In the region of Tuscany, between the two ancient cities of Florence and Siena, are 100 square miles of hills reaching their peak at almost 3,000 feet above sea level. These hills, called the Chianti Hills, produce some of the most famous wines in the world.
In Tuscany, the Sangiovese grape comes in many forms depending on the region. But in the hills of Chianti, with the advantage of a drainy clay soil called galestro, the wines achieve what I call Italian elegance: the ability to be refined and balanced, with winemakers confident and skilled enough to show off a rustic side wrapped up in a light touch.
This is a great time of year for Chianti. The first half of spring brings unpredictable weather that’s just right for the medium cherry and cranberry flavors of these wines. They can be juicy and bright, or broody and dark, but they will always have wonderful natural acidity to lift up any weight that nature and oak want to give.
Chianti pairs well with lean meats like skirt steak, as well as roasted chicken. At the same time, it will sit comfortably next to classic pasta and red sauce or an earthy mushroom pasta. Classico wines can age for up to 20 years but are often approachable throughout their lifespan. But the younger examples or a good general Chianti, with a slight chill, can absolutely handle a sunny-day Caprese or carpaccio di manzo.
I listed some of my favorite Chiantis below that will get you started. There is a non-Classico, a few Classico Riserva with individual uniqueness, and a big ol’ Gran Selezione. And with options ranging from affordable to pricey, this list is a true representation of all there is to love about Chianti.
Giacomo Mori Palazzone Chianti DOCG $15
It would be very hard for me to find a straight-up non-Classico Chianti below 20 bucks that can beat this wine. The quality-to-price ratio floors me. It’s so bright and inviting, with lively acidity and smells of peak-season cherries and cranberries, plus a whiff of soil when it wakes up in spring. The palate is so damn balanced, you may want to check your credit card statement and confirm the price.
Cecchi ‘Storia di Famiglia’ Chianti Classico DOCG $18
This one just hits right. The smells of cherries and cranberries are here, but in a more concentrated form. It feels earthy. Then, the natural acidity comes and blows life into that density — livening the wine up from the core of fruit. You can feel the tannins, but they are subtle and there solely to represent the structure of the wine.
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG $26
The refinement of this wine is everything. It has a preciseness due to impeccable balance. Your brain will register the welcoming sour cherry smell, along with hints of an orange peel and maybe a touch of herbs like parsley and the high tone of coriander seeds. Your palate will recognize the tannin as it runs, weaving itself into the wine and resulting in a supple mouthfeel. And before you can even react to the juice, your nose is back in that glass. It’s a wonderful wine.
Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG $100
Are you a Chianti-head and want to get nice with what this Gran Selezione thing is all about? This wine defines the category and then doubles down. It’s not just estate-grown fruit, but from a single vineyard that is 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. “Gorgeous” is the first word that comes to mind here. The core of fruit is deep, with a savory tang of iron. The finesse of this wine cannot be overstated — unleashing balanced aromas and elegant weight with every sip.
Marchesi Frescobaldi Tenuta Perano Chianti Classico DOCG $25
Sitting around a table filled with food and surrounded by friends; aromas hovering the room making everyone ravenous. The sound of laughter and clanking of utensils on plates. The sharp pop of a cork among the comfy din. Oh, what a feeling. This bottle reminds me of those moments. This is a Chianti Classico for everyone. A soft, evenly balanced palate shines with moderate acidity. That natural lift carries the smells of a juicy plum vibe. Cutting through the fruit core are some earthy mushroom aromas, with a whisper of worn leather. This is a case-buy for sure.
Felsina has a special place in my heart. It’s one of those wines you never forget. And it’s not just the beautiful, rusted edges in the glass that show excellent aging, or the intoxicating panoply of plum and sour cherry with a dose of raspberry and a scattering of dried flowers. Not even the earthy leather mint aroma playing off the aged saddle leather (yeah, there’s a lot of smells here). It’s the texture. It sits on your palate like a mousse. The fruit is dense and chewy. But the natural acidity breaks it all apart, releasing aromas on the nose and palate, back to the brain for another round. The powerful, padded structure of this wine will stick in your thoughts for a while.