There's no small measure of irony in the fact that while most people inside and outside Italy think that Chianti has to be Classico to be good, the single finest Chianti of them all may well be this one, a Rufina. Owner Federico Giuntini and winemaker Franco Bernabei continue to create Italian icon wines: ageworthy like no other Chianti, with examples from the '50s still in splendid form (the '79 basic Chianti is the best wine of that vintage). "It's really all due to my father Francesco, who lived every day for the estate and made it into what it is today," said Giuntini, "but he was lucky enough to meet up with Bernabei. The two of them together created an estate like very few others in Italy." One, I may add, that eschews much of modern technology (there's no temperature control here, for example). At a winemaker dinner back in the early '80s, even Angelo Gaja got up to shake Francesco's hand after having tasted the '79 vintage of Bucerchiale, the top wine of the estate.

2004 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina

($19) Light, bright ruby. Pure, highly perfumed sour cherry and redcurrant aromas are accented by minerals and wet earth. Lovely fresh red fruits on the palate, with harmonious acids giving lift to the flavors. Finishes minerally and grippingly fresh, with firm tannins and terrific juicy persistence. A real essence of sangiovese.


2003 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva Bucerchiale

($34) Bright light-medium ruby. Highly perfumed, penetrating nose redolent of bright sour red cherry and raspberry, complicated by minerals and white pepper. Similarly lean and penetrating in the mouth, with wonderfully ripe acids nicely framing the copious red fruit flavors. A slightly earthy, gamey edge adds nuance. Tannins are still a bit tight due to the vintage in an otherwise spectacular wine. (Ideal Wines & Spirits, Medford, MA; Winebow, Inc., Hohokus, NJ)

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