Today’s powerful and intense top level examples make it easy to forget that the father of modern chianti, Baron Ricasoli, made provision for a simple basic style to counterbalance those more robust versions with lengthy ageing potential.
Naturally, both approaches feature central Italy’s signature grape, sangiovese (literally “blood of Jove”), but the “keepers” tend to use late picking, careful oak ageing and other modern techniques to create rich, concentrated wine – albeit, these days, also with skilfully controlled tannin levels.
Handled well in warm climates, where sangiovese’s early budding and late ripening is not an issue, the variety rewards us with tangy sour cherry and cranberry flavours, often with floral touches and herbal undertones.
Today, however, I plan to focus on the lighter, summer drinking (and, usually, less expensive) versions the grape produces.
Having scoured the high street for good examples of “simple” sangiovese, here are the three that I consider tick most boxes.
The lightest well-made style I found actually takes us outside Tuscany – to the medium-bodied and great value 2015 Bricchetto Sangiovese Rubicone (£4.99 at Majestic) from Emilia-Romagna. It is centred on ripe red cherry, redcurrant and raspberry fruit with limited but soft tannin and firm acidity accompanied by touches of clove and vanilla.
My top choice, however, is Tuscan – the dark and savoury 2014 Waitrose Chianti (£5.99) with bold black cherry and loganberry fruit. Those components are nicely balanced though by vanilla, cloves and other sweetish spices and kept bright and well defined by the gentlest acidity and tannin.
Those looking for firmer tannins and even more depth, however, should opt for 2013 Mondelli Chianti Riserva (£6 instead of £8 until Tuesday at Sainsbury’s). Here, the black cherry fruit also has denser plum elements and, despite a hint of cinnamon, the spices are more savoury and neatly embellished by touches of wood smoke, herbs and tomatoes.
2010 Juan de Alzate Crianza Rioja
Spain, 13 per cent
The cooler and predominately limestone-based Rioja Alavesa – home to this dark yet vaguely floral red – is the Basque part of the region. Here it brings us wine with cherry and loganberry fruit, fresh acidity (but firm tannin) and appealing suggestions of vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate and underlying hints of cedar wood.
£10.25 at www.judithhardywines.com
2015 Thymiopoulos Malagousia
Central Greece, 12 per cent
This nicely textured white is made from the Greek grape, malagousia, that only narrowly escaped extinction. The wine’s flavours centre around red apple and pear fruit set against a savoury backdrop. It exudes a delightful freshness that acquires additional complexity from some faintly spicy undercurrents.
£9 at M&S
• For regular recommendations on good value wines go to www.midweekwines.co.uk