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If you ask most people to
name a wine from Italy, they'll probably come up with
"Chianti". It's the quintessential Tuscan wine, to be sure,
though, in terms of price and prestige, denominazione such as "Brunello di
Montalcino", "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano" along with a category of
proprietary wines, "Super Tuscans" (as they're called) far exceed the humble
Chianti is, typically, a blended red wine. The "Chianti" region covers
territory in the Provinces of Florence, Siena, Arezzo, Pistoia and Pisa. The
predominant grape is the Sangiovese. Other varieties play a minor role, the
laws governing the production of Chianti having changed over the last decade or so.
Originally, the laws called for Chianti to be a blend of Sangiovese, with another red
variety called Canaiolo, along with Malvasia and Trebbiano (white grapes!) and perhaps
some Malvasia Nera, Colorino or Mammolo.
Bound by tradition, it's only in the past thirty to forty years that we've seen real
advances in the overall quality of red wines from Tuscany.
thumbed their noses at the law. "Let them come here, see my Trebbiano vines,
taste my wine and tell me I'm doing something wrong," we were told by one winery
owner many years ago. This producer did not, of course, water down the Chianti with
Trebbiano as had been required by law at one point.
In the "old days", some estates would grow or purchase Cabernet or Merlot and include
this in their Chianti wine. We had visited some producers and, after tasting,
entirely certain the wines come from vineyards near the winery. The name of Chianti
and the chance to cash in with Super-Tuscan type wines was an enticing
opportunity for some as vintners.
The law finally changed and producers are allowed a certain amount of flexibility in
producing their wines. Today a Chianti might be 100% Sangiovese. While the law
used to require Trebbiano and Malvasia at a minimum of 10%, today those are no
longer permitted in Chianti Classico wines. The laws changed in 2006,
though quality-oriented producers eschewed watering down their wines years
But while the laws are wonderfully written in Italy, following them is something
different altogether...right, Carlo?
The "traditional" red grapes, though, would be Canaiolo, Mammolo,
Colorino, Ciliegiolo, Fogliatonda, Pugnitello and Malvasia Nera.
We've heard allegations of shenanigans on the part of some producers. And
Italy does seem to have a wine scandal ongoing at all times. It seems to
be either a local sport or perhaps "theater."
We've heard about wine being shipped in bulk from Argentina to Spain and from
Spain over to Tuscany where it suddenly takes on Italian
"citizenship." We've heard of wines from Sicilia, Puglia or
Sardegna being used to "fortify" Tuscan wines (and other Northern
reds, for that matter)...
There was a Tuscan producer whom we felt "counterfeited" his own
wine! He had a lovely Chianti and he used the same label for some wine
we're certain was from elsewhere which he sold to a US chain store at a much
lower price. We purchased a bottle of the wine he sold to the chain
store and compared it to the ones coming from a small importer...totally
different wines! The wine from the small importer was clearly
"Chianti Classico," while the wine from the chain store was
reminiscent of a simple and anonymous red table wine which could have come from
factory-like wineries anywhere in the world...who knows what they put
Many estates these days now make a "prestigious" bottling of some
sort. Sometimes it's from an old parcel of vines or it may be from their
best vineyard site...a "reserve" quality wine. This is all well
and good, except that often times in doing so, a vintners "robs" their
flagship wine of its foundation. What a pity to make a tiny quantity of
something at the expense of the wine for which the estate might have been
CHIANTI CLASSICO TODAY:
80% Minimum of Sangiovese up to 100%
20% Maximum of "other" red grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot,
Those labeled as "Gran Selezione" will need to be 90%
Sangiovese with no "international" varieties.
At one point there was a maximum of something like 10% of
Mammolo and/or Canaiolo, but we cannot find that restriction presently.
The formerly traditional white grapes have not been permitted since the 2006 harvest.
We typically expect Sangiovese with perhaps
Canaiolo, Colorino, Ciliegiolo and Mammolo being in the blend, though
Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah can be included. But did you know that
there are other, more unexpected varieties which are legal?
Barbera is permissible, as are Carmenere, Gamay, Malbech (sic),
Montepulciano, Petit Verdot, Refosco, Pinot Nero, Sagrantino,
Tempranillo and Teroldego. There's another obscure Tuscan grape
called Pugnitello (one or two producers offer varietal bottlings of
this). And there are still other grapes permitted in
Chianti Classico. In fact, there are 49 permitted varieties which
can be blended with Sangiovese.
a link to a web page chart
we created of these 49 varieties with their official
with further information on most of them.
CHIANTI CLASSICO'S THREE TYPES:
HERE FOR THE CHIANTI CLASSICO CONSORZIO'S EXPLANATION OF THE DETAILS
The notion of DOC
and DOCG wines is great...in theory. But while most people play by
the rules, there are always some folks who skirt the laws and who can't
resist doing something different. As mentioned above, one producer
counterfeited his own wine, but it still carried the designation as a
CHIANTI CLASSICO DOCG (Denominazione
di Origine Controllata e Garantita)
Known to producers as "Annata," this is the basic
bottling of Chianti Classico and must come from vineyards within the
Chianti Classico boundaries, made in (or very close to) the same
area and produced "only" from approved grape varieties.
The wine cannot be offered for sale until October 1st of the year
following the vintage date.
