Chianti Classico

My younger son once remarked “Dad, why is it that we always have to include a vineyard on our summer holidays?”.  To which the obvious answer is why wouldn’t you, especially when the setting is the glorious landscaped hills of Tuscany, half-way between Florence and Sienna.  This is the heart of Chianti Classico country which was the location of our late summer break in September 2022.

Even more pertinent and as a change from visiting a single vineyard, our trip ‘coincided’ with the annual Panzano Wine Festival, where 23 local Chianti producers gathered together to showcase their wares. Interesting that producers so close to each other geographically choose different blends of grapes to curate their Chiantis – some with 100% Sangiovese, others who blend in up to 20% of other varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo and Merlot. Over the two days I managed to visit each stand and sample over 40 wines! These savoury food-friendly wines are definitely worth seeking out. Here are my key highlights:

Entry level: Chianti Classico Annata (recent vintage, released soon after harvest)

  • The 2018 100% Sangiovese from L’Orcio a Ca di Pesa showed lovely use of oak, as did the 2019 from Vignole, with added benefit from the 10% Merlot matured in French barriques;
  • 2019 100% Sangiovese from both Il Molino Di Grace and Basilica Cafaggio were seductively aromatic, lively and ripe on the palate and very moorish!
  • 2020 from Casaloste with 10% Merlot and 5% Caniaolo I found just as enticing but with a more chewy, tannic structure;
  • But for a true oaky, smoky and savoury example the 2020 wines from Monte Bernardi really stood out.

Mid level: Chianti Classico Reserva (aged for at least 2 years before release)

  • The 2017 from Le Fonti presented a fresh, lighter style, benefitting from 10% Merlot addition.
  • The 2017 from Panzanello was slightly richer, this time integrating 10% Cabernets very well.
  • 2018 from Cennatoio with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon was absolutely stunning with extra mint on the nose and a dark, silky, rich mouth-feel.
  • 2019 from Rignana had life, length and a distinctly dried herb component that may be due to the 15% Cabernet Franc in the blend.

Top level – Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (single vineyard and 30 months minimum ageing)

  • Top wines on display at the festival were a beautifully integrated and powerful 2015 example from Il Palagio di Panzano and the 2016 from Vignole, both with noticeable yet supple tannins and depth of flavour that stood up well to the 15% alcohol level.

So, these savoury food-friendly wines are definitely worth seeking out. Expect to pay up to £20 retail in the UK for the Annatas, £25 to £30 for the Reservas and upwards of £40 for a Gran Selezione.  Of the above, suggests that Casaloste, Il Molino Doi Grace and Monte Bernardi are available in the UK – with Monte Bernardi available locally at the exceedingly customer-friendly independent wine shop in Norbiton, Wined Up Here. Maybe I’ll see you there!