I am not sure if there is a region in the world with a wider quality range than Chianti. The wines range from rather regrettable all the way up to fantastically memorable. Many would argue that those in the latter category largely come from the sub-appellated Chianti Classico region—the original boundaries of the region. Chianti was identified as a region in 1716, but due to its popularity, it gradually expanded and became the largest wine production region in Italy.
In 1924, the Chianti Consortium was created for the protection of the origins of Chianti and “Classico” was added to delineate the wine made within the original borders of the 1716 proclamation. It was not until 1996, however, that Chianti Classico received DOCG status, a classification that guarantees the geographic designation and the quality.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to join another online chat by several producers of Chianti Classico, and I readily agreed. What made the tasting particularly enticing was that all six bottles were not only Chianti Classico, but Chianti Classico Riserva.
While the broader Chianti DOC has minimal regulations (mostly it must be at least 75% Sangiovese and at least 11.5% alcohol), Chianti Classico ups the ante (minimum 80% Sangiovese, no white grapes allowed, 12% alcohol, and at least 12 months in oak), and the Riserva goes even further (12.5% alcohol and 24 months in oak).
2011 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG “Il Poggio”: Retail $50. 90% Sangiovese and from 7% Canaiolo and 3% Colorino. Right off the bat, this wine is singing with notes of many elements that would make a fantastic pasta dish from the region: bacon, porcini mushroom, sage, and oregano. On the palate is where the fruit really exerts itself—rich and lush despite being already a half a dozen years from its vintage. Wonderful. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Marchesi Antinori Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG: Retail $35. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. I have to admit that this wine from another of the titans of the region was a bit of a stinker on night one—it was laden with Brett and even though I like a bit of funk in my wine, it was a bit too much. On day two, however, much of that barnyard element had blown off, revealing a wine with lovely violets, red berry fruit, blalsamic, and a touch of cinnamon. I had my doubts on the first night, but there is no question now that this is fantastic. Please give a good decant. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG: Retail $25. 90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot. Another stellar wine right from the jump with black and white pepper, dark cherry, a touch of cedar, and a sweet element reminiscent of maple syrup. Well-balanced with subtle fruit, vibrant acidity, and a meaty/funky component on the finish. I do love me some funk. This was a particularly good match with the fig stuffed roast pork that I happened to conger up for the tasting. OK, Thomas Keller conjured it up, I just tried not to screw it up. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Fèlsina Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG “Rancia”: Retail $60. 100% Sangiovese. Perhaps the darkest of the lot, and just one of two that are 100% Sangiovese, there are plenty of floral notes, tight red berries, and significant minerality. On the palate? OK, whoa. Rich, yet subtle, this quickly coats the mouth, causing you to forget just about every topic that had been racing through your mind for the last three days. The wine needs that much attention. A bit of tannin on the finish suggests this wine is just getting started. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2013 Barone Ricasoli “Brolio” Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG: Retail $40. 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Wild blackberry and vanilla with a dash of cardamom, this is a delightful wine. The tannins are integrated, the fruit is joyous, and the tartness holds it all together. More than any of the other wines (with the possible exception of the Castello di Volpaia below), this wine blurs the Old World/New World distinction. Yes, it is earthy, but also very fruit forward. For those that have eschewed Chianti in the past, this merits review. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2014 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG: Retail $30. The other 100% Sangiovese in the tasting, it also challenges that Old/New World paradigm. Like the other pure Sangiovese, this seems darker in the glass, and rather tight—some floral and dark berry notes. On the palate, the fruit comes rushing in, but it is not a fruit beast by any means. There is plenty of earth and intrigue to go along. This is the one wine that I would say without a doubt needs a bit more time (it is also the youngest). This is the first of the bunch where the tannins make a strong appearance on the finish. Certainly not a bad thing (at all), but I would give this 1-3 years at least. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.