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Chianti Classico: Characterful Wines at Value Prices

This post highlights characterful wines from a fabled part of the world long known for its natural beauty, fabulous food and great wines. I'm talking about Tuscany, in the heart of Central Italy.
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Tuscan olive grove surrounded by vines at Castello di Ama

This post highlights characterful wines from a fabled part of the world long known for its natural beauty, fabulous food and great wines. I'm talking about Tuscany, in the heart of Central Italy.

Brunello and so-called Super Tuscans from this part of Italy are world class but typically very pricey. There is, however, another appellation producing remarkable wines here that just don't receive the same respect or command equivalent prices. In some cases, a producer whose well known Super Tuscans garner high scores makes other wines from the identical vineyards that are a much harder sell.

I'm talking about Chianti Classico. In this hilly, heavily forested region you can find screaming good deals like:
  • 90 point 2012 Castello di Gabbiano for only $13
  • 91+ point 2012 Luano averaging $17 U.S. retail
  • 92+ point 2012 Badia a Coltibuono at $20

What I love about Chianti, besides the value prices, are the reliably high acidities, tart red fruit, and savory elements, suggestive of herbs like tarragon, and aromas reminiscent of a forest hike. These characteristics, when combined with food typical of the region--rich pastas, tomato based sauces and braised meats--create unbeatable pairings.

These are not wines for sipping on their own. In Italian culture, wine is for enjoying with and as a complement to food, and that's where Chianti Classico really excels. For me, these wines truly represent the soul of Tuscany, reminding me of walks in its olive groves and memorable meals in which the wine and food combine to create sublime moments of true satisfaction.

So having traveled to Chianti Classico as a guest of the Consorzio in the fall of 2014, visiting some of my favorite producers there, continuing to check in on new releases, and hosting meals featuring older examples since then, I've compiled a list of 150 wines from 51 producers that can be found on my website here. With a few exceptions, most of these producers' wines are currently available in the U.S., and many represent significant bargains.

modern version of a fiasco bottling

But first, what the heck is "Chianti Classico"? We've all heard of Chianti, and many of us associate it with the iconic, straw covered, bulbous bottles called "fiascos" that so many people used as romantic looking candle holders throughout the '70s and '80s. Is the Classico suffix just an Italian marketing gimmick, à la "Classic Coke"?

History

Chianti Classico claims to be the oldest officially demarcated wine growing zone in the world, its original boundaries having been set forth by Tuscany's Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1716, exactly 300 years ago this year.

Over time, producers throughout much of Tuscany began to create wines in the same style that they called Chianti. In 1924, the Consortium for the Protection of Chianti wine was created. It adopted the logo of the black rooster which continues to be used on Chianti Classico wines today.

The original boundaries of Chianti were officially expanded in 1932, incorporating lots of areas, including low lying valleys, far from the original four townships. By ministerial decree, the word "Classico" was added to distinguish the original region, encompassing roughly the same area as that established by the decree of 1716.

neck of a bottle of Chianti Classico sporting the black rooster emblem

Chianti Classico Today

Chianti Classico can be 100% Sangiovese, but must contain a minimum of 80%, with other red varieties grown in the region allowed up to a maximum of 20%. Those red grapes include varieties native to the region, like Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as international varieties--e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot--authorized for the production zone.

There are now 580 members of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, of which 376 produce and bottle their own wines. About 7,000 hectares are currently registered for the production of Chianti Classico.

Recommended Wines

My notes on 150 wines on my website include the average retail price for wines listed as being available in the U.S. according to Wine-Searcher.com, the most complete online database for that information. Often one can find these wines for considerably less than the Wine-Searcher average. For example, I recently spotted the 90+ point 2012 Nozzole Riserva selling for $15 at Costco and snagged the first wine on my top ten, Castello di Gabbiano, for slightly less than $13 at Lucky.

My top 10 values among the wines listed below are:
  1. 2012 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico - 90 points $13
  2. 2012 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico - 92+ points $20
  3. 2012 Luiano Chianti Classico - 91+ points $17
  4. 2012 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Le Corti - 92+ points $21
  5. 2012 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico - 91 points $18
  6. 2012 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico - 90+ points $18
  7. 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico - 94 points $36
  8. 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico - 94 points $37
  9. 2011 Castello d'Albola Chianti Classico - 90 points $17
  10. 2013 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli - 89 points $14