Chianti Classico must be at least 12.0% alcohol by volume and the
bottles, unless they're "quarter bottles," must be sealed
with a cork...no screw-caps!
CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA DOCG
(Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)
These must have slightly more aging before release...a Riserva
can be sold at 24 months of age (with January 1 following the
harvest as the start date), providing the wine had had at least
three months of time in the bottle.
These need to be at least 12.5% alcohol by volume, as well. No
screw-caps...cork-sealed bottles only.
CHIANTI CLASSICO "GRAN
SELEZIONE" DOCG (Denominazione di
Origine Controllata e Garantita)
A Gran Selezione wine must be made from a winery's own vineyards
and, presumably, its best vineyard sites. But it's not quite
clear if the winery must actually have ownership of the vineyard, so
we suspect it simply boils down to a Gran Selezione wine is not one
bottle using wine that has been purchased "in
These must be aged for a minimum of 30 months, with three months of
bottle aging before the wine can be released. Again, January
1st following the harvest is the start date. A Gran Selezione
Chianti needs to be at least 13.0% alcohol by volume. No
screw-caps...cork-sealed bottles only. And it now must be 90%
Sangiovese and the wine may be blended solely with traditional
Tuscan varieties. A Gran Selezione is not able to have a bit
of Cabernet or Merlot, a recently approved protocol.
We have, to date, viewed these as merely an effort to sell a
higher-priced wine to consumers.
We would suggest exploring some of the "Super-Tuscan" reds
which are entirely or predominantly Sangiovese.
As of 2021 Chianti the general location of the vineyards can be
noted on the labels.
These are called UNITÀ GEOGRAFICHE AGGIUNTIVE (UGA)
Here are the names we will be seeing, but solely on Gran Selezione
wines (for the time being):
SAN DONATO IN POGGIO
As with most wines, the name of the winery on the label is likely to
be more helpful in guiding consumers to good bottles of Chianti
There are regulations controlling the vineyards, the number of
vines per hectare, the minimum age of the vines (only 3 years) and
the maximum quantity of grapes per hectare.
=SANGIOVESE= The predominant grape of Chianti, Sangiovese, is
influenced by the climate and terrain in which it is grown. Sandier soils are said
to cause the wines to be more floral in aroma. Limestone terrain makes for a wine
with a more intensely berryish quality. Volcanic soils (tufo) are
said to contribute an almost tobacco-like quality to Sangiovese.
=GOVERNO= This is an old method, not as common today as decades
ago, where the winemaker would add some dried grapes (usually the variety was the
Colorino) to the fermented or partially fermented Chianti. This would add some
strength to the Chianti. It reminds me of the "ripasso" process used by
producers of Amarone and Valpolicella in the Veneto. I've read that Ruffino still
employs the governo process, but can't confirm this at this moment.
Castellare, Melini and Cecchi have had wines recently made using this technique.
=CHIANTI REGIONS= You'll find wine labeled simply
"Chianti", the most general designation, is often used for wines of modest
alcohol or meant for immediate consumption. It also might be used for
Chianti made from grapes grown in two (or more) sub-zones.
Wines from a specific area, located
between Florence and Siena, is entitled to the designation "Chianti Classico" if
the wines meet certain standards. There's a consortium which promotes the
"Classico" wines, quite effectively.
The "rest" of Chianti
|Montalbano (west of Florence and including the DOC of "Carmignano") |
|Colli Fiorentini (just north of the Classico zone around Florence) |
|Montespertoli (actually located within the Colli Fiorentini)|
(a fragmented region near Siena and environs)|
| Colli Aretini (near Arezzo)|
Pisane (Pisa area)|
| Colline Pistoiesi (near Pistoia, west of Florence, east of Lucca)|
|Rufina (a bit north and east of Florence).|
There's another designation, just to keep you on your toes:
Chianti Superiore. This is not produced within the Chianti Classico
zone. It will come from Chianti vineyards within the provinces of
Arezzo, Florence, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena.
If the wine is labeled as "Chianti Superiore," you will not find its
particular denominazione, such as "Colli Senesi" or
"Rufina," for example.
For a Chianti Superiore, the wine must be at least 75% Sangiovese and have no
more than 10% Canaiolo. It may have as much as 10% white grapes (Trebbiano
Toscano and/or Malvasia del Chianti). There's also an allowance of 20%
"other" varieties, with a limitation of 15% for Cabernet Sauvignon and
Cabernet Franc (either one or both are capped at 15%).
If the wine carries simply the name "Chianti" without the designation
of "Superiore" or one of those sub-regions listed above, then it must
be 70% to 100% Sangiovese. You can have up to 10% of white grapes,
typically Trebbiano and/or Malvasia. You can include up to 15% of Cabernet
Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc. This wine can be sold rather soon after
In fact, only three of these non-Classico wines must be aged until September 1
following the vintage. Those include Chianti Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina
and Chianti Superiore. All the other non-Classico bottlings can be sold on
March 1st following the vintage.
=THE BLACK ROOSTER= The Consorzio of Chianti Classico, with an historic black
rooster symbol (called the Gallo Nero) has been effective in promoting the wines of its
members. However, not all the estates in the region continue membership with this
At one time, Chianti Classico wines from Antinori, Ruffino, Isole e Olena and
Monsanto (to name 4 prominent wineries) did not have the black rooster symbol on
their bottles. Today, though, you'll find the symbol on Chianti Classico
wines, even if some estates begrudgingly use these labels.
