North Coast Sangiovese is buon vino, but can we tell it from the real-deal Chianti?
Seghesio 2012 Venom Alexander Valley Sangiovese ($54) My top pick comes from a winery that boasts the longest experience with Sangiovese in California. Edoardo Seghesio planted the vine here in 1910, and because the Seghesios stuck with the variety, they still have their own unique "clone" growing at their rocky Rattlesnake Hill vineyard—hence the name. Not overdressed with new oak, this suggests only a dusty, petrified hint of oak, inspiring me to try to get clever about its origin. Rutherford? No, but like the Frank Family wine below, and even more so, it's richly fruited with ripe cherries and licorice over the faintest hint of dried rose and patchouli, and characteristic acidity sweeps up the finish.
Frank Family 2013 Winston Hill Vineyard Rutherford Sangiovese ($65) This could be one of Napa's nervier Merlots, with its toasty note of "oak cookie" and chewy, juicy palate of red licorice and plum. A beefier version, but still quite varietal. The winery likes to add a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon to their Sangiovese, and why not? The Italians do it.
Trentadue 2014 Block 601 Alexander Valley Sangiovese ($25) Spicy chicory and Red Zinger tea aromas come first, followed by dried cranberry, cherry-licorice and fig flavors, and capped with a vanilla-raspberry perfumed finish. Like the rest in this bunch, this medium-bodied wine is no California blockbuster, but has just a little more stuffing than the Chiantis here.
Badia a Coltibuono 2013 Chianti Classico ($20) Made from organically grown Sangiovese blended with local red grapes Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and Colorino (the bad old days when Chianti could be stretched with cheap white grapes are only fairly recently gone), this teases the nose with woodsy spice and dried cranberry, like a red, Christmas-themed candle. Bright, red maraschino cherries roll across a tannin-prickled palate. Bring on the pasta primavera, no matter the season, and I'm guessing Italian.
Selvapiana 2013 Chianti Rufina ($17) The second of two authentic Chiantis, this 95 percent Sangiovese wine also stands out from the rest—nothing from California smells quite like it. Dried roses pressed in an old photo album, plus cherry liqueur—if it sounds like some Pinot Noir, it doesn't taste like it. Curiously, the heartier local wines go better with dry salami and asiago, which kill the high-toned, astringent Selva.
Hart's Desire 2015 Dry Creek Valley Sangiovese Rosé ($22) Sangiovese is also usefully employed as a pink wine, often called "rosato," but rosé will do for this refresher, which hits the palate like a slab of perfectly ripe watermelon, but leaves it as tangy as a not-quite-ripe raspberry.