Just like their varied terrain, Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano’s recent
vintages have been a mixed bag. TOM MARESCA and RICHARD BAUDAINS
guide you through the latest releases, and highlight the star performers

TAGS:

Postcard pretty, the castletopped and cypress-outlined hills and valleys of Tuscany heartland sprout more and more vineyards with each passing year. As the reputation of Tuscan wine has grown in the last decade, from Florence southward, beyond Siena, new vineyards have appeared and old ones been refurbished. The star of Sangiovese ascended through a series of good-to-excellent vintages, until 2002 presented the first of what has turned out to be several bumps on the road – a terribly mixed metaphor, but an accurate assessment of recent harvests, whose highs and lows have been as varied, and sometimes as precipitous, as the landscape they spring from. Almost all those peaks and valleys were on display this February when the consortia of Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile and Brunello – the three most prestigious Tuscan wine zones – staged a week-long presentation of their new vintages releases – well over 600 wines in all. Despite the many variables, a few generalisations are possible. 2003 was very hot all over Tuscany, but after the disastrously rainy 2002, it was greeted by winemakers and wine writers with more enthusiasm than it really deserves. ‘I think people expected too much from this vintage, coming after the bad 2002,’ says Mauro Monicchi, winemaker at Tenute Silvia Nardi in Montalcino, and summing things up – kindly. Some good wines were made, but careful selection is as crucial for consumers now as it was five years ago for the producers. By contrast, 2004 showed uniformly well in all three zones. 2005 started out as a pretty decent growing season, but heavy late rains almost spoiled it. 2006 provided a decent – but no more – vintage, as good in Chianti Classico as in Montalcino.

The prospects for 2007, at present still in barrel, appear very fine: producers were uniformly pleased with it, though quantities are very small. Generalisations end there, however… Chianti Classico ‘The weather tells you everything about these vintages,’ Giovanna Stianti of Castello di Volpaia explains. ‘2005 was a much more difficult year in the fields. 2006 was a good year. 2007, for us, was great – maybe not so good for those whose vineyards aren’t as high as ours, because it was so warm, but for us, great. It was 2005 that attracted particular comment, Stianti pointing out that the vintage saw ‘a lot of rain [fall] just before the harvest’. The result? ‘Many of the grapes were not so healthy as 2006. It required a lot of work in the cellar. It was a good enough harvest to allow us to make a normale and a riserva, but that required careful selection because the riserva has to last much, much longer than the normale – so there was a little sacrifice made in the normale.’ As a consequence, for the 2005 Chianti Classicos, the riservas are outperforming the regular bottles, while at estates like Monteraponi, no normale was even made in 2005: ‘We just bottled a small amount of riserva and sold off the rest of the grapes,’ says owner Michele Braganti. Larger estates tell similar stories. Luigi Cappellini, owner of Castello di Verrazzano, accurately sums up: ‘2005 riserva is much better than the 2005 normale: we made a very rigorous selection for it. Everyone did that, because today, the Chianti Classico riserva has become our most important wine, as opposed to a few years ago when the Supertuscans were. In 2008, everyone’s best grapes go into the riserva.’ (For more on the plight of Supertuscans, see p48.)Happily, 2006 presented no such problems, yielding a very enjoyable basic wine and showing every sign of making a wine riserva. I found most of the 2006 Chiantis very enjoyable: mainly made in a more traditional style, showing lovely garnet colour, pretty black cherry aromas, and delicious Sangiovese fruit, with abundant acidity to structure and keep them supple. This is a vintage for Chianti fans to relish.

Below are my standout wines from all the current vintage releases. The best of the new Chianti Classicos:

Castellare di Castellina, Chianti Classico

Riserva 2005 ★★★★★

A complex blend of Sangiovese; earth,

mineral, and wood flavours, seemingly

capable of very long life. 2009–2020.

£9.95 (2001); Fo5, LSF

Castello di Cacchiano, Chianti Classico

Riserva 2003 ★★★★★

Lively, ripe fruit, kept supple by fine acidity;

complex and polished; an excellent wine,

especially for so hot a vintage. 2008–2018.

