Hello friends. New vintages of three Chiantis from our well-loved winery partner San Felice have landed in Seattle, all well-reviewed and well-priced, and just in time for peak Sangiovese-drinking season. Dark days, bubbling pots, and rustic Chiantis? Sign me up.
[Note: at the risk of making a long offer even longer, I’m also going to include a reoffer at the bottom for San Felice’s well-received 2010 Brunello, not in our original 750ml format but instead in 1.5L magnums that just arrived for the holidays. And a luscious sticky from San Felice. Because I lack self-control.]
I continue to be thrilled with the way our list members have embraced Chianti over the past few years. It is a terrific value-hunter’s category, but it requires legwork, a lot of frog-kissing to find the princes. And that’s the Full Pull model: we kiss the frogs so you don’t have to.
Chianti’s fortunes are improving in the US market, but it’s still walking the line between fashionable and unfashionable, still burdened by the days of swill-in-straw-baskets. But no matter. We know better. Fashion or no, we know that Chianti remains one of the world’s beating hearts of Sangiovese, and that the good bottles are really, really good.
A Chianti producer that our list has gone crazy for is San Felice, which is in the commune of Castelnuovo Berardenga (located here), at an altitude of about 1300ft. Their grounds encompass 650 hectares of grapes, 17,000 olive trees (!), and an agritourismo (!!). Fortunately we have an import partner in Seattle who direct-imports these wines right into town, so we’re always able to access decent parcels, and always able to offer strong tariffs compared to their release prices.
Always a classic Classico for me, this blend of 80% Sangiovese and 10% each Colorino and Pugnitello comes from the calcareous marl soils of Castelnuovo Berardenga in the foothills outside of Siena, and it is aged for a year in large Slavonian oak botti. It clocks in at 12.5% listed alc and offers a nose of sour cherry, red plum, and blood orange fruits, along with some exotic complexities of star anise and tobacco leaf. The palate is electric, with terrific weight and presence for such moderate alcohol. Very true to Italy, this is comfortable with its bright acidity, its delicious toothsome tannins, its just-right rusticity.
I’ve been making a simple tomato sauce lately where you lightly caramelize chopped garlic in butter and olive oil, then add one big can each of crushed and whole-peeled San Marzano tomatoes (and some crushed red chili if you’re feeling feisty). Then you drop a handful of basil in (stems, leaves, everything), and let it simmer and steep the basil for about an hour. Pull the basil out just before serving, and you get a wonderful basil kick to your sauce. Add fresh pasta (or better yet, gnocchi), grate some good Grana Padano, and you’re good to go. Why am I telling you this? Because this San Felice Classico is the perfect wine for that meal.
Wine Spectator (Bruce Sanderson): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD] 90pts.”
Wine Enthusiast (Kerin O’Keefe): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”
A number of differences here. First, this is a selection of some of San Felice’s oldest/best vineyard sites. Second, it comes from a warmer, riper vintage. Third, it’s 100% Sangiovese. And finally, it gets twice as long (24 months) in the traditional Slavonian botti (and a small portion goes into smaller barrel).
All of that adds up to a very different wine indeed. I mean, let’s just start with the alcohol, here listed at 14.5% (compared to 12.5% for the Classico). As you’d expect, where the Classico is nervy and elegant, Grigio is rich and generous. It starts with an expressive, ripe nose of black cherry and mixed mushrooms and browning meats. The palate is just openly delicious, the wine a total charmer with its mix of rich fruits and earthy/savory elements. Its tannins are broad and ripe, and the finishing lick is one of black tea and cherry-pit bitters. This is one for richer dishes. If you start involving Italian sausage, or maybe braising some short ribs and putting them on top of polenta, this is the wine of the bunch you’ll want to turn to.
If you’re interested in Chianti and its stylistic range, you owe it to yourself to open a ’12 Classico and an ’11 Grigio side by side. It’s an educational experience, and I’d argue that you don’t need to love only one or the other. They each have their place on the table; it’s completely dependent upon context.
Wine Spectator (Bruce Sanderson): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”
Poggio Rosso is San Felice’s single-vineyard gem (they call it “the true aristocrat of Chianti Classico”), and it blends 80% Sangiovese with 10% each of the considerably more rare Colorino and Pugnitello. It is aged for 20 months in large Slavonian oak botti, followed by another 15 months in bottle, before release. That means this was likely released in early 2014, so we get the benefit of an extra two years of bottle age, taking it right up against the beginning of peak drinking. Sweet.
Vinous (Antonio Galloni): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”
Wine Enthusiast (Kerin O’Keefe): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”
This is by far the most limited wine of the bunch, so I won’t add much more, except to say: I really like this wine; it is wonderfully earthy and massively structured; it is true to Italy in general and Chianti specifically; and it would be a knockout with bistecca alla fiorentina, the monster t-bone of Tuscany.
Originally offered April 12, 2015. Everything is the same except for the bottle size. And nothing gets a holiday party started like a giant bottle of Sangiovese! Excerpts from original offer:
Now to date, we’ve focused almost exclusively on San Felice’s glorious Chianti portfolio, but they also quietly own a 65-hectare estate called Campogiovanni, on the southwestern side of Montalcino, deep in the heart of Brunello country. They purchased the estate in the early ‘80s, when Brunello was still a sleepy category, and have carefully tended it since. Twenty of the hectares are planted to vines (and fourteen of those twenty are used for Brunello production), and the remainder in olives and forest. It looks like this. [Sigh. Must visit.] This is a traditional Brunello, aged for about three years mostly in large, neutral Slavonian botti before spending another year in bottle.
Wine Spectator (Bruce Sanderson): “[[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”
I’d say this one has a puncher’s chance at winding up on Spectator’s year-end Top 100 list. They’ll likely want to include a 2010 Brunello due to the acclaim of the vintage, and right now, the seven wines with stronger reviews (six 96pt reviews and one 98pt review) range in price from $60 to $190, and all are smaller production than San Felice’s. Since Spectator factors in score, price, and availability (production), San Felice seems like a strong candidate.
Since we’re entering the holiday season, when you may actually have enough people around to polish off a 375ml bottle of sticky wine, this is the perfect time to access San Felice’s Vin Santo, now at nearly a decade past vintage. This is a traditional Vin Santo, both in varieties (75% Trebbiano Toscano/25% Malvasia del Chianti) and production process, which involves laying picked grape clusters on straw mats for 2-3 months to allow the grapes’ water content to evaporate. The shriveled raisins are pressed in December or January, then fermented and raised for a full five years in small oak casks (“caratelli”), followed by another few years in bottle. Listed alc is a sturdy 18%, and residual sugar is 5.1%. The nose mixes figs and dates, coffee and caramel, and a lovely sweet/savory note like sweet corn. The palate is plenty rich, sweet but not overly so, and just charming with its flavors of toffee and caramel-dipped dried fruits. A beautiful sticky wine that begs for an after-dinner cheese course.
It’s first come first served on the Classico and the Grigio and the Vin Santo, with no upper order limits. For the Poggio and the Brunello Magnums, please limit order requests to 3 bottles and 2 bottles, respectively, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. All of these wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.