, but their balance is considerably finer, based on the wines I have tasted so far, which are the Chianti Classicos and barrel samples of some higher-end bottlings. Two thousand twenty also appears to be very consistent in that many properties turned out a brilliant Chianti Classico, in many cases their best ever. 

Lorenza Sebasti and Marco Pallanti presented another stellar set of wines at Castello di Ama.

Delving Further Into 2020

Two thousand twenty is an interesting vintage. Last year, I found the Chianti Classicos quite attractive. I imagine many of those wines benefitted from an extra kick of heat that helped ripening. That is not the case with all of the higher-end wines that appear in this report. Some 2020s are decidedly rich and bold, but others are lighter in body and compact in feel, with nervy tannins that will require a number of years to soften. 

“The year started with a winter that basically did not exist. Temperatures were higher than normal, and there was little rain. July and August were quite warm, but then we had rain at the end of August and early September that extended the growing season,” Lorenza Sebasti and Marco Pallanti reported at Castello di Ama. “We had all four seasons in 2020,” Martino Manetti shared at Montevertine. “Moreover, we were all home with nothing to do because of the lockdown, so we were able to spend a lot of time in the vineyards. I have never seen the vines in Chianti Classico look so good.”

Following warm weather at the beginning of the year, Spring frost lowered yields in some vineyards and caused challenges in others. Drought was an issue in other spots. Rain at the end of the summer proved to be a defining event for many properties. Late-season showers can be a positive, as rain refreshes the vines and can extend the growing season. For example, in Radda, which is the latest region to ripen, so many 2020s are incredibly impressive. But rain too close to harvest can bloat the grapes and result in a lack of concentration. Because rain is so localized, it is impossible to generalize its impact in a region as vast as Chianti Classico. That is very much the case in 2020, where there is some inconsistency and stylistic variability across the board. A number of 2020s are incredibly appealing for their intensity, while others have a nervous energy that is quite evident. Some of the 2020s are also a touch lower in alcohol than the norm these days. 

As much as weather can shape a vintage and wines, the human factor can’t be underestimated. Winemaking often comes down to making the right decisions at critical moments. That’s very much the case at San Giusto a Rentennano, where the team led by Luca Martini di Cigala turned out a magnificent Percarlo. “In 2020, we started to see some dehydration on the vine in early-maturing, well-draining sites, so we moved harvest up by five days,” Martini di Cigala explained. “Our harvest took place from September 16 to October 6, whereas in 2021 we started on September 22 and finished on October 15.” Other quality minded estates were especially selective in what they bottled.

Appreciating Chianti Classico Annata

Chianti Classico as a region has made some important strides in the last few years. These include introducing the Gran Selezione category as well as serious work to further delimit the region in what are now eleven UGAs (Unità Geografica Aggiuntiva). Most serious estates now pursue some version of sustainable viticulture, which is quite a change from just a few years ago. A younger generation of producers has given Chianti Classico an added kick of energy that has invigorated the scene. These are all huge positives. Along with all of this attention, there is a continued desire at many estates to make more ambitious, higher-end wines, which is also very good for the region, if those wines deliver.

All that said, readers should not forget the Chianti Classico Annatas. As a consumer who has been buying and drinking Chianti Classico for close to thirty years, for me, the Annatas are the real Chianti Classico. These wines encapsulate the personality of a vintage, a place and a house style better than single-vineyard wines, special selections or higher-end bottlings because they are made more simply, with less extraction, less influence from wood and don’t usually carry the imprint of a single site. Best of all, the Annatas remain exceptional values in today’s world.

I tasted all of the wines in this report during a visit to Chianti Classico in June 2023, with some follow-up tastings in New York in the weeks that followed. As always, this report focuses on Chianti Classico but also includes a few wines from neighboring appellations. Readers will find a number of new producers in this article, the largest I have written on Chianti Classico. A handful of wines were not bottled at the time of my tastings. I will endeavor to add reviews for those releases as soon as possible.

© 2023, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.

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