This is the third edition of Chianti Classico Collection I write about on Sommelier Life. My first report went online less than two years ago, but if I look back, I am blown away by how much the region has changed since then. Chianti Classico is by far one of Italy’s most dynamic appellations.
What we bring home from this tasting is that:
– Chianti Classico is going strong. As I wrote in an article on Decanter in January, producers and regulators from this historical appellation have managed to enact substantial changes that have resulted in skyrocketing popularity among connoisseurs.
– Over the past five years, the average quality has grown exponentially, regardless of vintage variation and despite global uncertainty. Every year I find new wineries worth looking for; every year historical ones raise the quality bar.
– The region’s main strength lies in the outstanding quality of the entry-level wines. On the other hand, the top-shelf Gran Selezione category still fails to achieve consistency. While it can potentially elevate the appellation’s international positioning, this tier currently offers little beyond bold and oak-influenced wines lacking a real sense of place (more on the few exceptions at this link)
– The introduction of U.G.A (communal subzones) was a clever move: site-specificity is what we need to avoid homogenization. The problem, however, lies in the implementation of these subzones: the Gran Selezione wines are the least suited to carry the U.G.A. names. The Consorzio has to extend the possibility of mentioning the U.G.A. on the labels to Annata and Riserva.
The 2021 and 2020 vintages in brief
I have both good news and bad news: the good news is that the average quality of the late-released 2020 Annata is quite stunning. The 2020s may not have the tension and depth of the more acclaimed 2019s, but in one year the tannins have become softer, and the aromas have gained delineation. The wines are downright delicious right now but also have enough potential to age well for 10-15 years.
The bad news is that 2021 is a difficult vintage to decipher, with few standouts and several perplexing wines. The 2021 Annatas evoke the irregularities of the season – a rainy and wet spring was followed by a scorching hot and dry summer. Sometimes the acidity is just too low, but I also found examples with prominent herbal notes hinting at grapes having been harvested too early, perhaps to avoid excess alcohol.
In such a trivial vintage, the U.G.A. hierarchy is more evident than ever before – the wines of Radda, Lamole, and Gaiole stand out for their purity and precision; those from Castelnuovo Berardenga are often freshness-challenged, while higher-altitude sites in Vagliagli gave more convincing renditions; San Casciano performed better than expected and offers a bunch of surprising wines; examples from Castellina, Montefioralle and San Donato in Poggio are bit inconsistent, while Panzano gave impactful wines that only lack a bit of tension.
All in all, 2020 was a considerably better vintage. Six out of ten wines in this top 10 are 2020s. But then again, bottle aging helps a lot. Chianti Classico usually requires at least two years from release to show its full potential.
10. I Fabbri – Lamole 2020
U.G.A. : Lamole
“Lamole” is one of the U.G.A.s to watch: with sandstone-rich soils adding to the wines’ textural delicacy and finesse, this high altitude area in the township of Greve is by all means a Chianti Classico Grand Cru. Low-intervention winery I Fabbri’s Lamole displays blood orange, tart raspberries, and peony, with underlying tones of minerals and wet earth; it is slender but not diluted: vibrant acidity cuts through the fragrant bramble fruits along with searing tannins. Balsam herbs and blood orange echo on the Pinot-like finish.
9. Istine – 2021
U.G.A. : Radda
Lamole shares a prominent altitude with Radda, but has radically different soils and gives more austere and compact wines. Angela Fronti crafted a quintessential Raddese annata displaying aromas of forest floor and bramble fruits. The solid tannic backbone gives energy and depth, and a mix of balsam herbs and dark berries outlines the compellingly racy finish.
8. Cigliano di Sopra – 2021
U.G.A. : San Casciano
The 2021 annata by this up-and-coming winery is a bit shy at first – subtle nuances of raspberry, violet, and dried herbs slowly emerge; on the palate, however, it shows remarkable balance between plump fruit, bright acidity, and mineral undertones complicating the savory finish.
7. Val delle Corti – 2020
U.G.A. : Radda
Going back to Radda with a lovely wine by talented producer Roberto Bianchi. It displays quintessential aromas of redcurrant, raspberry, cigar ash, and potpourri. It enters delicate, and suave and then turns savorier and mineral-driven. It is slim, lively, and wonderfully refreshing on the long finish featuring blood orange and iron.
6. Montesecondo – 2021
U.G.A. : San Casciano
Another artisanal winery that has earned a reputation for making fine low-intervention wines. This wine is the result of an ultra-minimalist approach that involves spontaneous fermentation of organic grapes, concrete aging, bottling with little sulfur, and no filtration. It exudes the warmth of the San Casciano area, with the fruit veering toward ripe cherry. Judicious acidity counterbalances the plumpness, and ferrous minerality dominates the long and vibrant finish.
5. Monteraponi – 2021
U.G.A. : Radda
Monteraponi is one of the best estates in Radda. Compared to the ’20 and ’19, the ‘21 Monteraponi starts just a bit tight but still possesses tension and poise, with succulent dark fruits and lovely balsamic finesse to its mouthwatering progression. Keep it aside for at least a couple of years.
4. Montecalvi – 2020
U.G.A. : Montefioralle
I am deeply fond of the wines made by Tim Manning, a talented winemaker who has previously worked at Riecine and in the Willamette Valley. Tim produces Burgundian-style Sangiovese wines, often carrying out whole bunch fermentation (which adds to the wines’ finesse and freshness). This captivating Annata is a case in point – it opens to aromas of sweet violets, balsam herbs, and game. Suave and airy, a savory tang complicates the fragrant fruit flavors echoing on the multifaceted finish.
3. San Giusto a Rentennano – 2020
U.G.A. : Gaiole
If you are familiar with Sangiovese, then you should already know this historical estate. The 2020 Annata by the Martini di Cigala family is extremely distinctive: earthy and balsamic, with whiffs of dried herbs framing the dark fruit. It stands out for its breadth, power, and flavor intensity, while not being overbearing. It’s rich, concentrated and powerful but also fresh and well-delineated, with hints of burnt vegetation complicating flinty red cherry and blackcurrant on the youthfully austere finish.
2. Isole e Olena – 2020
U.G.A. : San Donato in Poggio
Alea iacta est: Paolo Marchi left the helm of the Isole e Olena estate, and handed it over to the E.P.I group of Charles Heidsieck and Biondi Santi fame. Hopefully the style of the wines will not change, as they are absolutely gorgeous right now. The 2020 Annata is a “Petit Cepparello”: redolent of wet earth, iron, laurel, and cigar box, with indomitable freshness and roaring tannins propelling a complex progression that is both creamy and light on its feet. While thoroughly enjoyable upon release, this multifaceted Chianti Classico with considerably better in five to ten years.
1. Tenuta di Carleone – 2020
U.G.A. : Radda
Sean O’ Callaghan produced the single most exhilarating wine tasted at the event – a pure expression of the Radda subzone. The aromas are strikingly refined – violets and kir royal, anise, lavender, and a hint of leather. Airy, refreshing, and almost Burgundian in style, this knockout Classico is endowed with terrific balance between structural richness and piercing acidity giving it a sense of weightlessness. Undergrowth and balsam herbs echo on the deep and multilayered finish.