Somewhat surprisingly, it had been since October 2006 since we last compared bottles of Chianti Classico. The previous comparison left us a little disappointed, but in this round the wines redeemed themselves, showing class, complexity, and a sense of place, with solid Sangiovese character.
Our top two bottles were separated by only one point, and our third place finisher could be considered the best value of the night. Four bottles were from the excellent 2015 vintage. All would be even better paired with food.
First Place: Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico Riserva Poggio a’Frati 2015. Looks youthful in color, with a complex nose of campfire, cinnamon, charcoal, bacon, barbecue, matchstick sulfur, and dried shitake mushrooms. Shows just a little fruit, and a little human funk. On the palate, tasters found flavors of black cherry, cherry cola, black pepper, leather, dark chocolate, and dark toasty oak. Focused, and intense, with real elegance. Josephine’s, Kristin’s, and Ali’s favorite of the night, with a total of 30 points. Andy’s bottle. About $30.
Second Place: Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2015. Offers scents of burning ember, forest floor, campfire, cinnamon, crushed dead leaves, and hints of dried cherry, rubber, and gasoline. Autumnal. Andy felt that "I want to get in the sleeping bag and drink this", while Josephine found it “a bit mysterious.” More surprising in the mouth, with much more fruit than the nose would suggest. Has black pepper and cherry flavors that are intense and balanced. Ali described it as "black cherry compote.” A lot of length, with some dried oregano notes emerging. Takes the taster on a journey. Suzanne’s, David’s, and Andy’s favorite, with 29 total points. Josephine’s bottle. About $27.
Third Place: San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio 2015. Tasters found complex aromas of dark spices, crushed rocks, cinnamon, cardamom, spice drawer, iodine, seaweed, beef blood, vanilla, crayon, wax, smoke, dried flowers, and a hint of chocolate. Josephine noted that it "has a depth, keeps revealing itself.” A satisfying palate that included flavors of dark chocolate, black pepper, squid ink, and chocolate covered cherries, plus plenty of acidity and tannin. Evolves with air, and a nice finish, where some new leather and licorice notes come out. Ali noted a hint of aspartame. Everyone except Kristin gave this at least one point, with a total of 13. David’s bottle. About $23.
Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico 2017. Smells juicy, with more obvious fruit. Reminiscent of creamy caramel candy, freesia, prunes, dust, fake fruit essence, dried wood, butter cream, forest floor, freshly brewed coffee, and a hint of leather. Maybe a little bit of aluminum and buttered popcorn. Josephine found it "less layered, more cheerfully fruity”, and David felt that the “fruits are more blue than red.” The palate offered flavors of freshly brewed coffee, pineapple, and blueberries. Kristin felt that it was the most tooth-coating, and David guessed that there is was bit of merlot blended in. With great texture in the mouth, Josephine described it as “friendly and accessible.” Organic. 5 points. Suzanne’s bottle. About $24.
Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva 2013. A pleasing nose, offering notes of cedar, dark cherries, hazelnuts, cinnamon, peony, black olives, caramel, pine needles, and meat. Pretty and fruit forward, this smelled like a clean, masculine man and a dewy forest morning. Suzanne was reminded of "cinnamon in the woods.” Ali decided that "you could take it and roll it up in a paper and smoke it.” Bright in the mouth, with flavors of raw red meat, iron, rusty nails, and a lemony aftertaste. Lots of acidity. Very different on the palate than it was on the nose. Ali felt that "this is not a vegan wine.” 5 points. Kristin’s bottle. About $35.
Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico 2015. Smelled of peach fuzz, rose petals, hazelnuts, grassy field, narcissus flower, leather, Sprite, wet rock, and a little basement funk. Maybe a hint of ammonia or some sort of cleanser, like Ajax. Powdery. Light in feel across the palate, but not without some intensity, this was a little thin compared to the rest, with suggestions of tobacco, dried forest floor, raspberries, and tea. Short finish, and a little basic. 2 points. Ali’s bottle. About $27