Tasting Wine: In praise of Fontodi Chianti Classico

Occasionally, I dedicate this column to one producer. To do it, I need to be continually blown away by a whole portfolio. Some producers are often reliable, but when it comes to making every wine stellar all of the time, only a handful come to mind. Italy’s Fattoria Fontodi in Chianti Classico is one.

The first time I tasted a Fontodi wine was in 1990. It was the 1988 Chianti Classico; it was love at first sight. Since then, I’ve bought numerous wines and vintages, have visited the property in Panzano and tasted with the owner, Giovanni Manetti, on several occasions.

Manetti, who is movie-star handsome, was one of the leaders in the movement to modernize the laws governing the Chianti Classico designation in 1996. His family purchased the Case Via farm in 1968 and brought in renowned enologist Franco Bernabei in 1979 to consult.

From the Chianti Classico to the rare pinot noir, all of Fontodi’s wines are made from estate fruit. The winery also produces an olive oil that is out of this world. Stylistically, the wines are slightly on the traditional side, showing a lot of the dusty, tobacco character of Chianti Classico in general and licorice of Panzano without being rustic.

The wines may seem a little pricey, at least for the region,but they exemplify the fact that Chianti Classico is capable of making world-class wines. Try these, then let me know what you think.

Fontodi Chianti Classico, 2005 — Made entirely from sangiovese, this “introductory wine” is anything but simple. It’s medium-bodied with bright acidity, red currants, plums, tobacco, a hint of almond and a long, powerful finish. If only all “intro” wines were this good. Suggested retail: $37

Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva, Vigna del Sorbo, 2000 — This single vineyard wine might be considered Fontodi’s flagship. The 2000 is drinking great now, but will age for another decade. At the moment, it offers a mound of rich red currant fruit underscored by tobacco, licorice and chocolate. Suggested retail: $62

Fontodi “Case Via” Syrah, 2003 — I’m not sure when Fontodi started bottling syrah, but I’ve had vintages going back to the early 1990s which strike a perfect balance between the inherent characteristics of syrah and its terroir. Full-bodied with huckleberry, black-cherry fruit, black pepper, tobacco and licorice, this might be Italy’s best example of the grape. Suggested retail: $67

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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