Discover more from Tannic Panic!
Tannic Panic! Issue #11: Tuscan Value Fiasco
Super Tuscans, Brunello, and Hannibal's Favey: Chianti
What’s new, you pack of rabid winosceroses? This week we’re headed back to Italy for another round of value hunting, but while our last “visit” to the proverbial land of tomato sauce and olive trees had us wandering aimlessly around Barolo in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, now we are heading a wee bit south, to the mythical land of Tuscany.
Here you’ll find amazing food, gorgeous landscapes, and an iconic statue of a naked dude known to his closest friends as “Davey.” Oh yeah, and WINE.
Tuscany was a center for winemaking in the Etruscan civilization, which pre-dated the Roman Empire. Historical evidence suggests that the Etruscans were making wine since before we were even born (as early as the 8th century B.C.)
It is also home to what is perhaps the most famous wine region in Italy — Chianti.
Chianti is a picturesque area riddled with rolling hills, olive groves, and cypress trees, known for producing (SPOILER ALERT!) Chianti wine.
Chianti is typically a red blend made primarily from the Sangiovese grape (minimum of 70% Sangiovese, higher in certain sub-regions). The wines often show flavors of cherry, plum, and earthy spices, and are typically high in acidity and tannins, which can make for excellent aging potential.
The Chianti region stretches across an area of over 250 square miles and is divided into seven sub-zones, two of which produced bottles in our line up for you today — Chianti Rufina, and Chianti Classico (the OG Chianti zone).
DOES A SQUAT LITTLE BOTTLE enclosed in a straw basket come to mind when you think of Chianti? This type of bottle is known as a “fiasco” (JUST LIKE MY CHILDBIRTH) and was historically used because it was easier (and cheaper) to create glass bottles that were round bottomed. The woven basket creates a structure for setting it down without spilling.
While Chianti may be the most recognized wine territory in Tuscany, it is far from the only one offering rich, unique profiles STEEPED in Italian tradition and terroir. Venturing a little further south, one encounters Montalcino, another region that produces wine that has long held a reputation of both prestige and distinction.
Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino is a renowned Italian red wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino. Unlike in the neighboring Chianti region, Brunello cannot be blended: it is made entirely from the Sangiovese grape variety (specifically a clone called Sangiovese Grosso or "Brunello").
The aging requirements for Brunello di Montalcino are among the most stringent in Italy, requiring a minimum of 5 years of age before release onto the market (6 to be labeled “Riserva”).
These aging requirements help to ensure the complexity, longevity, and distinctive character of Brunello di Montalcino wines. They typically display rich flavors of black cherry, blackberry, chocolate, leather, and spice, with high tannins and acidity that allow them to age and evolve for many years.
And, of course, we have to touch on the final style featured in this week’s selections, which played a critical role in shaping the modern-day wine landscape of Tuscany:
The Super Tuscan
The defining feature of Super Tuscan wines is not the use of any specific grape variety — it the winemakers' freedom to experiment outside the traditional rules of Tuscan winemaking.
They emerged on the market in the 1970’s as wine producers in Tuscany felt restricted by the stringent regulations of the Chianti DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), which dictated which grape varieties could be used and in what proportions. The traditional blend was predominantly Sangiovese, with a requirement to include white grapes like Trebbiano, which some winemakers felt detracted from the quality and potential of the wine.
The “Super Tuscan" was born when some of these vintners decided to break from tradition and experiment with grape varieties not authorized by the Chianti DOC — particularly Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The most famous example being Sassicaia, credited as the first Super Tuscan blend which to this day remains one of the most lauded labels of the style.
