Immortalized by red sauce joints from coast to coast, Chianti is as much an American symbol as it is an Italian one. The fiasco, or classic straw bottle is, for many Americans, a visual synonym for “wine.” But Chianti has long been a victim of its mainstream success, a kitschy relic of red-checkered tablecloth days gone by, even if it remains a foundational part of the Italian wine canon.
In an effort to burrow its way into the avant-garde, Chianti has gone through a number of growing pains over the last several decades, making concessions to a more global style with the addition of international varieties—notably cabernet, merlot and syrah, which can comprise up to 20 percent of the blend—sacrificing the juicy, bright typicity of Tuscan sangiovese.
Lately, however, Chianti has seen a return to form both by way of old stalwarts like Castell’in Villa and Fattoria di Rodáno and relative newcomers who have sought to remind the world of just why Chianti Classico became a classic wine in the first place. In order to get a sense of the current state of Chianti Classico, we tasted through a selection of nearly 40 wines. Below are nine that offer not only a snapshot of sangiovese’s spectrum of expressions in the historic Classico zone, but the one thing all great Chianti shares in common: irresistibility.
Monte Bernardi Chianti Classico Fiasco 2014 | $20 (1L)
If only all the straw-bottle Chianti tasted as good as this. Sourced from organic vines grown at high elevation in Panzano, this is fresh and juicy with classic notes of red cherry and a savory edge. Importer: T. Edward Wine & Spirits [Buy]
Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico 2011 | $25
Located just outside of Siena, Villa di Geggiano’s Chiantis show the slightly girthier side of sangiovese. Sourced from organic vines and doused with a very small percentage of cabernet sauvignon, this is all dark cherry and licorice backed up by sangiovese’s trademark dusty tannins. A steal that’s drinking particularly well after five years in bottle. Importer: Kermit Lynch [Buy]
Fattoria La Vialla Casa Conforto Chianti Superiore 2014 | $17
Sourced from La Vialla’s 3,000-acre organic-biodynamic farm (300 acres of which is dedicated to Chianti), this has all of the rustic charm one could want from Chianti. Earthy and full of sour cherry fruit wrapped around a core of iron-y minerality. Importer: T. Elenteny Imports [Buy]
Fattoria di Rodáno Chianti Classico 2012 | $18
About as close to the classic Chianti archetype as you can get. Sourced from organic limestone vineyards in Castellina in Chianti, this is based entirely on sangiovese and drinking exceptionally well after a few years in bottle. Tons of black licorice, sour cherry and herbal notes and bracing acidity. Importer: Polaner Selections [Buy]
Montesecondo Chianti Classico 2013 | $29
One of the poster children of natural wine in Tuscany, Silvio Messina’s sangiovese-based wines, sourced from biodynamic vineyards, have become unlikely darlings among many New York sommeliers. Ripe cherry fruit, wet earth and a juicy acidity. Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections [Buy]
Fèlsina Chianti Classico Berardenga 2013 | $20
One of the longtime standard bearers in Chianti, Fèlsina’s spicy, dark-fruited style of Chianti is a reminder that the region has a range beyond the juicy, cherry-inflected wines that looms so large in the American psyche. Full of dark red fruit, tobacco, warm spice and licorice. Importer: Polaner Selections [Buy]
Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico 2011 | $24
Castell’in Villa has been producing classic, ageworthy Chianti for decades. The standout favorite of the group, this is a hell of an argument for the incredible value lurking in Chianti. The 2011 is the current release (the estate holds even the entry-level the wines back to show their age-ability). Sourced from organic vineyards and aged for 24 months in Slavonian oak, this is intensely mineral, with a core of red cherry fruit, smoked meat and clove. Importer: Polaner Selections [Buy]
Monte Bernardi Chianti Classico Retromarcia 2013 | $19
A neck-and-neck favorite alongside the Castell’in Villa, Monte Bernardi’s 100-percent sangiovese Retromarcia is merely another version of Chianti’s platonic ideal. Ripe cherry, wet earth and licorice all packed into a package that feels as intense as it is lithe. Importer: T. Edwards Wine & Spirits [Buy]
Lecci e Brocchi Chianti Classico 2013 | $20
A compelling argument for just how fresh and affordable sangiovese from Chianti can be when given the opportunity to dial back its luxury pretentions. Floral and savory, with a bright smack of ripe blackberries, this basic Chianti Classico from the family-run Leccie e Brocchi epitomizes the region’s everyday-drinking side. Importer: T. Elenteny Imports [Buy]