N/A UK; +39 0577 747 018

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico

2005 ★★★★★

Vivid black cherry aromas and flavours;

polished and elegantly powerful. 2009–

2020. £12.50–£13.99; Cmb, HcW, Swg

Castello di Monsanto, Chianti Classico

Riserva 2005 ★★★★★

Similar to the Castellare di Castellina, but

a bit leaner and a bit more elegant.

2009–2020. N/A UK; +39 0558 059 000

Castello di Monsanto, Il Poggio, Chianti

Classico Riserva 2005 ★★★★★

Prunes and oak on nose and palate; a great

wine in the making, but needs time. 2012–

2025. N/A UK; +39 0558 059 000

Castello di Querceto, Chianti Classico

2006 ★★★★★

Bright, lively, and thoroughly invigorating

wine – a lovely, classic Chianti. 2008–2012.

£8.83 (2005); JHa

Castello di Verrazzano, Chianti Classico

2006 ★★★★★

Cherry and earth aroma; almost smoky

fruit on palate, smooth and mouthfilling.

Should get even better with a little time.

2008–2012. N/A UK: +39 055 290 684

Castello di Verrazzano, Chianti Classico

Riserva 2005 ★★★★★

Slightly closed, but a large-scale,

Sangiovese-dominated Chianti, juicy and

long finishing. Needs time. 2010–2022.

N/A UK: +39 055 290 684

Castello di Volpaia, Chianti Classico

Riserva, Coltassala 2005 ★★★★★

Complex aroma of black and dried cherry

and minerals; palate follows suit, with

even more mineral tones. Evidently

structured to last long. Very fine.

2010–2025. N/A UK; +39 0577 738066

Felsina, Chianti Classico Riserva, Rancia

2004 ★★★★★

Big and composed, with characteristic

Sangiovese flavours interlaced with earth

and toast. 2009–2022.

£29.98–£32.27; ACh, F&R,

PipFontodi, Chianti Classico Riserva, Vigna

del Sorbo 2004 ★★★★★

With black fruits and light toast on nose

and palate, this is slightly closed, but

evidently fine and beautifully structured

for bottle-ageing. 2010–2022.

£149.69 (case of 6); Evy

Isola e Olena, Chianti Classico 2006

★★★★★

Toasted wood on the nose, excellent fruit

on the palate. Lovely balance, great

elegance. 2008–2012. £14.49–£19.98

(2005); ACh, Ave, AVW, Ben, Grr, Hig, ScC,

SoD, Sta, WMn, You

Principe Corsini, Le Corte, Chianti Classico

Riserva, Cortevecchia 2004 ★★★★★

Big and round, with a lovely nutty finish;

excellent fruit, earth, and wood

components just beginning to knit; will

age well. 2010–2022. £19.98; WnW

Agricoltori del Chianti Geografico, Chianti

Classico, Contessa di Radda 2005 ★★★★

A toasty nose, with fine black cherry fruit

on the palate, laced with some wood

tannins and lively acidity. 2008–2012.

£9.38; Goo

Agricoltori del Chianti Geografico, Chianti

Classico, Geografico 2006 ★★★★

Tobacco and mint mingles with

Sangiovese cherry on the nose and

palate; fresh and well balanced. Very

pleasing. 2008–2012. £9.90; Ava

Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico 2006

★★★★

Fresh, with lovely cherry and tobacco

flavours and a long, fruity finish.

2008–2012. £18.52; Csv

Barone Ricasoli, Brolio, Chianti Classico

2006 ★★★★

Big, sweet fruit, pronouncedly black

cherry. Great acid/tannin balance. A very

nice wine indeed. 2008–2012.

£10.49–£13.99 (2005); AGW, Cmb, You

Barone Ricasoli, Castello di Brolio, Chianti

Classico 2004 ★★★★

Walnuts and black cherries; excellent

acid/tannin balance. Should live

reasonably long. 2009–2019. £24.94; WDi

Barone Ricasoli, Chianti Classico Riserva,

Rocca Guicciarda 2005 ★★★★

Complex and intriguing: cherry, tobacco

and oak/vanilla scents, with flavours

integrating nicely. 2010–2020. £12.97; AGW

Carpineto, Chianti Classico 2006 ★★★★

Slightly closed, but a big, structured wine,

with dark cherry and tobacco tones.