This consorzio was sued, incidentally, by the Gallo Winery and lost the right
to use the words "Gallo Nero" in publicizing the organization and its
Other Famous Tuscan
|BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO
||Using the "Brunello" clone of Sangiovese, these wines
come from Montalcino, south of Chianti. The aging requirements are changing, here,
thankfully. Four years in wood was too long in most vintages for the
production of exceptional quality wines. The minimum was reduced to
three-and-a-half years and now is, currently, two years in wood and four
months in bottle. High prices are normal and, sometimes, justified. It takes an
exceptional vintage to make good Brunello, so while we're usually not fans of vintage
charts, if you're alone in the woods in buying Brunello, go by the book. Or come see
me. We have found a few seriously good bottles in so-called
Brunello producers, by the way, can add 17.6% of Brunello from another
vintage to "correct" a wine.
In April of 2008 a number of estates were under
investigation for incorporating other, un-permitted varieties into their
wines. It seems a few producers were nailed for blending in
non-permitted grape varieties (which they grew themselves in
Montalcino). Meanwhile, others allegedly had been blended with
A prominent enologist claimed that 80% of the wines sold as Brunello di
Montalcino have or had been fortified with Montepulciano from
The new head of the Brunello di Montalcino Consorzio is quoted confirming
||Wines of this small area have typically included a small
percentage of Cabernet and are based on Sangiovese. Northwest of
Florence, it's a small region. The red wines can have up to 20%
Canaiolo and 5% Mammolo and Colorino. They may also have a maximum
of 10% of white grapes such as Trebbiano and Malvasia.
||Red and white wines made near Lucca. Reds are
50%-75% Sangiovese with other grapes such as Ciliegiolo, Colorino,
Malvasia Nera, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Syrah.
The white is based on Trebbiano Toscano (40%-60%) with other approved
varieties being Semillon, Vermentino, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio,
Sauvignon Blanc and/or Roussanne.
|MORELLINO di SCANSANO
||From near Grosseto near the coast, this red is sometimes referred to as baby
Brunello, but I find these more similar to sturdy Chianti. An area of improving
quality, so worth keeping an eye out for these. Many producers from other parts of
Tuscany are investing in vineyards here.
||From the Rufina region of Chianti, reds are Sangiovese-based and
usually have some Cabernet, while whites are Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay-based, watered
down with some Trebbiano.
|ROSSO di MONTALCINO
||A red wine from Montalcino, not subject to the minimum (extended)
aging requirements for Brunello.
|VERNACCIA di SAN GIMIGNANO
||Made in the area surrounding the walled city of San Gimignano, the
grape is Vernaccia. Much improved over the past decade.
VIN SANTO DEL CHIANTI
VIN SANTO DEL CHIANTI CLASSICO
VIN SANTO DI MONTEPULCIANO
VIN SANTO DI CARMIGNANO
VIN SANTO "OCCHIO DI PERNICE" (Eye of the
Partridge)...Made of red grapes.
|Made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, typically, which are left
on straw mats to dry. The wine is aged in attic-top conditions in small barrels.
Typically the best are rather sweet and, often, a bit oxidized. Got biscotti?
|VINO NOBILE di MONTEPULCIANO
||Like the wines of Montalcino, this is made in southern Toscana.
The grape is Sangiovese, but takes the name Prugnolo Gentile. It's
said by some the grapes are identical, while others tell you Prugnolo
Gentile is but a "clone" of Sangiovese. Some fine wines
here and often a fair bit of tannin.
||This category allows each winery to make a special wine without
the traditional shackles of old-time rules and regulations.
The first "table wine" of Tuscany was SASSICAIA, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet
Franc blend made in the western region of Bolgheri.
Some producers make "Super-Tuscans" of Sangiovese, predominantly, while other
wineries make wines exclusively of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. There are now
Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios coming from Tuscany.
||ANSONICA COSTA DELL'ARGENTARIO
BIANCO DELLA VALDINIEVOLE
BIANCO DI PITIGLIANO
BIANCO PISANO DI SAN TORP
CANDIA DEI COLLI APUANI
MONTEREGIO DI MASSA MARITTIMA
VAL DI CORNIA
A NOTE ON MUCH-HYPED
We attended a trade tasting presenting the 2010 Brunello di
Montalcino. One critic in particular, James Suckling, had been
beating the drums for this vintage and many companies selling wine have
used his commendation of the vintage to sell yet another "Best of
All-Time" sales campaign.
For a variety of reasons we are one of the few wine emporiums that
eschews the use of third party reviews and numerical point scores to
In tasting (January 2015) the 2010s we did not find them to be
across-the-board-great. As with most vintages, there are wines
with soul and wines that miss the mark.
We were surprised to find so many wines which did not strike us a
exceptional, having heard the drums beating so loudly.
A couple of months later we had another look at many 2010s in Italy on
their home turf. We did not hear from a single winemaker that 2010
"is the best vintage I ever made." But all the producers
were delighted to have importers and consumers throwing money at them
like never before.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course, but from my
vantage point, it seems like a number of critical publications, not only
Suckling's, have been selling inflated scores.
