Chianti Classico: The Brilliant 2021s & Variable 2020s
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | AUGUST 29, 2023
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
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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