2008–2012. £9.49; Ave, Teg

Casa Emma, Chianti Classico Riserva 2005

★★★★

At the moment, the Sangiovese is just

beginning to whip the wood flavours into

shape. A deep and complex wine that

needs some time. 2010–2020. £24.99; Ths

Casaloste, Chianti Classico 2005 ★★★★

Toasted oak and cherry in the aroma and

mouth: pleasing. 2008–2012. £13.95; Jer

Castello di Bossi, Chianti Classico, Berardo

Riserva 2003 ★★★★

Prunes and black coffee on the nose;

lovely ripe Sangiovese flavours, with no

evident greenness – no small

accomplishment in 2003. 2008–2018.

£25.99; ScC

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico

Fonterutoli 2006 ★★★★

A beautiful black cherry aroma precedes

excellent fruit and bright acidity on the

palate. Very enjoyable. 2008–2012.

£11.99–£17.49; AGW, F&M, Imb, WDi

Castello di Monsanto, Chianti Classico

2006 ★★★★

Luscious fruit: a mouthful of black

cherries. Delightful. 2008–2012.

N/A UK; +39 055 805 9000

Castello di Uzzano, Chianti Classico 2006

★★★★

Chocolate, cherries and earth notes, laced

together by fine acidity; well balanced.

2008–2012. N/A UK; +39 055 854 4851

Castello di Volpaia, Chianti Classico

2006 ★★★★

A well structured, very elegant wine

(elegance is the hallmark of this estate)

that needs a little time to integrate.

2009–2014.

N/A UK; +39 0577 738066

Castello di Volpaia, Chianti Classico

Riserva 2005 ★★★★

Sweet cherry fruit floating serenely over

espresso and undergrowth: a supple,

complex and polished wine. 2010–2020.

£17.99 (2004); Adn

Cecchi, Chianti Classico, Messer Pietro

di Teuzzo 2006 ★★★★

A fine example of the very traditional

style in Chianti – not lush, but

concentrated and deep. 2008–2012.

£13.36; WSr

Cecchi, Chianti Classico Riserva, di

Famiglia 2005 ★★★★

Fruit-forward, long finishing – a very

pleasing wine. 2009–2019.

£14–£17.95; TSW, Vik

Fattoria, La Ripa, Chianti Classico 2006

★★★★

Cherry and more cherry, right into the

long juicy finish. 2008–2012. £11.39; Lai

Felsina, Chianti Classico 2006 ★★★★

Nicely balanced oak and fruit; a big wine

(typical of the estate) that needs a little

time. 2009–2014. £15.99; Ave, Teg

Melini, Chianti Classico, Granaio 2006

★★★★

Espresso and black cherry in the nose and

mouth: very internationally sleek in style.

2008–2012. £8.80; Goo

Monteraponi, Chianti Classico 2006

★★★★

A traditionally styled Chianti, all

Sangiovese in nose and palate: very brisk

and enjoyable. 2008–2012.

N/A UK; +39 055 352 6601

Rocca dell Macie, Chianti Classico Riserva,

di Fizzano 2004 ★★★★

Aroma of cherry-vanilla ice cream; on

palate, new wood, black cherry, and some

mineral, almost flinty, notes. Needs a little

time to amalgamate, but sound

international-style wine. 2010–2020.

£19.46; Cib, IWI

Rocca di Montegrossi, Chianti Classico,

Vigneto San Marcellino 2004 ★★★★

Coffee and underbrush aromas; good

balance of mineral and fruit flavours on

the palate. Dark and intriguing.

2008–2014. £28.95; Han

Ruffini, Chianti Classico, Ducale Oro

Riserva 2004 ★★★★

Smooth and round; already well knit and

beginning to shed some primary fruit

flavours for more evolved undergrowth

and mineral tones. Very fine. 2009–2020.

