Chianti Classico Vintage Report: 2018 & 2019
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 print issue of Quench Magazine.
“Strade Serpente” – Snake Roads?! If you have ever driven around Chianti Classico this description will make a lot of sense. The roads twist and turn every couple of seconds and with each turn there is a different exposure to wind, sun and rain, a drop or increase in altitude, and certainly a change of soil compositions.
The wine world cheered in June, as passionately as Italian football fans this past July, when it was announced that sub zones would appear on the labels of Chianti Classico starting with the Gran Selezione category. The elation is for good reason as Sangiovese is particularly sensitive to site and when grown with a minimal interventionist hand, is capable of eloquently expressing and transmitting the character of the site to the bottle, reinforcing the link between the wine and the site in which it is grown.
As to the vintages of 2018 and 2019, there is much to report, though generalisations are hard to extract from winemakers here. Their experiences of weather tend to be very local. In 2019 in Gaiole for example, there was a fierce hailstorm mid-July that caused tremendous damage to the leaves and grapes, greatly reducing production and impacting ripening of fruit. Whereas in neighbouring Radda, not a stone dropped.
There is agreement however that 2018 was the more challenging of the two years. Rain in spring and then again in August when, according to Piero Lanza of Poggerino in Radda, “Sangiovese really does not want the rain,” coupled with warm temperatures meant humidity throughout the season putting vineyards at risk of disease.
However, in mid-September, a northerly wind swept through Tuscany, refreshing and drying the fruit on the vine, reducing water content and intensifying flavours and sugars. Those who picked late were rewarded with elegant, thought-provoking, powerful wines.
In 2019, the season was a comparatively easy ride. It was much drier with no humidity compared to 2018, and without the drought and heat spikes of 2017… and the vines were productive! Quantity across the region is high for this vintage, but quality also. Many producers enjoyed a very late harvest into mid-October, which, for a late ripener such as Sangiovese, was a gift!
On the sheet for this year’s annual press tasting of Chianti Classico, Badia a Coltibuono, an historical property in Gaiole, wrote not “native varieties” to confer that their Sangiovese was blended with Tuscan varieties Canaiolo, Colorino and Ciliegiolo. Instead, “varietà complementari tradizionali” was indicated, honouring the role these varieties play in the Chianti Classico blend.
Few producers seem to be blending with the international varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Maybe 5% of the 400 that were on show included those grapes. And, as of this June, it is forbidden to blend international grapes with Sangiovese for Gran Selezione wines – only autochtho-nous varieties are permitted. We are in another interesting phase of this fascinating region’s story and the twists and turns continue.
Bindi Sergardi Chianti Classico DOCG ‘La Ghirlanda’, 2018 ($23)
A rich and velvety Chianti Classico from vineyards to the north of Siena, surrounded by woodland, 500 metres above sea level. The wine has a soft centre, dense and plush, supported and sweetened by oak maturation. Very approachable Sangiovese.
Tenuta di Carleone Chianti Classico DOCG ‘UNO’, 2018 ($36)
Sean O’Callaghan, ‘il guercio’ or the one-eyed bandit, sees and feels the potential of Sangiovese acutely. His wines are a celebration of this variety. This sees a long maceration of up to 60 days in open top vats and 90% maturation in cement, with 10% in new tonneaux. Rarely can Sangiovese wines be described as silky, but I defy you to find a better word to express this wine. Drink now or age, taking pleasure from early drinking and a reward for waiting 5, 10 or 15 years.
Istine Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($30)
Cool and clean with beautiful precision on the palate, shades of delicate red and black fruit are lifted by acidity and held by tannins. Nuanced and subtle with a great sense of place, high up in wild Radda, one of the highest communes, and the most densely covered in woodland.
Poggerino Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($30)
Chianti Classico is a wine region that overde-livers especially considering the average price per bottle. And Poggerino never, ever fails to overdeliver, at both the annata and Riserva levels. Piero Lanza’s wines are so essential to know for the Chianti Classico lover. They have exquisite definition and clarity of terroir and fruit. This wine has the attraction for me of a great Cabernet Franc from the Loire, piercingly fresh red fruit aromas, cool long lines of acidity, medium body – long in limb, defined further by taut tannins and on the finish a persistent, cleansing mineral note. Desert Island wine – what else could work with those fish cooked on stakes in a fire?