Despite being initially classified as mere table wines (vino da tavola) due to their non-compliance with DOC rules, they quickly gained international recognition for their high quality, and ultimately lead to the creation of a new official denominational category, IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), in 1992. This category recognized the quality of wines that fell outside traditional DOC or DOCG rules, and it was a significant milestone in the history of Italian winemaking. It is important to note, however, that because this denomination is subject to far less regulation, the quality of IGT wines can vary greatly between producers and regions, etc…
… AND NOW FOR THE REVIEWS (IN ORDER OF PRICE):
2021 Tesoro Della Regina Chianti Classico / 13% ABV / 91 Points / $15
Profile: Cranberry, cherry, roses, bay leaf, black olive, rosemary, chocolate
An interesting, complex, balanced, and delicious wine for $15??? Whaaaaaaa
One swirl and you’ll be swimming in aromas of cranberry, cherry, roses, bay leaf, black olive, rosemary, and chocolate. Layers on layers that continue to develop as the wine opens up. Great finish. WOW!
A real value buy right off the bat — let’s give us a pat on the back.
Pair with grilled eggplant, or eggplant parm.
2019 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva / 13.5% ABV / 93 Points / $20 (Value Pick!)
Profile: Black cherry, plum, flowers, mocha, licorice and black pepper
Crack this little corksucker open and inhale the fine, fine aromas of black cherry, plum, flowers, mocha, licorice and black pepper. A much riper, richer style of Chianti than we expected. Delicious and complex. Hold the fiasco - this isn’t your stereotypical pale and acidic “straw basket” Chianti.
The Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva offers outstanding value at $20 a bottle. In fact, I DEMAND you stop reading this IMMEDIATELY and go fill your incomprehensibly tiny little shopping carts to the brim with these puppies, and proceed to drink them all (**OVER THE COURSE OF A MEDICALLY RESPONSIBLE AND SUFFICIENTLY EXTENDED PERIOD OF DAYS**).
Full bodied and well balanced with a lingering finish.
Pair with Ribollita.
2017 Poggio Lontano Brunello di Montalcino / 14% ABV / 91 Points / $23
Profile: Dried cherry, violets, copper penny, tobacco and leather.
We get classic Brunello notes with cherry and leather, crooning in harmony with violets, pipe tobacco, and the zing of copper penny on the tongue.
It’s full bodied and dry, with high acidity, medium+ tannins, and a fairly long finish. Far better than I would’ve expected at this price point.
The Poggio Lontano offers incredible value for a Brunello, which tends to be in a MUCH higher price range (think 2-3x starting bid). Picked this one up from Trader Joe’s for just $23. If you see it, nab it.
And trust me, LET IT BREATHE.
Pair with truffle risotto, or porcini pappardelle.
2019 Re De Renieri Toscana / 14.5% ABV / 92+ Points / $40
Profile: Tart blackberry, black cherry, plum, violets, chocolate, leather, graphite, spice
This is hands down one of my favorite wines in existence at this price point. Indulge in a heavy pour and take a good long whiff of the deep, inky ruby Zeus juice blessing your glass.
Complex with layered aromas and flavors of tart blackberry and plum, black cherry, violets, chocolate, leather, graphite, spice and faint balsamic notes. A hint of volatile acidity that dissipates as it opens up.
The wine is full bodied and rich, with a silky smooth mouthfeel and flavors that linger on your tongue.
If you are a big fan of the Bordeaux style blend, then this is the one for you. A wonderful illustration of the diversity of styles found in the Tuscany region — dramatically different from the Chianti style, yet still has a distinctive sense of terroir.
At $40 a bottle ($35 with the 6 bottle discount, which you’ll unquestionably achieve) this is an incredible value buy from Total Wine & More.
Because of the intensity of the acidity, this bottle will almost certainly only get better with a few years in the cellar. Drink it now, wait, we don’t care — it’s great either way.
Pair with penne puttanesca, or even a slice of your favorite cheese (plant based, or otherwise).
Tuscany, baby! Let the good wines roll.
We hope you enjoyed this little foray into one of Italy’s most important regions, and came out of it holding several bottles of primo value wines (PER OUR INSTRUCTION). We most certainly will be back, because we’ve only just scratched the surface.
Until next time, happy drinking.
Isaac & Zach
Tannic Panic! is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Cheers!