Don't make the mistake of calling it sangiovese here: owner Paolo Panerai proudly refers to the variety as "sangioveto," its ancient name, in an effort to differentiate it from other lesser sangiovese sub-varieties such as the one grown in Emilia-Romagna. Besides their sangioveto, this estate can count on the malvasia nera vineyard of S. Niccolo, with grapes of such high quality that even back in the early '80s it was necessary to include them in their Sodi di S. Niccolo Super-Tuscan. Few people know that if Castellare has always believed in the native Italian varieties and specific vineyard denominations, much of this is due to Emile Peynaud, who visited here often and spurred Panerai to a better understanding of sangiovese by starting an experimental vineyard of many different clones. "I remember Peynaud saying that in France they had been studying cabernet and merlot for hundreds of years, while we didn't know anything about our main variety," Panerai told me. "So that got me thinking. He was right, of course."
Also recommended: Vin Santo del Chianti Classico (87). (Winebow, Inc., Hohokus, NJ)
($22) Pretty, light ruby. Perfumed, floral aromas of red cherry and delicate tobacco show only mild intensity but are enlivened by a subtle citrus-minty note. Fresh flavors of red cherry and mint are prominent on the palate as well, with complicating notes of raspberry and licorice. Not particularly complex or long but a real charmer, with bright acids nicely framing robust tannins on the finish.
($33) Much deeper ruby than the basic Chianti. Deeper on the nose as well, showing an intense, almost intrusive oaky presence that carries noticeable eucalyptus, geranium, lavender and clove notes to complicate the primary redcurrant and licorice aromas. Very sweet on entry, with ripe plum, pepper and herbal flavors in the middle. Initially offers a rather luscious mouth feel but the oak fights back on the moderately long finish, leaving a light lingering bitterness.
($50) Beautiful medium-ruby color with crimson overtones; less dark than the non-vineyard-designated Riserva. Musky but bright aromas of meat, spices and bonfire are reinforced by redcurrant, black pepper and walnut. This shows distinct sweetness and much greater sangiovese depth on the palate than the other Riserva, with a pretty peppery spiciness to the currant and plum flavors. Finishes with powerful tannins that are further sharpened by bright acidity, though there is enough fruit to stand up to them.
($80) Black-ruby. The sweet, sexy smoky oak aromas suggest that you try this after the previous wines, even though it's from a younger vintage. Though oak-driven, there's also plenty of ripe, soft peppery plum and mocha here to make this inebriating on aromas alone. Then leaner and lighter in the mouth, where the fruit has a tough battle to emerge from the oaky veneer. The moderately long finish features pronounced, mouthcoating tannins.
($70; a blend of sangiovese and malvasia nera) Bright medium ruby. Laser-like precision to the aromas of sweet red fruits, tobacco, forest floor and minerals, along with a healthier-than-usual dose of sweet vanillin oak. The oak is less evident on the palate, where bright red cherry fruit, orange zest, spicy leather and delicate game flavors abound. Quite refined and elegant, with strong but harmonious acidity and a long, youthfully tannic finish. By the way, the '86, a lesser year, is drinking beautifully now, while the '82 is beginning to fade.