Podere Val delle Corti Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 ($27)
An ebullient red wine, a safe alternative to a hot air balloon ride and equally exciting. Bristling with high-toned fruit notes and deeper toasted, praline aromas and flavours from 18 months oak ageing. Great in the mouth – super active, lip-smacking acidity and satisfyingly gummy. Be sure to get it up into your teeth. I was sad to swallow, but the sensation of the wine lasts and lasts. Very physical – fun without food, but possibly sensible to serve with.
Castello di Radda Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 ($23)
Super bright, animated red hues in the glass. Great clarity to aromas and flavours also. Fresh and bold and on the palate. Classic Radda acidity creates crunch and refreshment.
Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($30)
Damn, this is a graceful wine. The colour – ruby with purple tints screams royal blood, and the nose and palate are so aligned. The structure, the posture – long graceful fingered tannins hold perfectly ripe black, red and blue berry fruit. And the ACIDITY is wonderful creating a sophisticated and assertive wine that has the balls to bite you, which makes you just want more. It is like a bitey Katharine Hepburn, and who wouldn’t want to show up to a dinner with a bitey Katharine Hepburn?
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($33)
Luminous cherry in colour, with purple flowers – iris and violet – and shades of grey mineral, wet stones on the nose. That minerality is present on the palate, enhanced by the high acidity, and fleshed out with red fruit. A confident classic.
San Giusto a Rentennano Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($42)
San Giusto a Rentennano is an iconic, historic estate in Chianti Classico. Luca Martini di Cigala makes wines that other winemakers love to drink – carefully knit with great power and concentration. Those resonant Gaiole tannins have impact but do not overwhelm. The aromas and flavours are fresh and complex – fennel herb and forest fruits entwined with the spice of subtle, used oak – and the acidity is tantalising. Luca finished the harvest on the 16th of October – a very classic Sangiovese vintage, and a very classic Chianti Classico.
Mannucci Droandi Ceppeto Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($25)
Youthful in colour but with aromas that trans-port to another era – of old apothecary shops where treatments were found in crushed flowers and dried herbs. Twelve months of ageing in used oak barriques softens the grip of powerful tannins and works well with the concentration of fruit. There is a feeling that one might – one will – be healed by this wine.
Monte Bernardi Sangio Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($28)
GLORIOUS. If you’re into heroes, then this wine is for you. It smells and tastes just like I imagine Odysseus might – of olive brine, warm skin and blood orange. On the palate, it is robust and muscular, hailing from windy and sunny vineyards, on mostly galestro soil at an altitude of 400 to 550 metres. It sees less oak than Monte Bernardi’s Retromarcia – 30% rather than 70%, and the rest matures in cement. According to winemaker Michael Schmelzer, it is accessible a bit sooner.
Montecalvi Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 ($45)
Far reaching – not just in the potential this has to age well; but when you sip this wine you feel it reaching right to the back of the mouth. It fills and throws shapes, tannins dance, acidity elevates, and the fruit is joyful. This is Englishman Tim Manning’s first vintage at Montecalvi. His career has spanned two decades, working in New Zealand, USA and now Tuscany. He is clearly at home in this terrain and with this variety. A brilliant opening chapter in this wine.
Ottomani Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($30)
Started by four friends who met at university whilst studying wine, “Eight Hands” is a small production of wines made with great faith and passion. There seems to be no ego between these eight hands. This is an earnest expression of grape and place – transparent and brilliant ruby, with simple fruit expression on the nose and palate. Not at all overworked or laboured, the fruit sings the entire way through the bottle. Whilst I was tasting at this estate, a particularly well-known winemaker from further south in Chianti Classico, making more intense and built wines, arrived to
pick up cases of this wine for drinking at home. Fantastic bevibilità!
SAN DONATO IN POGGIO
Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 ($28)
Warmth is suggested at first glance – warm red tones with flecks of peachy orange just beginning to appear at the rim of the wine. It smells sweet and ripe. Aromas of black cherry and subtle spice – vanilla and clove translate obediently onto the palate. The tannins are extremely satisfying. They reach into every part of the mouth, not at all abrasive, but appetising, firm and supportive.
Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($36)
So pure (aromas and flavours are primary, primary, primary!) and yet so dark! There is a profound depth to this young wine and assured tannins that cast shadows on the bouncy buoyant fruit – a fun interplay that is eminently drinkable. Drink “with abandon” Monsanto suggest. I second that. I thought I might dissolve happily into this wine after just a 50ml taste. I can’t imagine how I’d feel after a magnum. Extremely well, I am betting.
