One of the downsides of the generally salutary Italian wine revolution of the last couple of decades has been the dramatic increases in prices, increases that have all too often far exceeded the very real increase in quality. This has been particularly true of the traditional wine of Tuscany, Chianti, whose prices have ridden the ever-cresting wave of increases regardless of whether their quality warrants it or not.
This has done little to enhance their reputation. Recently the sommelier at one of New York's best Italian restaurants was complaining to me that he could sell almost anything on his multipage list, except for the Chianti.
It is a category that's worth persevering with, however, because there are some reasonably priced bottles out there. When the winemaker gets it right, sangiovese, the classic grape of Chianti, can be a pure delight. Such is the case with Castello Gabbiano's Chianti Classico Riserva 2005 ($24).
Old Vines Yield Gems
When you start with poor sangiovese, it definitely helps to beef it up with the addition of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or syrah, and it is this practice that spearheaded the aforementioned Italian wine revolution. But now, 30 years on, there are winemakers who are producing the sorts of high-quality sangiovese grapes that are capable of standing on their own. When you crop low yields from old vines situated in steep, high-altitude vineyards, and treat the wine with respect in the winery, you wind up with a gem like the Castello Gabbiano.
It is absolutely à point at the moment—the perfect balance of fruit and oak and soft, easy tannins. It's fresh and vibrant with the charming exuberance of sangiovese, but rounded out with intriguing hints of earth and smoke that make me think of Tuscan truffles and cinghiale, and dusty roads in summer lined with poplar trees.
What's more, should you find yourself in the neighborhood, Castello Gabbiano also operate a finely appointed restaurant and small hotel in the recently renovated medieval castello. And being only 15 km from Florence…
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour breathing really helps it open up
Food Pairing: Red sauce or meat pasta dishes, roast meats, and game
Grapes: 100% sangiovese
Appellation: Chianti Classico
Web Site: www.gabbiano.com
See more wines at www.nickonwine.com.
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.