We routinely find gems in the so-called
Good winemakers know how to deal with variable weather conditions to
maximize quality while some lost souls are totally at the mercy of
People looking for but one marker in choosing a good bottle of wine have
short-changed themselves by thinking a good wine can come solely from a
so-called great vintage.
We recently organized a blind-tasting of Tuscan Chianti wines.
Some noteworthy producers made less-than-stellar wines from the
highly-acclaimed 2015 vintage, while a good winery made a seriously good
wine from the much-maligned 2014 vintage.
We tasted a couple of very good Brunello wines from the challenging 2014
vintage. A few producers were able to select only seriously good
grapes and eliminated anything less-than-good. As a result they
made surprisingly impressive wines. But it takes a dedicated
vintner to make such a wine.
Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
Some Tuscan Wineries We Like:
is a relatively new estate, founded in 1990 by Silvana Pieri. The
property comprises just 10 hectares of vineyards and they're only making
about 20,000 bottles annually.
The first wines we've tasted have been marvelous. Now, years later,
the wines continue to be well-made and reliably good.
Our first contact was with an amazingly good 2002 Rosso di Montalcino.
The 2002 vintage was a disaster from a wine-growing
perspective. Obviously, they
declassified their Brunello to produce this wine, though a small amount of
the heavy-hitter was made in this difficult vintage.
We view most "Rosso di Montalcino" wines as anything but
"baby" Brunello and few are, frankly, as interesting as really
good Chianti wine. Piancornello, on the other hand, makes a dynamite
Rosso di Montalcino and it's not baby Brunello but it is as
good as really fine Chianti Classico wine. The 2018 is
quite good and it's really nice to see a customer buy a bottle one day and
return soon afterwards for more bottles. The wine shows a faintly woodsy character along with good cherryish Sangiovese.
Their 2015 Brunello di Montalcino is very attractive and
drinkable in its youth, though likely to develop additional complexity with a
few more years in the bottle.
There's a mildly woodsy note and the tannins are not coarse or aggressive, but
provide a measure of structure. Open this an hour or two before dinner and
let is get some air in a decanter.
The 2016 Brunello arrived in the Spring of 2021...quite good!
We skipped the 2014 vintage, though their wine was perfectly decent...just a
shade less "noble," in our view, for the Brunello designation.
And there are some bottles of Claudio's 2013 Riserva...very fine! It's a
bit more profound than the normal bottling of Brunello and add to that a bit
more bottle age. This is showing marvelously now and can probably last
another decade, if you have that much patience.
- Claudio Monaci in his cellar in 2005...
Currently in stock:
2015 PIANCORNELLO Brunello di Montalcino SALE $54..99
2018 PIANCORNELLO Rosso di Montalcino Sale $24.99
2013 PIANCORNELLO Brunello di Montalcino Riserva $83.99
Claudio's Dad, Claudio and Claudio's Zia (aunt)...
In the cellar...Piancornello is matured both in large cooperage and small French
A bottle of 2004 Brunello was handsomely paired with roasted rabbit and Tuscan
- FATTORIA DI FELSINA
- This property
is, without a doubt, one of the top Tuscan wineries. Managed by Giuseppe Mazzocolin,
Felsina's wines have been amongst the top Chianti wines for more than a decade. Not
only is their Chianti Classico a top wine, but the special "riserva" called
"Rancia" is outstanding. As if this weren't enough, Mazzocolin makes a
Super-Tuscan, but this is not "tainted" with Cabernet or Merlot.
- The estate comprises about 122 hectares of vines and they make about
450,000 bottles annually. Sangiovese is the focus here, though they do
make Cabernet and Pinot Nero along with a simple Tuscan white and some Vin
I was pleasantly surprised when we visited the estate...the dedication to
"Chianti" and "Sangiovese" is remarkable. You
might think this is not unusual, but when so many estates are hell-bent to
get high scores from wine writers who measure "size" and power
above everything else, finding pure Sangiovese is a delight.
In the cellars at Felsina...very traditional!
Lots of Tuscan vintners use this 'system' to keep their
barrels and botte filled to the top with wine.
More modern conditions are found in their cellar full of barriques.
The basic Chianti Classico from Felsina is routinely a good
bottle of wine. It's entirely Sangiovese and offers the snappy structure
of good Sangiovese. It's a medium-bodied wine...not heavy or
woody. 2018 is the current release...a mighty good vintage, drinkable
now and we suspect it will develop a bit more over the next couple of years
in bottle...very fine and showing good Sangiovese fruit.
They have a couple of reserve-level Chianti wines. The basic Riserva is
entirely Sangiovese and spends more than a year in Slavonian oak and French oak
barriques. The "Cru Rancia" Riserva is also 100% Sangiovese, but
this seems to have some of the same elements as the regular Reserva, but with
the 'volume' cranked up all the way, typically.
Fontalloro is a magnificent Sangiovese which truly deserves the
designation "Super Tuscan." It is, for our tastes, routinely
"super." The wine comes from three vineyard sites. One
is, in fact, called Fontalloro and it lies within the Chianti Classico
area. The other two sites, Casalino and
Arcidossino, are situated within the Chianti Colli Senesi denominazione.