Fattoria Le Masse Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($37)
Bevibilità, or drinkability unfortunately seems to get less points than concentration of colour or intensity of flavour in many critics’ ratings. But for me, drinkability is so crucial – partic-ularly with Chianti Classico annata. I want to eat with it and be refreshed by it, and this wine scores highly for its capacity to refresh and to charm. Bright and vivid in colour, youthful blues and purples swirl. In the mouth, it crunches like fresh cranberries, perking up the palate and nourishing the soul with its directness. Complexity at the annata level can be overrated. A simple wine made very, very well by one of the coolest winemakers you could ever meet – Robin Mugnaini.
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($38)
It was bizarre the thoughts that sprang to mind tasting this wine from winemaker extraordinaire Paolo de Marchi. I recalled my son being given his first bath in hospital, and how expert the nurses were that handled his tiny body. They showed such authority and that is the word that this wine summons. If only this could be everyone’s introduction to Chianti Classico, there would be no need for Burgundy! Though do grab a
Burgundy glass to enjoy this red. It needs the room to relax. Like Luca at San Giusto, Paolo is a big fan of the native Canaiolo grape variety – it makes up 15% of the blend. It seems to persuade those dynamic Sangiovese tannins to calm down a little… A masterful wine.
Concadoro Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 ($19)
Forthcoming, not at all shy, this wine washes over the palate like a wave. Mouth filling and engaging, it has a really appetising saltiness that teams well with the sweetness of the fruit. A simple, straightforward, well balanced red to drink now.
Casale dello Sparviero Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($30)
Tarragon scented, creamy in texture and balanced. Medium body of red berry and currant fruit flavours and tannins not too tight or bitter. A very food friendly wine with nice typicity.
Montesecondo Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 ($34)
This is a wine that en route to the winery visited the butcher’s, the baker’s and the candlestick maker’s, for in the glass one detects warm cake and spice and that clean sweet smell of fresh meat. And when you taste the wine, it impresses on to the tongue and gums like fingers into candle wax. Intriguing and complex yet drinkable now. Chianti Classico continues to astound me.
Agricola San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, 2018 ($28)
Nipotella is an herb that grows profusely in Tuscany, it smells and tastes like a cross between mint and oregano. It works a treat with porcini. This wine smells of that herb and would pair perfectly with a plate of those protein rich mushrooms, as well as liver and fava beans as preferred by Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. (Il Grigio is featured in the film.) For the wine itself is meaty – savoury on the nose, sweet and sour cherry fruit on the palate, with mature, ripe tannins and curt acidity (a smart balance of mid-Sept and early-Oct picked fruit). A relatively large production does not impinge on quality at this estate. A well made Riserva.
Ottomani Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, 2018 ($39)
A magical mix of extremely drinkable and thoughtful. From vines of at least 30 years of age, this wine is aged in 20hl Italian oak barrels. The four owner/friends are passionate about their Riserva maturing in Italian wood (it is slightly less sweet than French oak), and they are lucky to be close to one of the few coopers of Italian oak in Tuscany. The wine is energising with a sense of charge from the fruit and wood tannins and great density of fruit. A sensitively made Sangiovese drinking deliciously now but can be held on to well in to the late 2020s.
Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, 2017 ($48)
Explicit AND sophisticated, decadent and disciplined?? How does a wine manage to be all? I want to be this wine! Super attractive with fresh red fruits and fresh red meat. Exposed and ripe, it should be served at a Damien Hirst exhibition. Masterful, beautifully composed and structurally sound (as ever with Querciabella wines), this wine is a pleasure to think about and to drink. Hidden depths still to be revealed.
Vignamaggio Gherardino Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, 2017 ($38)
I didn’t want to fall for this wine. I saw that there was 15% Merlot in the blend with Sangiovese and I was sure it was not the wine for me – being somewhat of a purist for native varieties. But I was wrong. This wine is delight-ful in its dark ways. Hypnotic with its plush colour, and black berry and cherry perfume mingled with Mediterranean herbs and bitter, powdery cacao. It is chewy and sweetly tannic. Though drinking now (and extremely easy to drink now) avoid the temptation and lay it down for a couple of years. Delicious.
Poggerino Bugialla Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, 2018 ($55)
Bugialla comes from fruit harvested in the second half of September, from the 24th onwards. Dense and concentrated, it is blended with a small percentage of fruit picked on the 15th of September. The wine is unsurprisingly balanced, concentrated and rich yet refreshing. Challenging vintages can yield the most fascinating wines… from the most skilled producers. Really an estate to follow, year on year for the most honest expression of a vintage and always exceptional quality.
