Sangiovese is Italy's most widely planted red grape variety. Indigenous to Tuscany, where it produces some of the country's top wines including Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the name literally translates as the "blood of Jove." An ancient variety, in the modern world, Sangiovese is often blended with a little Cabernet. The parameters for this tasting allowed a top price of $25 retail, but two of the winners came in at the lower end of the spectrum. And that's good news at this tax-strapped time of year.

2003 Falcor Sangiovese, $22.50

This ringer from California (all the other wines were Italian) was one of the most controversial bottles we've ever tasted, ranked first by some, dead last by others. It's a Napa Valley blend of 80 percent Sangiovese and 20 percent Cabernet. The aromas are on the earthy side with creamy cassis, anise and spice. In the mouth it offers supple textures and good depth with dark cherry and currant fruit that's backed by hints of orange peel and leather. Nice ripe tannins come through especially on the long smooth finish. It earned my first place vote.

2004 Coltibuono Chianti Classico RS, $13.99

Produced by one of the most respected Chianti estates, Badia Coltibuono, winemaker Roberto Stucchi has sourced Sangiovese grapes from a number of top vineyards to create this appealing wine. Lovely notes of blackberry highlight the subtle aromas. The red fruit flavors are smooth and soft in this elegantly structured wine balanced by light acidity. The finish is nicely persistent—it's a wine that begs to be paired with food.

2003 Travignoli Chianti Rufina, $11.99

From the heart of Chianti's Rufina district, Travignoli (which means "between the vineyards") is located in the middle of Frescobaldi's Nipozzano vineyard. Fermented in stainless steel, this wine sees no oak, resulting in a remarkably fresh and fruity wine. Richly aromatic, the nose is dominated by ripe cherry with earthy hints of straw and leather. The cherry fruit and notes of leather carry through on the palate in this exceptionally well-balanced wine. An undeniable bargain and an excellent Chianti.

This Week's Panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kyle Mahler, Bardenay; Kevin Settles, Bardenay

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