When it comes to Chianti, arguably the most famous wine region in Tuscany, almost all the attention goes to Chianti Classico, considered the best area within the large Chianti zone. Wines labeled just “Chianti” are often thought of as simple table wines, and not much more than that.
You might think differently, as I did, if you try the Chianti “Castiglioni” from the venerable producer Frescobaldi. It’s one of those wines that Frescobaldi likely banks on for consistency year in and year out. My local wine store offered the 2016 vintage, but Frescobaldi’s website lists vintages from 2017, 2018, and 2019 as well. I would try any of them.
The 2016 was a real surprise, drinking like a more prestigious wine than mere “Chianti” suggests. Maybe it’s because it had some bottle age, which calmed its youthful exuberance and softened its edges; maybe it’s because the Castiglioni, named for one of seven Frescobaldi estates in Tuscany, is produced from top-quality Sangiovese and Merlot grapes; maybe it’s both.
In any case, Frescobaldi’s 2016 Chianti “Castiglioni,” at around $15, is one of those Italian reds you can turn to again and again for all kinds of food pairings: roasted meats and pastas, of course, but even something as unorthodox as shrimp scampi, which I discovered on a recent chilly night when I wanted a red wine to keep things on the warm side. It actually paired beautifully, most likely because the wine is a non-oaked Chianti, aged only in stainless steel tanks and in bottle, which preserves the fruity quality that defines it. It’s also on the moderate side of the alcohol spectrum: At 13 percent ABV, it’s inherently food friendly.
Red-berry, fruit-orchard, and forest-floor aromas are followed by notes of spicy cherry, plum, and blackberry on the palate, with accents of mocha and herbs. Ample acidity keeps the overall impression fresh and lively. This is one of those under-the-radar bottles, sitting in plain sight, that rise well above their designations in the wine hierarchy, and are often the most exciting wines to discover.