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Teach Yourself

Learn Chianti Classico in 12 Bottles

Immerse yourself in this important Italian subregion — for under $250

Vicki Denig By March 9, 2022
exterior shot of Montefioralle in Tuscany
Montefioralle, located next to the Medieval village of Montefioralle, in Greve in Chianti, in the heart of Chianti Classico in Tuscany. Photo by Roland Marder/iStock Wine pour photo by fcafotodigital/iStock.

For many wine drinkers, Tuscany has been their gateway into wine. Carefree memories of drinking copious carafes of wine beneath the Tuscan sun, all set against a backdrop of rolling green hills peppered with vines  what’s not to love? Truth be told, if the wine in that vacation carafe was red, it was more probably produced from Sangiovese, Tuscany’s most notable wine-producing grape variety. 

But not all Sangiovese is created equal. As a good chunk of Tuscany’s Sangiovese is vinified entry-level Chianti or simple red table wine, it made local winemakers think about how to set their higher-quality wines apart from the rest. The answer? Stricter appellations with more rigid farming and vinification standards.

Enter Chianti Classico.

Quick Facts

  • Location Tuscany, Italy. 
  • Size 100 square miles from Florence to Siena.
  • Main Grape Varieties Sangiovese. 

Along with Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the wines of Chianti Classico make up the backbone of Tuscany’s higher-quality red wine market. According to DOCG regulations, wines bearing the Chianti Classico label must be produced from a minimum of 80% Sangiovese. Up to 20% of other permitted red varieties, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo, and/or Colorino may be included, though many Chianti Classicos are 100% Sangiovese. They must also have a minimum of 12% alcohol and be aged for 12 months prior to release. For Chianti Classico Riserva wines, these numbers are upped to 12.5% and 24 months, respectively

What is Gran Selezione?

To complicate matters further, the Chianti Classico Consorzio introduced the Gran Selezione category in 2014, intending it to sit at the top of the quality pyramid. Wines bearing a Chianti Classico Gran Selezione label must contain a minimum of 90% Sangiovese, as opposed to 80% for standard Chianti Classico wines, and no international varieties may be used. For now, only Gran Selezione wines may include specific subzones on their labels. Just over 5% of Chianti Classico’s wine production is sold with Gran Selezione designations.

Subzones of Chianti Classico

The Chianti Classico region is broken down into 11 subzones: Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio, and Vagliagli. Think of these appellations like villages of Burgundy or sub-AVAs of Napa. Each of these subzones boasts their own unique characteristics and defining traits. 

Castelnuovo Berardenga

Castelnuovo Berardenga is located in the southern portion of the Chianti Classico area. The subzone’s two main areas create a butterfly-like shape and are home to a variety of soil types. Wines from Castelnuovo Berardenga are known for their bold yet fresh nature and are generally more concentrated than those from other subregions. They are often said to boast similar characteristics to those of their Brunello di Montalcino counterparts. 

Gaiole

Along with Castellina and Radda, Gaiole is deemed one of Chianti’s most historic areas. The subregion’s topography is quite hilly and laden with forests, woods, and vineyards. Overall, the area is diverse topographically and in terms of soils, rendering it a great mini representation of the overarching Chianti Classico growing area itself. Wines from Gaiole are known for their solid structure and vibrant acidity, as well as their distinct minerality. 

Lamole

Located on the opposite side of the Greve River from Panzano, Lamole sits on a high ridge and is best known for its hilltop village and eponymous castle. Here, vineyards are planted at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, making them some of the highest in all of Chianti Classico. Soils are dominated by sandstone, and although staggeringly high, vines receive ample sunshine. Due to its high altitude, Lamole is one of the coolest subzones of Chianti Classico. Wines from Lamole are known for being nervy, refreshing, and laden with natural acidity.

