Fontodi is the poster child of everything positive achieved in Chianti Classico with modernization. In 1968, the Manetti family purchased this property and ushered the Panzano zone into the minds of collectors, showing a "Super Tuscan" could still be super without resigning to blending international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with native Sangiovese.
Atop the Conca d'Oro, Fontodi's vines bask in the sun in this northern property at 450 meters above sea level. The estate's oldest vines mainly grow on porous and fragile gaelstro soil and go into the flagship Flaccianello. Walking throughout this immaculate, pristine cuverie and cellar, I was reminded of Bordeaux's influence on the region. Aging for the flagship Falccianello takes place in 100% new French barrique. Normally, this would be a turn-off for me in Chianti, but the mastery of integrating this wood has earned Fontodi the respect of traditional-leaning collectors for decades.
It's not often that I find myself reaching for the more modern examples of Sangiovese, but without a doubt, Flaccianello is where to turn for Chianti at its most stately and refined. The track record of Flaccianello in the cellar is legendary. Today, bottles from the 1980s are still fresh and offer thrilling drinking experiences.
From Rome through Florence, top restaurant wine lists all find a space for these age-worthy Chianti Classicos from vintages stretching back to the early 70's. This is where the longevity and transformative capabilities of Sangiovese are best illustrated. During my trip to Tuscany in 2016, no estate garnered the same respect from winemakers and sommeliers quite like Castell'in Villa.
Castell'in Villa doesn't fall into any easy category other than being staunchly traditional in their vinification and aging. The estate's soil has an unusual makeup of fossilized fragments that conjure Chablis more than Tuscany. The profound mineral aspect combined with the structure from these choice old vines, dedicated to the Riserva, arguably makes for one of the most sought-after aged wines in Tuscany.
Greek Princess, Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa, has overseen the property here for many years, residing in the 13th-century tower above the winery. She keeps a healthy stock of back vintages, namely the epic 1971 Chianti Classico Riserva that's still found on top Michelin starred wine lists in Italy.
"Giovanna's wines are pure, bright, fresh and juicy, with bracing acidity and lingering flavors of red fruit and flowers." — Eric Asimov, NYT
When I have the opportunity to prove that Chianti Classico can show grace and pristine fruit quality akin to Red Burgundy, I use Giovanna Morganti's Le Trame as my first example. I implore you to trust this will be your moment of clarity for Sangiovese.
Importer Neal Rosenthal's Montevertine is a benchmark for the region, but his other discovery, Le Boncie, better illustrates Sangiovese's sometimes elusive, fruit-forward profile and silken tannins. Earlier this year, Eric Asimov of the New York Times included Le Trame in his top ten list of Chianti Classicos.
Giovanna farms her fives hectares using organic and biodynamic principles. I could go down the rabbit hole on farming, fermentation, and aging specifics, but I'd like to cut this one short and say: This is a profound wine that's a joy to drink. I've lost count of the number of times I've used this bottling to convince friends that Sangiovese can be fun, approachable, and deadly serious. Below is a photo from my 2017 visit and the gorgeous color of the barrel sample that had me in love.
I stepped out of the car and was hit by an intense blast of heat when arriving at Stella di Campalto. Tuscany was in the middle of a very extended heatwave, and the north side of Montalcino had been substantially cooler. How was this the home of the famously dubbed Burgundian estate in all of Montalcino? However, Stella di Campalto wines defy any preconceived notions you may have about Montalcino Sangiovese Grosso.
There are many keys to the surprisingly fine and lifted personality of Stella’s wines. Many parcels contain high sand and white quartz concentrations, and strong breezes come down from Mount Amiata, a former volcano. A nearby river also plays a role, helping temperatures dip low at night and preserving much-needed acidity. We tasted parcel by parcel (a rare opportunity) and could see how these elements worked together to create this tiny estate's grand image; some were high-toned with white pepper spice, and others darker and more savory.
Young Stella grew up in Milan, fell in love with Italian wine, and inherited her property on the southern side of Montalcino in 1992. (Podere San Giuseppe dates back to 1910 when Giuseppe Martelli had a sharecropping estate and abandoned it in 1940). After exploring the rundown farmhouse and finding the quiet setting comfortable, Stella planted vines. She was adamant about growing 100% Sangiovese and farming the land with certified organic and biodynamic principles.
The estate comprises six hectares of vines, with each parcel fermented on its own before blending. Fermentations are in old, open-top wood casks, with four pump-overs per day, an element of the soft tannins. The wines age in botti with a tiny addition of old barrique. It is rare to come across a Brunello that shows well each time it's poured—no matter the vintage, whether it's decanted, or popped open and served.
One of the highlights of my summer trip to Tuscany in 2017 was the in-depth visit atop Montalcino with Alberto Passeri of La Gerla. These vines originally belonged to Franco Biondi-Santi—creator of the first Brunello di Montalcino—though Franco's disgruntled sister sold a small slice of their land to Sergio Rossi in 1976.
Named after the small wooden picking bins worn on one's back, La Gerla is an homage to the vineyard workers who worked tirelessly to bring in the best raw materials. Today, the estate encompasses 12 hectares of vines, all farmed organically. Once in botti, the wines showing more approachability in their youth are bottled as Rosso di Montalcino. This is one of the best deals in traditional Montalcino!