The wine is 100% Sangiovese and is matured, typically, for about a year and
a half in French oak. Yet they seem to have a fine hand in making this
wine, since the oak is always detectable, but it's not center stage.
The star of the show is definitely the Sangiovese. We currently have a
few bottles of a 20+ year old Fontalloro.
Raro is a wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon.
We've usually been a bit critical of Tuscan vintners who are suddenly embracing
international varieties, especially when this is at the expense of their own
Sure, Sassicaia used to be a grand wine...Ornellaia IS a terrific, if expensive
bottle. Does the world need more Cabernet and/or Merlot?
I had not tasted the Felsina Cabernet in a while and on a whim I bought a bottle
of the 2006.
I may have to rethink my position on this.
Felsina's Cabernet Sauvignon production began when they grafted Cabernet on to
existing vines of Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Malvasia. The wine spends
about a year and a half in oak and the 2006 was phenomenal. It is
medium-full bodied on the palate, has a fantastic nose and is beautifully
drinkable now with food.
More recent vintages have been in the category of "good," but not
quite as compelling as the 2006. Oh well. Stay tuned.
recently opened a library bottle of 1999 Fontalloro...what a grand bottle
The nose was very complex and showing some earthy notes, maybe a touch of
mushroom and some black cherry fruit. There was a nicely woodsy tone,
too. Medium-bodied...still a little bit of astringency, too.
The Vin Santo is matured in a special cellar. The barrels are
sealed following the fermentation until close to bottling.
Vin Santo is exceptional. It's
Malvasia and Trebbiano with 20% Sangiovese...aged for something like seven
years, this shows nutty and apricot-like notes. It's sweet, but not
- Currently available: 2018 Chianti Classico $26.99 (750ml)
2018 Chianti Classico $14.99 (375ml)
2016 Chianti Classico Riserva SALE $29.99 (last bottles)
2006 Maestro Raro (Cabernet Sauvignon) List $55 Sold
VIN SANTO Sale $39.99 (375ml)
- TENUTA DI GRACCIANO della Seta
- North of the city of Montepulciano is a town called Gracciano and it's
said to be a prime site for the Prugnolo Gentile grape. Of course,
every vineyard owner will tell you the sun shines brightest on their little
slice of heaven.
This winery was originally the Cantine Svetoni and they catapulted to fame
and fortune in the 1860s when their wine garnered a medal at some
international wine judging in Torino. At the very least, it put the
place on the map.
The della Seta Ferrari Corbelli family bought the property in the early
1900s and they continue to make wine and rent a room or two at their
agriturismo in Gracciano.
We've tasted their wines over the years...and these are usually of modest
Recently we had a look at their new vintages and can say there's been a
measure of improvement.
The Rosso di Montepulciano is perhaps the star of the line-up. We found
the Vino Nobile to be perfectly standard and the Riserva bottling, while having
nice oak, also was a bit troubled by some Brettanomyces (this is wine-speak for
having some aromas along the lines of a leather note). The Rosso, however,
spends less than a year in wood (French cooperage and Slavonian oak). It's
quite charming and brightly cherryish, with the Sangiovese showing nicely
here. The wine is medium-light bodied and dry...perfectly ready to drink
and quite satisfying with a Bolognese-sauced pasta or some grilled sausages.
- Currently in stock: 2015 TENUTA DI GRACCIANO Rosso di
Montepulciano SALE $15.99
Paolo De Marchi, "Mister Chianti" in 2019
ISOLE E OLENA
- Paolo de Marchi
is "Mister Chianti", a dedicated winemaker who is passionate about making
honest-to-goodness "Chianti". The property is in the northern part of the
"Classico" zone and "Isole" is a good name for this isolated
vineyard. They used to sell the production in bulk, but today, for the most part,
bottle their estate grown wines.
Isole e Olena is typically on every expert's list of elite Chianti Classico
producers. It's become a bit of a reference point and the wines are
reliably good quality and well-priced in the US market. We usually
find them to be a bit more costly on their home turf in Italy, though.
Chianti Classico is outstanding and usually highly
regarded, especially by those who appreciate Chianti. De Marchi does not make a
"Riserva", for example, but has long offered a wine called "Cepparello", a
Super-Tuscan made entirely of Sangiovese and matured in French oak.
With the recent addition of special appellation status, Paolo
has added a Gran Selezione bottling to his portfolio. The wine is
rather expensive as Paolo is making a statement with this wine.
Paolo also produces a Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah of note. Our understanding of
the white wine production is that he had purchased Cabernet vines from a nursery.
After some years, the vines produced some fruit, but the grapes maintained their greenish
color well into August. Paolo became concerned that there was something wrong and,
after some investigation, found there had been an error in the shipment and his
"Cabernet" vines were, in fact, Chardonnay!
Wood or stainless steel for the fermentation...
Isole e Olena produces an excellent Vin Santo and this fellow was checking
the clarity of the wine they were racking and preparing for bottling.
As you can see, they employ both small oak barriques and larger wood tanks
for maturing the wines.
Wine which was to become "Chianti Classico" with the proper
Prepared for a tasting of numerous tanks and barrels to evaluate the
progression of the wines currently resting in the cellar.