Panzano

Known locally as the “conca d’oro,” golden basin, Panzano is undeniably one of the top growing areas within the Chianti Classico zone. Located halfway between Florence and Siena, the region is home to a handful of small growers, of which 95% are certified organic. Panzano vineyards are characterized by southern exposures and layered soils known as alberese, or compact clay-limestone, and galestro, or brittle, schist-based soil, that allow fruit to optimally ripen without ever sacrificing quality. While alberese generally brings out the bold and fruit-driven side of Sangiovese, vines cultivated in galestro yield high-toned, aromatic fruit laden with acidity. Wines from Panzano are known for their full body, high quality, and harmonious, juicy flavor profiles. 

Radda

Radda is one of the best known and most historically important subregions in all of Chianti Classico. Famously part of the group of areas to make up the original Chianti zone, today, the subzone is best known for its high-quality wine production, of which 70% is certified organic. Wines from Radda are known for their elegance, sophistication, and high-toned aromatics, as well as their impeccable ability to age. 

Now taste Chianti Classico for yourself:

Radda

bottle of Val delle Corti Chianti Classico

Val delle Corti Chianti Classico 2017 (~$35)

While many wines from Radda are best enjoyed with a few years of age on them, this easy-drinking pick from Val delle Corti is perfect for consuming now. Produced from some of Radda’s highest vineyards, up to 1,610 feet in elevation, by the dynamic Roberto Bianchi, an advocate of wines that don’t make you tired, this crushable Sangiovese is as good as it gets and the fact that it’s produced from organic/biodynamically-farmed fruit makes the deal all the sweeter.

bottle of 2019 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico DOCG

Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2019 (~$25)

Castello di Volpaia knows a thing or two about producing high-quality, Sangiovese-based wines. The estate was established in 1172 and is one of the region’s longest-standing pioneers of organic farming. Today, the Mascherino family carries on the legacy of this historic estate. Spearheaded by the youthful Federica and Niccolò, their global experience brings an international and forward-thinking twist to the winery. Their Chianti Classico contains 10% Merlot, which creates a silkier, more plush flavor profile than generally amongst the region’s wines. 

bottle of Tenuta di Carleone Chianti Classico

Tenuta di Carleone Chianti Classico (~$29)

After completing his studies at Geisenheim University, the renowned German wine college, Sean O’Callaghan set off to Italy on his motorbike, where he partnered with Karl Egger at Tenuta di Carleone. For the past ten years, the duo has organically and biodynamically farmed a handful of small plots that total 50 acres in one of the region’s most sought-after subzones. Their flagship Chianti Classico is produced entirely from Sangiovese and is aged for 18 months in cement and steel, no oak, prior to being bottled unfined and unfiltered. This fresh, fruit-driven expression is the definition of “bevibilità” drinkability, in Italian. 

bottle of Monteraponi Chianti Classico

Monteraponi Chianti Classico 2018 (~$32)

Radda is known for its talented producers and emphasis on honest, high-quality wines, and Monteraponi’s expressions have long surpassed the region’s already brilliant reputation. Spearheaded by Michele Braganti, this 95/5 blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo is the textbook expression of well-made Chianti Classico from Radda: It’s expressive, floral-tinged, and laden with thirst-quenching acid. Fruit comes from soils rich in marl and schist, and the wine is vinified in cement tanks, followed by aging in lark oak vessels prior to being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

bottle of Istine Chianti Classico

Istine Chianti Classico 2018 (~$25)

In the realm of site-specific Chianti Classico wines, Istine is making waves. This rather new estate, founded in 2009, is spearheaded by the dynamic and forward-thinking Angela Fronti, whose main focus lies on highlighting the area’s unique sites through single-vineyard bottlings. Her “normale” Chianti Classico is concentrated, bright, and boasts a surprising structure for an entry-level cuvée though make no mistake, nothing about this wine screams base level. Fermentation is done with native yeasts in concrete tanks, followed by a 45-day maceration and 12 months of aging in large barrels. 

bottle of Montevertine Toscana

Montevertine Rosso di Toscana 2018 (~$69)

Although it may seem contrary to round out a Chianti Classico list with a Rosso di Toscana, we’d be remiss to not mention Montevertine’s game-changing bottle in our lineup. Best known for their top-tier cuvée Le Pergole Torte, this game-changing estate decided to forgo the use of the Chianti Classico DOCG on their labels though don’t be fooled. These wines embody just as much Chianti Classico heart and soul as any other producer on this list. Montevertine’s Rosso di Toscana is produced from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino and Canaiolo, all harvested from organically farmed sites. In the cellar, the wine undergoes traditional vinification in old concrete vats and is aged for two years in large Slavonian oak casks. For fans of ethereal, Burgundy-reminiscent wines, look no further than this lifted, cellar-worthy cuvée.

Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga

bottle of Castello di Ama Chianti Classico

Castello di Ama Chianti Classico (~$33) | Gaiole

Situated in the hills of Gaiole, Castello di Ama comprises a diverse landscape of forests, olive groves, and vines. Historically, viticulture here dates back over 1,000 years, though the modern-day portion of the Castello’s story began about four decades ago. Today, the winery is spearheaded by Marco Pallanti, former president of the Consorzio. During his tenure, Marco worked tirelessly to define the unique nuances of Chianti Classico’s growing areas. This attention to site-specific detail is evident in his meticulously crafted wines, and his varietal Sangiovese Chianti Classico is no exception. In addition to his traditional Chianti Classico, Marco also produces wines from a handful of unique to the region varieties, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malvasia Nera, and more. 

bottle of Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico

Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico 2017 (~$25) | Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga

For a broader overview of Chianti Classico, dive into the wines of Barone Ricasoli. Coupled with its centuries-old history, the estate owns 600 acres across the region, though their actual winery is situated in Gaiole. Today, the company’s current owner and president Francesco Ricasoli continues to study the nuances amongst various clones and soil types, while also continuing to perfect the estate’s flagship Chianti Classico. Produced with up to 20% of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this international blend shows the darker, more full-bodied side of Chianti Classico wines. 

bottle of Fèlsina Berardenga Rancia Chianti Classico Riserva

Felsina Chianti Classico 2018 (~$19) | Castelnuovo Berardenga

Located in the southeastern part of the Chianti Classico region, Felsina produces their flagship wine in the heart of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Here, fruit comes from a variety of soils, ranging from calcareous alberese to sandstone and loam and beyond however, the uniting factor is the grape variety, Sangiovese, of which the wine is made from 100%. The wine is fruit-driven and elegant, marked by spicy aromas and a lasting finish. Felsina first produced this wine in 1967 and has been going strong ever since. 

Other Subzones

bottle of Fontodi Chianti Classico

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2017 (~$47) | Panzano

Fontodi’s Chianti Classico may cost a bit more than the other bottles listed, though when produced in the region’s famed conca d’oro, it’s kind of par for the course. The estate is spearheaded by Giovanni Manetti, who has also served as the chairman of the Consorzio Chianti Classico since the fall of 2018. This high-quality wine is produced entirely from Sangiovese and ages for 18 months in Troncais and Allier barrels prior to release. This bottle is perfect for drinking now, laying down for a few years, or both. 

bottle of I Fabbri Chianti Classico

I Fabbri Lamole Chianti Classico 2018 (~$24) | Lamole

Casole, the estate which Susanna Grassi calls home, has been in her family since the 1600s. Although the family has cultivated fruit since its inception, it wasn’t until Susanna’s grandfather took the reins during the 1920s that the family first began to estate bottle wine. After a stint away from the winery, Susanna returned determined to bring her family’s and the region’s  traditional love for the land back to life. Her expressive and fresh Chianti Classico shows a lighter, more ethereal side of what wines from the region can be acid-focused, bright, and exuding with finesse. 

bottle of 2018 Marchesi di Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico DOCG

Marchesi di Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2018 (~$24) | Various Subzones

Italian wine lovers are no strangers to the Antinori name. Best known for their world-renowned Super Tuscan wine, Tignanello, their Chianti Classico cuvée provides a more entry-level view into what the estate is all about. Pèppoli is produced mostly from Sangiovese, with a small amount of Merlot, Syrah, and Malvasia peppered in. For fans of fruit-forward, full-bodied reds, this Chianti Classico expression promises to please.