In a country known for diverse wine styles and different grapes, sangiovese is still Italy's most widely planted red variety. The name sangiovese translates as "blood of Jove," and its cultivation is thought to predate the rise of Rome. Sangiovese is the workhorse grape for central Italy, but in Tuscany it reaches it's zenith. Typically blended with other varieties, the grape provides the backbone for the ever popular chianti. Here are the panel's three favorites:
2009 Gini Chianti, $10.99
This wine was the most openly aromatic of the trio, with floral, ripe raspberry and blueberry backed by anise, fig, dried mushroom and a touch of earthy forest floor. While the nose is Old World in style, the palate is more New World, with fruit-forward flavors of red berry and cherry. Aged in large, neutral oak casks, this bargain chianti is a traditional blend of 80 percent sangiovese, with the remaining 20 percent a combo of canailo, ciliegiolo and malvasia nero.
2011 Maiano Chianti, $22
Reserved on the nose at first, this wine opens up with time in the glass to reveal intriguing aromas of creme de cacao, coffee, dark berry and spice. The flavors are round and rich with creamy chocolate-covered cherry that's nicely balanced by tart red berry. Light tannins, leather and touches of spicy licorice come through on the lengthy finish.
2010 Selvapiana Chianti, $17.99
This wine is a classically styled chianti from the Rufina district. Fermented in both stainless steel and concrete vats, a part of the blend sees time in new oak barrels. That adds a touch of vanilla to the bright berry aromas that are backed by dried flowers, earth and game. A nicely structured wine, the texture is silky smooth with berry, plum and pomegranate flavors, with a hint of nutmeg on the finish.