- The Chianti Classico wines from Isole have routinely been good,
though we felt there was a slight dip in quality around 2004-2006, or so.
The past so-many vintages have been quite good.
We currently have the 2017.
It's roughly 80% Sangiovese with 15% Canaiolo. Paolo de Marchi's wild-card
is Syrah and he blends in about 5% to give the wine a bit of body and
If you taste this alongside the wines that other estates produce using
Cabernet or Merlot, you'll find it decidedly different.
The 2017 vintage was difficult in that there was significant frost damage
early in the growing season which damaged the resulting yield by about
Paolo did his usual masterful job in making a delightful Chianti...lots of
red fruit notes and just a whiff of wood in the background.
You can easily enjoy this as a young wine.
Cepparello comes from some older vines on the Isole e Olena property and is a special
selection. French oak aged. A few bottles of 2010 and 2011 are in stock
for the moment. This is a super wine and it's a stellar example of a
Super Tuscan which is worthy of the designation, especially the 2006.
Syrah is highly-regarded in Italy and for good reason: the wine is
comparable to good Rhône Valley wines. Not many bottles of this
arrive in California. We don't have one presently, though.
Vin Santo is exceptional here. It is quite sweet, because they actually pay
attention to drying the grapes and pressing out the juice at just the right moment.
It is not inexpensive, but compared to other top producers, quite fairly priced.
- Currently available: 2017 Chianti Classico (list $30)
2017 Chianti Classico Magnum Sale $54.99 (1.5 liter)
2018 Chianti Classico half bottles $17.99 (375ml)
We may have some older bottles of Cepparello. Please
2014 Cepparello $84.99
Vin Santo (half bottles) List $60 SALE $51.99
Marta and Paolo in 2019
Some old, crusty bottles in the deep, dark cellar.
tasted the red wines from this obscure little property in Tuscany for a
number of years and have long wanted to visit to see if it's a serious
producer of good wines or if it's some big industrial wine factory.
The owners are Carla Benini and Edoardo Ventimiglia. She's from
Trento and he's from Rome. Her background was in agriculture and his
in film (his grandpa worked as a camera-man for famous film-maker Alfredo
They found this abandoned property in 1990 and began restoring the
fixer-upper house and the fixer-upper land, planting vineyards of
Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano and Greco.
Today there are 10 hectares of vineyards scattered around the winery
amongst the 72 hectares which comprise the property. You're
virtually in the middle of nowhere, but you're just three kilometers (by
foot) from the town of Sovana and 5 from Pitigliano. You're 2 and a
half hours' drive from Florence, 2 hours from Siena and an hour and a half
south of Montalcino.
The volcanic sandstone terroir of the region puts its mark on the
wines. And while Sangiovese does nicely here, the Ciliegiolo grape
is even more at home in this remote Tuscan outpost.
The name translates to "cherry" and wines made from this variety
do have a cherry-like quality to them. Sangiovese, however, also is
often described as showing a cherry note. The scientific community
is at odds here, some claiming Ciliegiolo is a parent or elder relative to
Sangiovese, while others say Sangiovese is likely the parent, with
Ciliegiolo being some sort of offspring.
The 1997 harvest was the couple's first vintage and they've been slowly
increasing production and the wines have been good from the outset and you
can say, I think, they're even getting better.
- The winery is dug into the sandstone hill...you enter and see these
stainless steel fermentation and blending tanks and there's a long tunnel
leading to another cool, more humid cellar well underground.
- I really should ask people to pose for a photo, shouldn't I?
- The Official Winery Dog:
A bottle of Tuforosso served at cool cellar temperature is a perfect match
for this sort of food, as
Carla and Eduardo so capably demonstrated.
We have the 2017 Tuforosso in stock.
The wine used to be predominantly Sangiovese with a bit of Ciliegiolo.
These days Carla has changed the blend, and while based on Sangiovese, these day
now we find 10% Merlot and 20% of the
Trentino grape, Teroldego.
It's not a complicated wine and it's no matured in oak...only stainless steel
tanks for a bit and then they bottle it in the Spring so the wine retains its
bright, red fruit elements.
Not intended for cellaring, it's vinified to be drinkable in its youth.
We like it at cool cellar temperature.
It's delicious and price-worthy, making it one of the best Italian buys in the
Currently in stock: 2017 TUFOROSSO SALE
PRICE $12.99 (Sold Out Presently...waiting for the boat to arrive!)
One of the official Winery Cats.
TORRE A CONA
- This estate is perhaps the benchmark winery in the Colli Fiorentini
appellation, producing a terrific Chianti from a single vineyard site
called Badia a Corte.
- The property traces its roots back to the year 1066 and they note that
the tower of the estate was built in the 12th Century and is still
standing. It's been owned by the Rossi di Montelera family since
1935. During World War II the place was occupied by the Germans
until the summer of 1944 when the British took control of the
In fact, some treasured art by Michelangelo and Donatello were taken to
the property during that war for safe-keeping and it's claimed the place
was not bombed as a result. These days the property features about
20 hectares of vineyards spread across more than a half a dozen
parcels. In addition to the grapes, they have olive orchards and a
couple of dozen rooms for guests. It's a short drive to Florence
from this property.
