Here is a tasting of a baker’s dozen of Chianti Classico wines (with one super-Tuscan thrown into the mix). It has taken me a while to taste through these wines, supplied to me by the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, so my apologies if some vintages have moved on with the retailers listed below. There are six Chianti Classicos here, mostly from the 2003 vintage, and the good news is that 2004 was an excellent vintage for Chianti Classico too. The half dozen Riservas tasted are mostly from 2000, but again the 2001 vintage was a good one, with relatively low volumes of wine.
The UK is currently the fourth largest export market for Chianti Classico, accounting for 12% of exports. Although Chianti Classico is a small appellation, the region has traditionally enjoyed a strong international presence. In the past there have been two Chianti Classico Consortiums – the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and the Consorzio del Marchio Storico – which represented the region’s producers. Now the two competing and confusing conzorzia have merged into one unified organisation. For the first time all the producers in the denomination Chianti Classico – more than 600 of them – can make use of the ancient Black Rooster emblem on their bottles. I visited the Chianti Classico region at the end of last year to, so look out for my report on tastings with the winemakers from a dozen top estates, to be published soon.
Banfi (Italy) Chianti Classico 2003
Castello Banfi’s 2003 is a blend of 90 per cent Sangiovese with 10 per cent of Canaiolo/Colorino. It spends a relatively short three months in Slavonian oak, but the initial impression on the nose is of spicy, cedary, tobacco and toast, though a fine, pure, cherry-fruited concentration begins to show throw. On the palate there’s a slightly raw edge to this wine, but it has good fruit and a creamy ripeness in the mouth, with soft, generous tannin structure and just enough acidity to balance. 87/100. £8.49, Majestic. See all stockists at wine-searcher
Pieve di Spaltenna (Italy) Chianti Classico 2001
This 100% Sangiovese wine is aged in a mix of French and Slavonian oak. The nose immediately suggests a soft, ripe, rounded and maturing wine, with delicious spiciness and deep-set bramble and rich berry fruit, all framed by a tobacco warmth. On the palate the fruit has very good ripeness, with a sweet, mouth-filling texture and a nice edge of black cherry acidity. There is a smoky, chocolaty depth to this win on the finish, where ripe tannins and a gentle acidity support without dominating. Delicious stuff. 89/100. £8.99, Oddbins.
Badia a Coltibuono (Italy) Chianti Classico 2003
The beautiful estate of Badia a Coltibuono uses 90 per cent Sangiovese and 10 per cent Canaiolo in its Classico 2003, aged in a mix of Austrian and French oak. This is quite a subdued, quietly reserved wine on the nose, with a compact, suave aroma of deep-set cherry fruit with just a polish of cedar and spice. On the palate it is equally grown-up, food-friendly and savoury, with dry black cherry fruit and a supple, savoury framework of tannins and acidity giving classicism and style to this wine. Lovely. 90/100. £8.99. Tesco.
Borgo Salcetino (Italy) Chianti Classico 2003
A blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo, with one-third aged in barriques. There’s a lot of very bold, forward, clove-scented cherry fruit on the nose of this wine, as well as a bloody, vegetal streak or herbs and damp earth. On the palate it has very sweet, bold and ripe fruit that has a juicy black cherry and blackcurrant quality, wrapped in a sheen of smoky oak. The tannins are firm and grainy, and there is decent acidity here in a wine that packs a lot of personality at the price. 88/100. £8.99, Waitrose. See all stockists at wine-searcher
Villa Caffagio (Italy) Chianti Classico 2003
Villa Caffagio’s 2003 is a 100 per cent Sangiovese wine aged in larger Slavonian oak casks. It has a very rich, dark colour, and a chocolaty, brooding depth of ripe berry fruit on the nose that is almost minty and blackcurranty, with plenty of richness evident. On the palate this is lovely: sweet, ripe, full black fruit fills the mouth, with a savoury, drying background of slightly chalky tannins, a gentle spice and cedary quality and just enough acidity to freshen. It is fruity yet has some structure, in a generous, open style. 90/100. £9.99 Marks and Spencer. See all stockists at wine-searcher
Castello di Brolio (Italy) Chianti Classico 2003