£20.11; F&R

San Felice, Chianti Classico, Il Grigio

Riserva 2005 ★★★★

Good Sangiovese character, with

interesting complexity and depth.

2009–2019. £12.99–£15.19; Hed, IWI

Tenuta di Lilliano, Chianti Classico Riserva

2005 ★★★★

Well structured but slightly closed, with

coffee, chocolate, cherry just emerging:

needs time. 2010–2020. £13.79; Dvy

Villa Cafaggio, Chianti Classico 2006 ★★★★

Slightly closed, but big and structured

and marked by deep Sangiovese flavours.

Give it time. 2010–2017.

£10.44–£12.47; Cal, Deh, Pan, WaD

Villa Cafaggio, Chianti Classico Riserva 2005

★★★★

Underlying Sangiovese is masked by the

oak, but will integrate soon. 2010–2020.

£14.94–£16.79; Hed, HoT

Brunello di Montalcino

As if they didn’t have enough problems (see Brunello on the Brink, p52) Montalcino producers had the hardest cross to bear at this year’s tastings, since the wines’ ageing requirements obliged them to show the tough 2003 vintage of Brunello alongside the easy-drinking 2006 Rosso. 2003’s preposterous four-star rating simply made the deficiencies of many of the wines all the more glaring. With very few exceptions, 2003 Brunello offered very ripe-to-overripe fruit, green tannins and high alcohol. Where the fruit showed best, the wines will make approachable drinking for the next five years or so – but these are not wines for long cellaring. The 2006 Rosso, on the other hand, made quite delightful drinking, with a lot of fresh Sangiovese character and good structure: the best of them will probably last as long as the 2003 Brunellos. Filippo Paoletti of Lisini explains: ‘2003 was a very difficult year – very dry, very hot. It was important to leave lots of leaves on the vines, to shade the grapes. Not one of our best wines, but we are proud of it. 2006 is one of the best harvests: the Brunello will be very good. We had rain at the right times, good sunshine – we couldn’t ask for more.’

The top Brunello di Montalcino

Costanti, Brunello 2003 ★★★★★

A juicy wine, fresh, and yet structured,

with good fruit, accessible tannins and

lively acidity. 2010–2020.

£34.31–£36.44; Ben, GrrLisini, Brunello 2003 ★★★★★

Classic Brunello from aroma to finish:

intense Sangiovese fruit, with mineral

and mushroom undertones; good acidity

and approachable tannins. 2010–2020.

£174.44 (case of 6); F&R

Tenuta di Sesta, Brunello 2003 ★★★★★

Underbrush, dried mushrooms and dried

cherries in the aroma; intense black

cherry fruit in the mouth. Very, very good.

2010–2020. N/A UK; +39 0577 835 612

Casanuova di Cerbaie, Brunello 2003

★★★★

Very ripe dried-cherry scent, with earth

and undergrowth afterwards. On the

palate, dark fruit with earth and mineral

tones. Muscular, with a possibility of

longer life than most from this vintage.

2010–2025. N/A UK; +39 0577 849 284

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Brunello

2003 ★★★★

Toasted wood and earth aromas over ripe

fruit; likewise on palate, with enlivening

acidity and tannins beginning to soften.

Needs a little time. 2010–2020.

£344.81 (case of 12); F&R

Sesti, Brunello 2003 ★★★★

Well structured and drinkable: very ripe

fruit, lively acidity, no harsh tannins.

