Chianti Classico’s Choice Vintage
Chianti Classico shines with a standout 2015 vintage that rivals other top wines of Tuscany
In this year’s Tuscany tasting report, Brunello di Montalcino, the top super Tuscans and coastal Bolgheri’s Bordeaux varieties shine, with numerous bottlings in the classic range of 95 points or higher. Yet Chianti Classico also makes a strong showing and should not be overlooked. In addition, Montepulciano fields a handful of classic-scorers, including both red and dessert wines.
These are the highlights from more than 750 Tuscan wines I have reviewed in blind tastings at our New York office since my previous report (“Challenging Times,” Oct. 15 & 31, 2017). In addition to the 75 wines that earned classic scores, there are another 450 rated outstanding (90 to 94 points), making the current crop of new releases from Tuscany very desirable to Italian wine lovers. (A free alphabetical list of scores and prices for all wines tasted is available.)
The 2015 and 2016 vintages, which are being released now and over the next few years, are worth particular attention—they may be the most scintillating back-to-back vintages from Tuscany in the past three decades.
As you explore these new vintages, however, be aware that the Sangiovese-based wines are very different in structure and flavor profile than the 2013s and 2014s. The 2015s are dense, concentrated reds, with massive structures and muscular tannins coated with opulent textures, while the 2016s are ripe, pure and expressive, with vibrant structures. Both exhibit dark fruit flavors of black cherry, black currant, blackberry, plum, violet and mineral.
Chianti Classico was a major beneficiary of the warm, dry 2015 vintage. The Sangiovese achieved ideal ripeness, and vintners were able to harvest without any pressure from inclement or unpredictable weather.
“When ripeness in the grapes arrives gradually as in 2015, the vines have the possibility to do the best synthesis of the polyphenol and aromatic compounds—and that’s what happened,” reports Marco Pallanti, owner and winemaker at Castello di Ama, whose Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia Gran Selezione 2015 (95, $225) shows both drive and elegance. Four other Ama bottlings from 2015 also rated outstanding this year, including two Chianti Classicos and two super Tuscans: the vibrant Toscana L’Apparita (94, $250) and powerful Toscana Haiku (92, $60).
Castello di Ama is not alone in 2015 in fielding traditional Chianti Classicos, particularly riserva and gran selezione bottlings, that rival the region’s super Tuscans. Overall, the appellation produced the greatest number of high-scoring examples of any vintage I’ve tasted to date. Many of the top Chianti Classicos carry the gran selezione designation, yet some of the best examples don’t use it, so you won’t see it in every case.
Poggerino, the Radda estate owned by brother and sister Piero and Benedetta Lanza, excelled with its Chianti Classico Bugialla Riserva 2015 (96, $42), full of pure cherry, tobacco, rosemary, iron and tar flavors, and its Chianti Classico Nuovo 2015 (95, $30), fermented in a concrete egg and sporting cherry, currant, licorice, spice and iron notes.
“The vintage is for me certainly one of the best along with 2010 and 1990,” says Piero Lanza. “I think the reason the 2015s came out so well is that they are from Radda. It is one of the coolest zones in Chianti Classico, and therefore the vines did not suffer from the long, hot summer we had until the end of July. Another reason, important to me, is that I was able to harvest grapes from vines that are relatively old—between 15 and 25 years—and well-balanced, the result of the work of the previous years.”
Other notable Chianti Classicos from 2015 include the Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva (96, $35), complex, concentrated and pure; the Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna del Sorbo Gran Selezione (95, $89), a muscular and powerful red; and the Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico (95, $25), with enticing aromas of black cherry, leather, tobacco, iron and earth.
As the price tag for the Poggio Bonelli indicates, value is another hallmark of this historic Tuscan region, which delivers it in spades in both 2015 and 2016. Casaloste’s Chianti Classico 2015 (94, $21), Castello di Monsanto’s Chianti Classico Riserva 2015 (94, $25) and Chianti Classico 2016 (93, $20), San Felice’s Chianti Classico 2016 (94, $17) and Lanciola’s Chianti Classico Le Masse di Greve 2015 (93, $22) all offer fantastic quality for the price.
There are also impressive examples from the more austere 2013 vintage. The Antinori Chianti Classico Badia a Passignano Gran Selezione 2013 (95, $60) is vibrant and solidly built, with black cherry, black currant, olive, cedar and tobacco flavors, while the Capraia Chianti Classico Effe 55 Gran Selezione 2013 (95, $30) offers cherry and berry flavors that show purity and complexity.
Senior editor Bruce Sanderson is Wine Spectator’s lead taster on the wines of Tuscany.
For the complete Tuscany tasting report, including scores and prices, read the full article, “Treasure Trove,” in our online magazine archives.