Their "reserve" bottling of Chianti Colli Fiorentini is made
entirely of Sangiovese from the oldest vines on the estate. Their
consulting enologist is our friend Beppe Caviola from Piemonte. He
works with an impressive roster of wineries in addition to making his own
(Barolo and Dolcetto) wines in the Langhe area.
The Sangiovese is fermented in stainless steel tanks, temperature
controlled, of course. The juice spends about two weeks with skin
contact and the wine is then matured in 660 gallon Slavonian oak
vats. Two years in wood nicely polishes this wine and smoothes out
the modest tannins. It's a lovely bottle of wine...we've had a
couple of vintages (so far).
Currently in stock: 2016 TORRE A CONA Chianti Colli
Fiorentini "Badia a Corte" Sale $24.99
- The Antinori family have a number of wineries in Italy, not to
mention concerns in other parts of the world. Buying a bottle of Antinori wine is
rather like purchasing a Robert Mondavi wine--even if the wine is not extraordinary, it
is, at the very least, a well-made product and of sound quality.
The Antinori family is probably not proud of having offered wine with
their name on it in a "fish" bottle.
No...we do not have this available for sale.
Don't even ask.
The Antinori's have discontinued their basic "Chianti
Classico," feeling that the name Antinori is, apparently, more of a
guarantee of quality than the designation "Chianti
Classico." This will be interesting!
customers continue to buy Antinori or will they migrate to other Chianti
Classico producers? Tuscan wine industry people are watching this
development with great interest.
Many contend that Antinori is
unwilling to pay the price for good quality Sangiovese in the Chianti
Classico zone. Antinori was quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle
article as saying the quality of fruit available on the grape market is not
(We heard recently that their contract with a good grower had expired
recently and this precipitated the Antinori's decision to make this
change). Time will tell on this issue, but it is a bit sad to
see the names Antinori and Chianti Classico not as married as they once
We tasted first vintages of their Chianti-replacement and found it to be as good as
Antinori's recent Chianti Classico vintages. This is not a bad wine,
but it's not Sangiovese at its zenith, either. That may be due to all
the other grape varieties included in the blend. It's usually got
Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Syrah. The current vintage is pretty much
the same sort of wine as earlier renditions...a nice
is the Antinori's version of their cousin's "Sassicaia", a Cabernet-based red
which in some vintages rivals the best of Bordeaux and California. The wine has been of
superlative quality for many years. In December of 2000 an influential American wine
publication tabbed Solaia as its top wine (most "exciting" wine, actually).
This is good news for the Antinori family, but bad news for wine drinkers.
After that, everybody and his cousin (not to mention the Aunt and Uncle) wants Solaia.
Prices have doubled as those who actually have some bottles ask a fortune for this
newly-minted "gold coin." What used to be merely hard-to-get is now
some sort of ultra status symbol, as well as being a "mere" bottle of wine.
There was an
interesting publication in Europe called "Il Mio Vino." I've
seen it in Italian (of course) and in German. Each issue features the
"debunking" of a high-priced, highly-regarded wine. One
issue I picked up in the Spring of 2007 chose to spotlight Solaia 2003 in
their "Grande Delusione" series. My command of Italian is
not perfect, but I found I agreed with many of their descriptions of the
wine (lots of vanilla, oak, moderately tannic...) but those adjectives are
why I like the wine. At the end of their article, they claimed to have
tasted Solaia alongside an inexpensive bottle of Bordeaux, one costing less
than 10% the price of a bottle of Antinori's wine. They claimed the
Bordeaux was better.
Vin Santo is also quite good here.
Though not a Tuscan wine, but from neighboring
Umbria, we wish to point out their "Cervaro della Sala", a barrel-fermented
blend of Chardonnay and Grechetto which is one of the best Italian white wines. It
is one of the very first Italian white wines to see French oak and they
typically employ a secondary, malolactic fermentation. It's a very
showy dry white, full-bodied and full-throttle.
We like showing it to fans of big California Chardonnays as the wine
easily gets their attention and frequently gets a nod of approval.
Experiments with Pinot Noir have yet to hit the mark, but their Umbrian dessert wine
called Muffato is outstanding.
Piero Antinori is late for the train. He's one of the few
Chianti producers to also have a property in Montalcino called "Pian delle
Vigne." A recent acquisition, this is situated nearly four miles south of
Montalcino. And there is a small train station on the property! The first
vintage was the fine 1995. Medium-bodied, Bob found this to be quite to his taste.
I think it's a pretty good start, but will venture to guess succeeding vintages
will be even better as the Antinori winemakers become more familiar with the viticulture
and winemaking in this region. The 1998 vintage is quite nice, one I'd
put in the same "very good" category as previous vintages.
You can drink it now, if you like, and it ought to cellar well for a few
more years. The 2001 is their current offering. I find it
acceptable, but not as fine as other Brunello wines we have from 2001.
We can special order this for you, if you like.
Pèppoli is an estate which Antinori acquired in 1985. It's in the Chianti Classico
area with vineyards facing east-northeast. Pèppoli is made in a more fruity
style than the Riserva or Tenute Marchese Antinori Chiantis. This may be the best
vintage of Pèppoli to date...pretty nice, actually. They add a
bit of Merlot and Syrah to the Sangiovese and it's not made to be aged, but
to be consumed when purchased.
