Before you were a wine aficionado, as everyone surely is who reads this blog, you thought of Italian wines and imagined straw covered Chianti bottles sold in every third shop along a stupid steep hilltop town. Possibly you visited said towns, and maybe even purchased a bottle or two. Sadly, that is where the romantic idyll ends as from bitter experience you now know these offerings taste like swill.
Chianti is the Kiss me Quick hat of Tuscan tourism and so it's up to us (I use the term "us" loosely because I'm the Piedmont junkie) to champion Tuscan wine and educate those poor individuals who still bare the scars of straw covered Chianti.
An unfair label it is, good Chiantis are a plenty if you know where to look and the hippest wine of all, Brunello di Montalcino, hails from the Sangiovese too. Just to pack that killer punch, the region also has the "Super Tuscan", Italy's equivalent to burly Bordeauxs that get better and better every decade. Apparently they also produce some white wine which I'm contractually obliged to mention. Without further ado, let's look at the very best producers and wines coming out of Toscana.
Antinori - The Coca Cola of Italian wines, Antinori produce millions of wines out of Tuscany year on year from the mid priced to the high end super tuscans. The fabulous Tignanello is an Antinori super tuscan which many hail as the best wine of the region. The 2004 Chianti Classico is certainly a contender for best Chianti of the year.
Banfi - The Pepsi-Schweppes of Italian wines knocking out 10 million bottles a year. The premium Brunellos from the best vintages might be worth a look but everything else, especially their standard Chiantis are not to my personal tastes. A great vineyard to visit in a fabulous location in Montalcino.
Casanova di Neri - I'm guessing Jame Suckling is a fan, call it a hunch. The 2001 Brunello Cerretalto received 100 points and was hailed as one of the best Brunellos ever made. Now, try finding one under $300. It's actually well deserved praise the outfit operates with very low yields and pays fantastic attention to detail, all productions from this small outfit are quality.
Castello di Ama - Now we're talking Chianti Classico, superb producers of Italy's most famous wine in some of the finest terroir in the world. Producing elegant wines capable of ageing and not a rogue straw in sight. Proper Chianti for proper Chianti fans. The 2001 Bellavista and 2004 L'Apparita Vino da Tavola are outstanding.
Fontodi - Makes an interesting range of wines for such a small producer. Attention to detail here is important as the company strives for quality. The best bottling is the Flaccianello della Pieve, a Vino de Tavola wine made from 100% Sangiovese grapes. Also producing fine Syrahs, Chiantis and a great white "Vin Santo".
Isole e Olena - a forwarding looking vineyard who are known throughout Italy for their stylish and flavourful wines. The top wine is the Ceparello, a 100% Sangiovese wine that ages beautifully. Another wonderful wine is the Syrah, "Syrah Collezione De Marchi" and their Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc blend is another award winning offering. Lots of diversity here and a wonderful vineyard to visit.
Marchesi de' Frescobaldi - huge Brunello kings producing 95+ point Brunellos with every solid vintage. Another huge production with over 7,000,000 bottles hitting the shelves every year. 700 years of expertise have gone into producing some of the finest quality wines but there are a few hum dingers here too. Recommending the Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo Ripe al Convento Riserva, Chianti Rufina Montesodi, Toscana Giramonte (Merlot/Sangiovese) and Toscana Mormoreto (Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot) as great purchases in solid vintages.
San Guido - Sassicaia, the wine you can never get at a fair price on Ebay, at its very best in the 1980's it's one of those wines that just wont go out of fashion, a lot like George Michael. Revitalised in the late 90's and with a fabulous 2004 vintage Sassicaia is back baby and flying off the shelves. The first super tuscan, fighting it out with Tig and Ornellaia for the Super Tuscan crown (but losing).
Tenuta dell'Ornellaia - and losing to this bad boy. The Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia super tuscan is winning all the awards over the last couple of years and is one of Italy's most famous wines. However, it's not the only trick this producer has, even better than this super tuscan is the Toscana Masseto 100% Merlot table wine which noone I know will ever be able to find, rare and collectable.
Tua Rita - is one of only a handful of producers ever to receive 100 points from the legendary wine critic, Robert Parker. When Tua Rita is on its game it can produce the best wines in Italy. The Maremma estate produces quality fruity reds of many international varities. The best offering is the Merlot, "Redigaffi", very expensive but extremely impressive; an opulant wine to be cellared.
So I've left out the glaringly obvious again? Ok, tell me all about it under the unmoderated comments below. Now, moving along, I was asked via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to recommend a good Chianti under €10, a Brunello under €40 and to review the 2004 Sassicaia. Here are my personal recommendation about the matter!
Chianti Classico Clemente VII Riserva Castelli Del Grevepesa 2003 - BUY - €7.50
Bargain of all bargains Chianti Classico, huge on flavour, with a generous fruity, plummy nose. A lovely, well made wine, generous round fruity flavours on the palate with a nice balanced tannic quality. Low price Chianti is a minefield but this is a little gem, drink immediately - 89 Points
Brunello di Montalcino Fanti 2001 - BUY - €33
Hugely dark and inviting in the glass, this is another really fruity ripe wine, giving a nose of licorice, dark fruits and a hint of meat. The palate is silky and enjoyable and another wave of fruity berries comes on the midpalate, the finish is good. Not a hugely complex wine as much as a kick in the juice box, very enjoyable! - 92 Points
Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido 2004 - BUY - €100
Opulent, sophisticated and understated, the 2004 Sassicaia is a beautiful wine. The colors in the glass are vibrant dark Ruby with lighter hues. The nose is layered with chocolate, licorice, cherries and blackberries that stand out immediately. On the palate it is all finese with rounded tannins, a medium-large body and a finish that keeps going till Christmas. Salut! Anticipated Maturity - 2010-2024 - 94 Points
Where can I buy this wine (Fanti Brunello)
Europeans - Enoteca San Domenico - €33
Americans - Grapes of Norwalk - $45
Brits - Enoteca San Domenico - £25
Question of the Day
Tell me about your wine disappointments. Which bottle did you have your eye on for months and turned out to be tasteless, corked or just plain weird.