This 100 per cent Sangiovese Chianti spends 10 months in barriques. This has a very dark, vibrant crimson colour, and a nose displaying a deep, Sandalwood and violet scented nose that is modern and sophisticated. There is plenty of fruit, and a brooding suggestion of depth and muscularity. In the mouth this is flecked with tobacco and spice, and a rich, rolling palate of chewy red and black berry fruits, all with a nice roughening edge of abrasive tannins, though the overall effect is silky and quite elegant. The acidity is good again here, in a very fine, confident wine. 89/100. £10.99, Sainsbury’s. See all stockists at wine-searcher
Monteguelfo (Italy) Chianti Classico Riserva 2002
A blend of 90 per cent Sangiovese with 10 per cent Canaiolo. This has a fairly pale ruby colour, and a nose of spicy, smoky, tobacco-infused red fruits that are quite soft and pulpy. On the palate this seems a touch dilute, with a sweetness of fruit butting against the spicy, vanillin oak, with not quite enough richness and mid-palate texture. It is elegant and has a fairly good, long finish, and may be better with the right food. 86/100. £9.99, Thresher, Wine Rack. Carpineto (Italy) Chianti Classico Riserva 2000
I’m a long-time follower of Carpineto’s good value super-Tuscan Dogajolo, but this Chianti is 100 per cent Sangiovese, aged in Slavonian and French oak. Unfortunately the wine was badly TCA tainted, though the flavours seemed powerful and rich. What a pity. £13.50, Avery’s. See all stockists at wine-searcher
Ruffino Ducale (Italy) Chianti Classico Riserva 2001
90 per cent Sangiovese with 10 per cent of Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This has a fairly youthful garnet colour and quite a dark, earthy character on the nose with some sour cherry and plum fruit. On the palate there’s a note of espresso-like darkness to this, with more of that plummy fruit, with a plum-skin bite of darkness and acidity, and polished tannins in the background. Whilst it doesn’t display the lightness of touch of some, with a little more heft and depth, it is a lovely wine. 90/100. £14.50, Everywine.co.uk. See all stockists at wine-searcher
Castello di Bossi (Italy) Chianti Classico Riserva ‘Berardo’ 2000
This blend of 85 per cent Sangiovese and 15 per cent Merlot comes from 40-year-old vines and is aged in French oak. It has a very dark colour and a nose suggesting a very cedary, fragrant, incense and Sandalwood nose, with cherry fruit and raspberry brightness. On the palate this is a fairly light to medium bodied style, with fine balance and a food-friendly style, though plenty of ripe fruit. I suspected the merest hint of TCA taint on this wine, so giving it the benefit of the doubt it scores 90/100. £19.99, Laithwaites.
Castello Vicchiomaggio (Italy) Chianti Classico Riserva 2001
A blend of 90 per cent Sangiovese with 10 per cent of Canaiolo/Colorino, aged in barriques. There is a browning rim to quite a dark ruby colour, and the nose has a fine pencil-shaving, cedary richness with a touch game and vegetal, undergrowth character. On the palate there is depth here, with a very solid plum and mulberry core of fruit, but a nice edgy cherry acidity and fruit brightness too. The smoky, cedary oak and earthiness emerges into the finish, where supple tannins and good balance complete a very classy picture. 92/100. £20.39, Everywine.co.uk. See all stockists at wine-searcher
Villa Caffagio (Italy) San Martino 2000
This super-Tuscan from a leading Chianti estate is 100 per cent Sangiovese, from densely planted, low-cropping vineyards. It is aged for 18 months in Alliers and Tronçais barriques. The nose has a deep well of rich, tobacco and spice-laden berry fruits, with a brambly, earthy undertow and a little sense of bloody overripeness. On the palate there is a rush of sweet kirsch and cherry fruit, with a very spicy, liquoricy, slightly astringent oak quality immediately pushing through. The chunky, toasted quality of the oak perhaps slightly overpowers this wine, which has good, persistent sweet fruit through the mid-palate and good acidity, but the finish just has a slightly raw edge. 90/100. £19.99 – £25.00, Villeneuve Wines, Amps, D Byrne, Trencherman, Wine Appreciation, Wright, Sandhams.
Fontodi (Italy) Chianti Classico Riserva ‘Vigna del Sorbo’ 2000
The illustrious house of Fontodi make this wine from 90 per cent Sangiovese with 10 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, trodden by foot, followed by 18 months in Alliers oak. It retains a dark, crimson colour with pink on the rim, and has a very meaty, plummy, dark-fruit nose where smoky bacon hints and a real tightness of cherry fruit are underpinned by subtle background oak. On the palate this is all about liquorice and kirsch like concentration, with plenty of dry extract, a very solid black cherry core of fruit and more smoky, cedary oak adding a savoury dryness to the finish. This is deep, spicy and impressive in a big, modern style. 93/100. £28.50, Liberty, Selfridges, Peckhams, Luvians, Valvona & Crolla. See all stockists at wine-searcher