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Catching up with Italy’s most famous red wine

Nozzole’s 2001 “La Forra” reminds wine columnist Edward Deitch why Chianti Classico never goes out of style.

Chianti Classico refers to the prime growing area in the famous Chianti region of Tuscany. For me, it also connotes a classic Italian red that, in its best examples, shows why Chianti Classico enjoys a well-deserved reputation for producing some exceptional wines.

It had been some time since I last tasted a good Chianti, which is made primarily from the sangiovese grape, and so I was instantly struck by Tenuta di Nozzole’s 2001 “La Forra” Chianti Classico Riserva. As you may have gathered by now, this is not an everyday Chianti (in general, and if you can afford it, it’s best to skip wines labeled simply “Chianti” as they tend to be the most generic of the wines from this large area).

The pecking order ascends from Chianti to Chianti Classico to Chianti Classico Riserva to wines like “La Forra,” which is the name of an individual, 14-acre vineyard in the larger Nozzole estate in which the grapes for this wine are grown. Other areas of Chianti also produce notable wines, such as Chianti Colli Senesi.

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But things weren’t always what they are today in terms of quality. In their guide, “Vino Italiano,” Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch note that Chianti “has undergone a more profound change in the last twenty years than practically any other wine in Italy. The Chianti Classico zone is now a source of world-class reds, bottles you should stick in your cellar for a few years, not stick candles into.” Indeed, who can forget those plump Chianti bottles in straw casks?

A wine like La Forra makes the image seem quaint. It is elegant and delicious with deep-fruit concentration and balance. Its firm structure suggests that it will evolve for some years but it is drinking nicely now. While you can find decent Chianti Classico for around $20, this single-vineyard reserve wine is about twice the price, so for most of us it will be a wine for a special dinner, anything from roasted meats and chicken to meat sauces or pasta tossed with a sauce of broccoli rabe and garlic in olive oil.

I wrote in my notes that La Forra is a “beautiful blend” of components, including cedar, earth, blackberry and red berry fruit and mocha. I called it “bright and focused.” I also tried the 2003 vintage, which is the newest release. It’s quite on the tannic side at this point and will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age, which the 2001 already has. So it’s better to look for the older wine for drinking now.

Tenuta de Nozzole is owned by the father and son team of Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, who separated from the large family wine business, Ruffino, six years ago to form their own venture. The Nozzole estate has been in the Folonari family since 1971 and the La Forra vineyard has been producing Chianti since the 13th century.

Beyond Nozzole, Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari control eight other estates, all but one of them in Tuscany. They make an excellent white from the , which I reviewed earlier this year.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch