Phew – that title was a mouthful!
Welcome to the beautiful Italian language. The wines, the people, and the views are always spectacular so there’s a lot to be appreciated about Italy. Especially in the Chianti Classico region! Can we say GREAT VALUE?!
I’m a bargain hunter. You probably know this if you’ve read even one of my wine posts. I am 100% okay with paying a lot of money on wine, but I want to make sure it’s great quality. And I also understand that many people aren’t 100% okay with spending a lot on a bottle of wine, so I try to do my research so that when those people do spend money on wine, it’s on great quality wines, not just cheap ones.
This is an awesome wine at an awesome price – my husband found it to blind test me for $18 retail. (In case you were wondering, I did call this wine correctly).
So what and where is Chianti and what’s going on with the terms classico and riserva? Sometimes they’re on a label, and sometimes they aren’t.
First, Chianti is a region in Tuscany. By law, Chianti must be a minimum of 70% Sangiovese grapes. They can be blended with other grapes, both native to Italy and international varieties (like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc). If you see classico on a region, that means it’s the original heartland of the district. So Chianti Classico is the original wine zone, and it’s deemed higher quality because it’s on higher quality soils, has stricter requirements (like requiring 80% minimum of Sangiovese and can be blended with a smaller number of grapes).
So when Chianti originally started, it was doing pretty well and other producers wanted to get in on the action, but the best land was taken. So they asked to expand the area, into flatter growing regions and lower quality areas. The heartland with the best soils and highest quality is Chianti Classico, the surrounding expanded area, is Chianti. Because Chianti’s are already such great values, I recommend 9 times out of 10 that you should go with a Chianti Classico. The rare exceptions are when a great winemaker decides to use grapes that may not be a part of the approved list, and therefore must degrade their produce to Toscana IGT or Chianti DOC. These are lower tiers, but could be fabulous wines.
Have you ever heard of Sassicaia? Or, Super-Tuscans? These are wines that went outside of the traditional Italian wine law, but the producers knew they were making a great product, so they had to degrade the quality tier to IGT levels (the base regional level). These wines sell for hundreds of dollars per bottle though. So when you need to find something that falls into this special circumstance – do some research or ask a professional.
So what about riserva? In Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG the wine must be aged for a minimum of 24 months, at least 3 of which must be in oak. Many producers go above and beyond this. In Italy, Riserva does not imply quality it implies aging. So you can see a “riserva” on a bottle of wine and it’s not necessarily the best bottle the winery has, it simply means it’s been aged for a period of time (at least 2 years typically) with a certain amount of time in oak. If you see Gran Riserva it requires even more time (typically 3 years) with a higher number of months in oak. Gran Riserva also typically requires 1% ABV higher alcohol than a riserva. Gran riserva must also be made from estate fruit (it can’t be purchased from all over the area, but has to come from one estate).
So we’ve got Chianti, Chianti Classico and the riserva’s taken care of.
What is Chianti Classico actually like though?
Chianti Classico is in the foothills of the Apennines mountainous terrain that runs down the spine of Italy. These rolling hills provide some altitude, but mostly proper drainage due to water running down the slopes, rather staying put. Sangiovese is a grape that needs a lot of heat and a long growing season, so this southerly climate is just right for it! So this climate provides ample sunshine and ripening without allowing the grapes to become over ripe and jammy.
Sangiovese has notes of orange peel, tart red cherry and raspberry, and dried thyme. The acidity levels are typically medium plus, although in some warmer years or in flatter Chianti regions, the acidity will be closer to medium. It’s the perfect blend of fruit with earthy and savory herbs and fresh soil.
Some say that Italian wines smell “dusty” or have a “grandmother’s closet” type of smell. I don’t get grandmother’s closet (I don’t know your grandmother), but there is an unmistakable herb (thyme, sage, tomato leaf) note that I rarely find in wines outside of Italy. See if you can pick it out next time you’re drinking one!
I love Sangiovese wines because they match so well with all types of foods. From pizza to pasta, to Asian dishes and your classic cheeseburger, Chianti’s were made to be served with food. The tannin level is just right – it’s not too big and bold, but it’s not quite velvety smooth. The fruit is never obtrusive and the herbs seem to act as a light seasoning to the dish.
It’s delicate, but strong. Rustic and graceful. Flavor Packed but not Flavor Dominating.
So next time you’re at the store, definitely look into the Chianti Classico section! Do you have a favorite producer?
Here’s my review of the Famiglia Castellani Chianti Classico Riserva 2018
Appearance: This is a clear, medium ruby wine.
Nose: This wine has medium plus intensity, this wine is developing. There are notes of tart red cherry, raspberry, and red currant along with savory dried thyme, and earth. There are also notes of baking spices, and perhaps some cedar.
Palate: This wine has a medium plus flavor intensity with notes of red cherry, raspberry, red currant and dried herbs (thyme and basil). There is also a note of forest floor and fresh mushroom, along with a spicy note of pepper and cedar. This wine has medium plus acidity, medium tannin, high alcohol, medium body, and a medium finish.
Assessment: This is a good wine with complex aromas and flavors.
Conclusion: This wine is suitable to drink now and can be aged for perhaps another year or two, due to tannin and acidity, as well as the still fresh and ripe fruits and touches of earth still on the palate.
Serving Temperature: Lightly Chilled, about 55º F.
What do you think? Have you had this wine? What were your thoughts?