Monteraponi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG ‘Il Campitello’, 2018 ($80)
The single vineyard, ‘il Campitello’ is the oldest at Monteraponi. Forty-
year-old vines are hemmed in on all sides by oak trees up at 420 metres above sea level. Spontaneous fermentation and a 35-day maceration in cement is followed by 26 months in old, large Slavonian oak. Soaring aromatics with an intricate palate, very fine tannins and subtle alcohol of 13.5%, this is seamless Sangiovese.
Istine Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG ‘Le Vigne’, 2017 ($59)
It was a number of colours, aromas, flavours and textures that got me humming the Grease theme tune whilst tasting this Riserva. Bold, vivid reds in the glass, as red as a coca cola sign. And on the nose, sweet perfectly picked ripe fruit, densely aromatic, warm and hot blooded. On the palate, tannins are shapely. Light tertiary flavours of leather and tobacco naturally encourage thoughts of leather jacketed t-birds and perfumed pink ladies. Very much a youthful wine but promising a lively future.
San Giusto a Rentennano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG ‘Le Baròncole’, 2017 ($90)
Ah, when the classics are always exhilarating! On this wine, you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll be great. Flavoursome and exhilarating, this is a well-known, super well-established Riserva and it is consistently excellent, year on year – and age worthy. Even the 2017 has acidity to keep life exciting 10 to 15 years down the line. Le Baròncole is a Sangiovese blended with 3% Canaiolo, of which winemaker Luca Martini di Cigala is a great fan. His Canaiolo vineyards date back to 1958. “It never covers the character of Sangiovese but softens its nature.” Buy by the case and don’t look back, the 2008 is drinking beautifully!
Casale dello Sparviero Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ‘Vigna Paronza’, 2018 ($60)
For the Riserva and this Gran Selezione, I had made musical notes for the wines – “melodic” and “well-tuned”. I was tasting blind and only later found out the names of the wines I had tried, so was pleased to see there was this quirky family resemblance. They are curious to me, the wines from this property, somehow combining attractive austerity with ample fruit. A very generous palate, a great mouthful of concentrated, ripe fruit flavours from the single vineyard on the Paronza hill in Castellina. Tannins are driven, tapering the weight of fruit as it moves across the mouth. A succulent wine for a good meal.
Bibbiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ‘Vigne di Montornello’, 2018 ($65)
“If it is not recognisable as Bibbiano, then we are not doing the right job,” says owner and winemaker, Tommaso Marrocchesi Marzi. This is an exquisite 100% Sangiovese, dusty on the nose – the good dust that inspires thoughts of libraries, old atlases and exotic travels to unknown lands. Bergamot and pomegranate aromas are present on the palate while dark bitter chocolate and smoked sage flavours mingle with typical Sangiovese cherry fruit. There is a great sapidity that is present in all of the Bibbiano wines – a recognisable trait for Tommaso – that persists and cleanses long on to the finish.
Volpaia, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ‘Coltassala’, 2018 ($100)
Despite new oak barrique ageing, this wine – like all those from Volpaia – feels fine-boned and lifted. The presence of the oak certainly grounds the wine, the grip of tannins particularly firm. But the fruit aromatics will not be dominated, perhaps due to that predominantly sandy soil and high-altitude vineyards (up to 650 metres above sea level). On the nose there is intense black fruit, red apple, freshly pounded pepper, clove and cinnamon spice. The acidity is a delight. This is what we drink Sangiovese for – for that drama of acidity married with a slim body, rarely full or overbearing and of course those dynamic tannins and thorough finish.
Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ‘Vigna del Sorbo’, 2018 ($110)
Burly, supple, muscular, densely tannic, charged Sangiovese… But despite the density, intensity, weight of fruit, tannins and alcohol; light seems to pass through it – like the colour of skin through lace. Sultrier than Fontodi’s Flaccianello, this wine will turn events extraordinary.
Villa Calcinaia Conti Capponi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ‘Vigna La Fornace’, 2018 ($75)
I think it is too long since I have attended a festival. But on looking at, smelling and tasting this wine, the image of flags flew to mind – like those you see at music festivals above the big tents or on top of royal castles in fairy tale films. Lustrous inky purple and red colours set expectations high. The aromatics meet those expectations with ease. They are plush, fresh and fragrant of clean linen, lavender, rose and plum (soils are predominantly sandy). Polished and precise on the palate.