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Brian St. Pierre

Professional Wine Expert

Best Chianti Classico & Chianti Red Wine

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Chianti is Italy’s oldest wine region (it goes back to the 14th Century), and the best-known (formally legislated by the Medicis in 1716, sold all over the world, it nearly became a generic name for Italian red wine). Until very recently, however, you could be forgiven for wondering what the fuss was about - no other wine in the world was so muddled and misshaped, by interfering politicians, bureaucrats, and mass-market industrialization; even in modern times, the best wines were rarely more than ordinary, pizza-parlor staples before pizza got sophisticated.

Aside from the Italian genius for interpreting the rules in creative ways, the biggest problem was that they had the wrong sort of grapes in the wrong places - quantity was valued more than quality. That began to end in 1989, with a project to select and grow the best sort of grapes, and to simplify the rules, and to bring Chianti into the 21st Century with some degree of grace and style. I was at the conference that launched the project, walked through the experimental vineyards, and wished the winemakers luck; many of us still had doubts. Not any more. It worked.

The proof is in the heart of the region, known as Chianti Classico (there are six other zones ranging around the Classico zone, all entitled to use the “Chianti” name as a prefix, i.e., Chianti Rufina, etc.). Chianti Classico is not only the best territory for grapes, but the wines are made to a higher standard. The main grape, sometimes the only one, is Sangiovese; small amounts of other wines may be blended in. What you get from it is a lovely aroma, almost perfumed, of cherries, violets, raspberries, and a flavor of cherries, sometimes a hint of plums, with a nice smack of refreshing acidity at the end. It’s a lean and, ideally elegant wine, angular rather than bulky or dense.

The good news doesn’t end there. The last four years have been a string of good vintages, so there’s an abundance to come for quite a while, and because of its previous reputation, prices are still fairly low. In fact, Chianti Classico is one of the best values in the wine world today.

These are chosen from the 2004 vintage, which was released in the autumn of 2007, but their track records are based on consistent quality over several years’ worth of tasting. There is still some 2001 around by the way, a superb vintage. If you see it, don’t think twice, go for it.

Choose the best Chianti Classico for your next Italian meal. Always the best price, Chianti wine offers some of the best vintages in the last years for superior taste.

Best Chianti Classicos by Brian St. Pierre

The Best You Can Get

  • Castello di Fonterutoli

    Brian says: This is the “reserve”-style wine on an ancient estate, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and labeled with the full name of the winery (a secondary wine is simply known as Fonterutoli). The Cabernet gives the wine a deep color and some extra muscle without being intrusive, while oak-aging firms it up for the long haul. A wine to put aside for 3-5 more years to enjoy at its best.

  • Tenuta Fontodi

    Brian says: This thoroughly modern estate makes several different blends of wine in different styles, but their straight-ahead Chianti Classico is still a benchmark wine, with a touch more finesse than their fairly powerful siblings. It’s classic Classico.

  • Castello di Ama

    Brian says: This estate was part of the new wave of outsiders who arrived in the 1970s and revived the vineyards and olive groves, helping lead the way to Chianti’s modern success. Some of their individual-vineyard wines are award-winners despite (or perhaps because of) a macho sort of overbearing density and oakiness, but the Classico, which includes more of several lighter grapes, is elegance defined.

  • Fattoria di Felsina

    Brian says: Many Chiantis labeled “Riserva” tend to be more oaky than the regular bottlings from the same estates, attracting people who like that sort of woody flavor and are happy to pay more for it. Felsina’s Riserva, labeled “Rancia” after the location of the vineyards, instead gets its serious character from the altitude and soil of those choice vineyards, and by the addition of a small amount of dried grapes to the wine while it ferments. The result is atypical - lush and rich - but wonderful.

  • Castello di Volpaia

    Brian says: The progression from regular, reserve, and single-vineyard Chiantis at this ancient estate is remarkable: They’re all medal-worthy - ascending from elegant, ethereal bronze to gracefully substantial silver to the full-bore, operatic vitality of the gold, labeled “Coltassala,” made mostly from a darker clone of Sangiovese known as Sangioveto. It’s a wine to drink in four to five years, with a special dinner.

You will be happy with any of these

  • Isole e Olena

    Brian says: When you see the winemaker spending as much time tending to his grapes in the vineyards as he does inside among the barrels, that’s a good sign, and that’s why Paolo de Marchi’s wines are so consistently true to form - and so seductive.

  • Castello d’Albola

    Brian says: Owned by a large winemaking-family corporation, this should have been the flagship property, but it wavered for decades. Now it’s back on track, with an exuberant, lovely, and characterful Classico labeled “Le Ellere.”

  • Castello di Verrazzano

    Brian says: This is an impressive, beautifully restored castle, the birthplace of the discoverer of New York and much of America’s East Coast, with vineyards going back to the 12th Century. The Riserva is polished and firm, quite dry and fresh.

  • Badia a Coltibuono

    Brian says: An ancient winery with a modern outlook, Badia has converted to organic grape-growing and changed the house style to lighter, crisply fresher wines, such as their “Cultus Boni” bottling - lightly spicy, lively, with a tart, lingering aftertaste.

  • Castello della Paneretta

    Brian says: This estate shares the same valley as Isole e Olena, which is obviously a blessed place for wine. The style here is straightforwardly traditional, even slightly rustic - deep dark cherry fruitiness, chewy texture, lasting flavor.

Related Articles

Choose the best Chianti Classico vintage to go with dinner, whether a fine Italian meal or American fare. Chianti wine offers some of the best vintages from a region known for its great wines. We recommend Chianti red wine from Castello, Badia and others with a consistently good track record.