2009–2017. £33; Jer

Tenute Silvio Nardi, Brunello 2003 ★★★★

Dried cherry and underbrush nose; wood

sweetness plays over classic cherry palate;

well balanced. 2009–2017. £26.95; Hax

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

In 2005, Vino Nobile suffered the same tribulations as Chianti. It was a vintage that had to be made in the cellar, with all the disadvantages that entails – principally, in this zone, the temptation to cover defects in the grapes with abundant oak. I was beginning to worry about a seeming loss of direction in this appellation, when my opinion was turned around by a series of vertical tastings arranged by producers outside the formal showing of current vintages. Carpineto offered its 2003, 2001, 1997, 1995, 1990 and 1988s. Contucci showed samples of three decades: 2003, 1993, 1983. Palazzo Vecchio presented every vintage from 2005 to 1990. In each case, the progression was eye-opening – a steady development and opening of flavour and depth. Contucci, a family that has been making wine in this zone and doing business out of the same stately palazzo since the 16th century, topped things off with its 1983, the oldest wine of week. It was superb – an aroma of forest floor, mushrooms and stone, a palate of still-live, supple fruit, with a deep, complex minerality, and a finish of mushrooms and earth. The conclusions implied by such verticals are intriguing. ‘Old ways are best,’ one journalist whispered. Was Vino Nobile (and maybe Chianti Classico and Brunello) a better wine before barriques? Probably. Was it better with Malvasia? Perhaps. But the most important fact revealed by these tastings is simply this:from the best producers, Vino Nobile matures slowly and steadily, in all sorts of vintages, into a beautifully balanced, almost claret-like wine of great depth. The whole appellation really forms a sort of time warp: it is, emphatically, not a wine of instant gratification.

Top Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Contucci, Vino Nobile, Riserva 2003

★★★★★

Superb for the vintage: excellent fruit and

minerality; tannins still a bit hard, but

they will soften in time. 2010–2025.

N/A UK; +39 0578 757 006

Palazzo Vecchio, Vino Nobile 2004

★★★★★

A large-scale wine with soft tannins and

ultra rich cherry/berry fruit; a wine built

for long ageing. 2009–2020.

N/A UK; +39 0578 724 170

Poliziano, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★★

Toasted wood, characteristic Sangiovese

cherry notes, distinctive sharp minerality,

all nicely balanced; this is a great example

of its breed. 2008–2015. £21.95; Pip

Avignonesi, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★

Light oak and Sangiovese aromas,

followed on palate by excellent black

cherry fruit, with a satisfying fresh fruit

finish. Supple and enjoyable. 2008–2015.

£16.56–£17.24; AWO, Ben, Grr, Rsv

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★

Nice mineral nose, good round fruit on

palate, fine nutty finish: a very complete

wine. 2008–2015. £16.74 (2004);

BatContucci, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★

Balanced and smooth, with the distinctive

Montepulciano minerality, this wine

needs a little more time to really bring its

fruit to the fore. 2009–2018.

N/A UK; +39 0578 757 006

Contucci, Vino Nobile Riserva 2004

★★★★

Already showing some complexity and

depth among its primary cherry flavours,

this interesting wine could develop well

for some years. 2010–2025.

N/A UK; +39 0578 757 006.

Del Cerro, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★

This wine has an intense black – almost

dried – deep cherry nose and palate,

marked by some still hard tannins.

2010–2020. £12.54 (2002); Flg

Fassati, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★

Incredibly true to the breed, this wine

boasts excellent fruit, good acidity and

moderate tannins – a perfectly

representative Vino Nobile. 2008–2015.

N/A UK; +39 0684 4311

Lodola Nuova, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★

New oak vanilla aroma, the palate is

balanced, with the Sangiovese atop the

wood. 2010–2020. £142.94 (case of 6); Evy

Nottola, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★

Excellent fruit and nice acidity make the

oak that seems so prominent in the

aroma unobtrusive on the palate.

2010–2020. N/A UK; +39 0578 707 060

Palazzo Vecchio, Vino Nobile 2005 ★★★★

A very enjoyable wine, all mineral and

fruit on the nose, round and fruity on the

palate, with soft, easy-drinking tannins.

2008–2020. N/A UK; +39 0578 724 170

Palazzo Vecchio, Vino Nobile, Riserva 2003

★★★★

Aromas of mushrooms and underbrush,

cherries and blackberries with a touch of

vanilla on the palate and a strongly

mineral finish: this wine is intriguing all

the way through. 2009–2025.

N/A UK; +39 0578 724 170

Written by Tom Maresca