Feature Story, Game Changers

Game Changers | Chianti Classico

After years of dominating Italian wine lists, Chianti Classico fell off the radar for many diners. Quality had dipped and flashy Super Tuscan wines, made with international varieties, became the rage. Now the pendulum is swinging back in Chianti Classico’s direction, with fans of the region seeking food-friendly, terroir-expressive wines from native varities like sangiovese. Organic viticulture is a growing trend among Classico producers, and momentum is building for a proposal to create official subzones that will help consumers explore terroir differences within the larger Classico zone. The 2015 and 2016 growing seasons were exceptionally good, yet the wines still offer tremendous value, with plenty of stellar options in the $25-to-$35 range. Chianti Classico has become my go-to wine several nights a week. Here are a few recent recommendations to begin your exploration.

Castello di Ama 2015 Chianti Classico Ama
First bottled in the 2010 vintage, this wine combines fruit from younger vines of the estate’s four vineyards: Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo and Montebuoni. Aromas of rose petals lead into vibrant flavors of red cherry accented with savory grilled herbs. The fruit feels fully ripe, yet there’s a cool core to this wine that’s amplified by a streak of graphite minerality. Fine-grained tannins firm up the structure, but this promises plenty of immediate pleasure. (91 points, $32; The Sorting Table, Napa, CA)

Monte Bernardi 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva
Michael Schmelzer says he finds more satisfaction from challenging vintages like 2014 than from easy ones. This wine, from his biodynamically farmed Panzano vineyards, shines in its fleshy red-cherry flavors. Notes of fresh mushroom and oregano lend dimension and depth, while a crushed-granite minerality firms up the structure. (90 points, $31; T. Edward Wines, NY)

Castello dei Rampolla 2014 Chianti Classico
Harvested from biodynamically farmed vines on the south-facing Conca d’Oro amphitheater near Panzano, this has a burst of chalky white acidity that makes its flavors of red cherry and raspberry particularly mouthwatering. As the wine lasts, notes of crunchy herbs and subtle spice linger on the finish. (90 points, $36; Vias Imports, NY)

Félsina 2015 Chianti Classico Berardenga
Scents of lilac and mint preview the fresh, herbal notes that highlight this wine’s vibrant flavors. It’s juicy with black cherry and raspberry fruit, propelled forward by cool, mineral tannins and mouthwatering acidity. This is a wine to buy by the case and follow its progress over the next couple of years. (92 points, $27; Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, NY)

Rocca di Montegrossi 2015 Chianti Classico
Some well-timed rainstorms during the hot 2015 summer, along with cool nights near harvest time, allowed Montegrossi to turn out a concentrated yet balanced wine. It shows the season’s ample ripeness in its lush black-cherry and plum flavors, framing them in firm, mineral tannins. Delicious straight out of the bottle, it improves with time in the glass, picking up notes of lavender and oregano, and will be even better in a year. (90 points, $30; North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, CA)


This feature appears in the print edition of the Fall 2018.
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