The Classico in Chianti Matters


I’m often asked by novice wine drinkers if Chianti Classico is worth its price (as compared to base-level Chianti), and my short answer is an emphatic yes. The Chianti region is iconic and known for producing Sangiovese-based wines in volume, but it’s important to remember that Chianti has eight distinct sub-zones. Chianti Classico is one of them, and arguably the most important. After tasting hundreds of bottles of Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, I’ve narrowed down my top five producers in each category.
Chianti Classico DOCG, established in 1984 (and elevated to DOCG status in 1996), demarcates specific tracts of vines where superior quality Sangiovese grapes are grown under the strictest conditions. Here you will find winemakers experimenting with a variety of Sangiovese clones, selecting those that are best suited to particular bands of vines. Sangiovese grapes for Chianti wines were originally grown in the “Classico” area, prior to the region’s expansion into nearby territories. The wines are classically superior versions of themselves.  
It’s so easy for Sangiovese-based wines to go sour – literally and figuratively. The thin-skinned, high acid grape demands a lot of the winemaker’s attention. The tiniest bit of moisture can lead to ruin. Chianti Classico’s microclimates are a huge help, and the altitude of the vines tends to be higher than surrounding regions. Rocky mountain slopes reflect sunlight onto the vines, bringing additional heat to combat moisture. Pockets of coastal breeze make a difference too. Galestro, Central Italy’s rocky, schist-based signature soil, combines with sandstone to produce terroir-driven notes unique to the region. Galestro is fairly brittle; water and heat help the vines soak up its mineral content in plenty.  
Chianti Classico produces three different levels of wine for your consideration: Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, and Gran Selezione.

Chianti Classico must have a minimum of eighty percent Sangiovese grapes, but may be up to one hundred percent. Red grapes like Cabernet, Merlot, and Colorino can appear in the remaining twenty percent of the blend. As of 2006, white grapes are no longer permitted in Chianti Classico wines. The minimum alcohol level for Chianti Classico is 12% (compared to 11.5% for Chianti DOCG) and the wines must age for one year prior to release.

Top 5 Chianti Classico Producers:

Poggerino Chianti Classico 2014
Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2014
Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico 2015
Principe Corsini Le Corti Chianti Classico 2014
Castello di Radda Chianti Classico 2014

Chianti Classico Riserva wines are aged for a minimum 24 months, with a minimum alcohol level of 12.5%.

Top Five Chianti Classico Riserva Producers:

Viticcio Chianti Classico Riserva 2013
Cantine Guidi Chianti Classico Riserva 2013
Dievole Novecento Chianti Classico Riserva 2014
Fattoria di Rignana Chianti Classico Riserva 2013
Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2012

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione was introduced in 2014 to much fanfare. These wines focus on estate grown grapes and estate bottled wines. The wines are aged for thirty months prior to release.

Top Five Chianti Classico Riserva Gran Selezione Producers:

Villa Calcinaia Vigna Contessa Luisa Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012
Castello Vicchiomaggio la Prima Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2013
Castello di Radda Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012
Losi Millenium Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2009
Barone Ricasoli Colledila Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2013
I do want to stress that there are a slew of fantastic Chianti Classico producers out there, and these are my top picks from this particular tasting. You can see a full list of the wines I rated here (Classico), here (Riserva), and here (Gran Selezione).

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