- Currently available:
- 2016 Villa Antinori Toscana Rosso (Chianti
Replacement) List $25 SALE $19.99
2004 Passignano Riserva Sale $42.99
2016 Tignanello 750ml SALE $129.99
- Vin Santo (list $35) SALE $33.99
Aleatico (sweet dessert wine) No Longer being imported...
2018 CERVARO della SALA (Chardonnay/Grechetto blend from Umbria) (List $65)
A vineyard site Antinori was to plant...
The piles of rocks will be scattered throughout the vineyard allowing for
reflective heat for the vines, fewer weeds and they can show visitors what a
wonderfully rocky "terroir" they have.
I will post an "after" photo when I next visit Toscana.
story of this little property starts in the mid-1980s when, after
working for Mastrojanni and Ciacci Piccolomini, Andrea Cortonesi was
able to buy a couple of hectares of vineyards in the area of
Cortonesi now has 4 hectares of his own and rents two more. The
winery is fairly new and additional construction was in progress as we
visited in May of 2010, but we see them nearly annually (except for
the Pandemic in 2020 and 2021).
We've been fans for many years as this fellow produces good wines with
a modern touch, yet showing respect for the Sangiovese or
Brunello. We even had a 2002 Brunello, which Cortonesi sold for
'small money' and yet it was a remarkably good wine and customers were
- The wines have been getting good reviews from various critical
publications and this has increased the demand for the small
Brunello is vinified in stainless steel tanks and then matured in both
large botti and barriques. Cortonesi prefers
to do a cold soak or pre-fermentation maceration, saying this retains
more bright fruit on the nose and contributes a measure of intensity
to the color. He likes to keep SO2
levels low and indigenous yeasts are used.
- We appreciate this fellow's approach to wine.
He's serious about attention to detail in the vineyards and the cellar
seems to be a place to validate the vineyard work.
- We currently have a 2013 Brunello di Montalcino from Uccelliera...we
like the charm of the wine, as it is quite approachable now and it
will continue to develop and gain complexity with bottle aging.
The wine offers a dark cherry fruit tone of Sangiovese and there's a
light touch of wood framing it.
There's a good Rosso di Montalcino here, though we're bigger fans of
the IGT wine called Rapace, a Sangiovese fortified with Cabernet and
Currently in stock: 2015 UCCELLIERA BRUNELLO DI
MONTALCINO Sale $79.99
- This small estate in Montalcino has periodically made some pretty nice
Sangiovese wines. The vineyards had been owned, apparently, by
Biondi-Santi. Perhaps the Biondi-Santi people didn't like the fruit from
this vineyard because the wines one can make here ARE drinkable
during one's lifetime (Biondi-Santi wines are of such high acidity, they are
difficult to appreciate in their youth and, sometimes, even for a generation
or two or three after!).
Sergio Rossi had been working in the advertising business before trading his briefcase for a wine barrel.
The estate was purchased in 1976 and the cellar is in the Canalicchio
area...northern Montalcino. But they get fruit from Mercatale and Castelnuovo
Vittorio Fiore is the consulting winemaker. He's been on board since
the beginning. The wines seem to be made without catering to current
fashions and a healthy respect for tradition. You'll rarely find La
Gerla at the top of some wine critic's numerically-scored list of Brunello
wines, though they're well on the radar of most Tuscan wine drinkers.
They don't make show-pieces. Still, they are well-regarded if you're
a slave to following numerical point scores. We, frankly, don't
care, preferring to identify wines we like and like well enough to
The cellar features large wood as well as small French oak.
Typically the Brunello spends three years in large Slavonian oak.
There's a single vineyard bottling of Brunello called "Vigna gli
Angeli" as well as a Rosso di Montalcino and an IGT wine.
wine from La Gerla has been a French oak-aged proprietary red they called
"Birba." The Italian word for "scoundrel" is
"Birba," so I suppose this is Rossi's little joke, though he's
certainly neither a scoundrel nor a scallywag. The wine is entirely
Sangiovese from vineyards which could produce "Brunello di
Montalcino." Birba is matured for a shorter period of time and in
smaller cooperage, a portion of which is new. The small size of
cooperage means the wine develops more quickly.
We have had this from time to time...some vintages are quite good.
The 2013 Brunello is very fine, as was the 2012. I found typically cherry
notes of Sangiovese on the nose, deeper than Chianti, for example.
It was made from 25 year old vineyards. They ferment it on the skins for
about two weeks and then it went into wood puncheons of 50 to 100 hectoliters.
It spent about 3 years in various sized cooperage and then was bottled and given
additional aging before release.
wine is medium-full on the palate and with a mouth-drying bit of tannin at this
early stage. It is certainly a wine you might open now, though it's really
going to be more interesting with a few years of cellaring. I read one
review of this vintage where the wine was described using the descriptor
That's not the wine I've
tasted...this is meant for adult palates. We like the mildly cedary notes
from the time in wood and there's a bit of cherry-like Sangiovese fruit.
The tannin level is moderate, so this is quite approachable now and will be good
for another 10 year+ we expect.
Currently in stock:
2013 BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO Sold Out
2012 BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO Sold Out
The estate's manager, Alberto Passeri.
Alberto Passeri in 2019
With a bottle of "Rosso di Brunello" as it was called in the