Top 100 Wines of Italy 2021

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Our top wine from Italy, the Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ceniprimo 2018, set amid the Ricasoli family's Castello di Brolio estate. (Photo by JamesSuckling.com)

For the first time ever at JamesSuckling.com, a Chianti Classico from Tuscany has taken the No. 1 spot on our list of Top 100 Italian wines – the Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ceniprimo 2018. James remarked back in May that it was “perhaps the greatest” Chianti Classico he had ever tasted, while noting the complex aromas of crushed cherries, sour cherries, peaches, bark and hints of meat.

This world-beating Chianti Classico red, which also took the No. 2 spot on our recently published Global Top 100 Wines of 2021, comes from one of the most historic producers in the Chianti Classico zone. In fact, the noble Ricasoli family started making wine in 1140 (no typo there!) and today farm around 240 hectares of vineyards in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone. It was current owner Francesco Ricasoli’s ancestor who, back in 1872, drew on the family’s experience to come up with the original formula for Chianti wine, and they have continued to lead the way for the area’s producers since then.

This wine, sporting the highest designation for Chianti Classico (Gran Selezione), is their crowning glory. What’s more, the Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà 2018 also appears on our list at No. 13.

Ricasoli is clearly championing the Gran Selezione moniker, which he believes may supersede the Chianti Classico Riserva category as producers take advantage of the new category’s marketability. “Riserva was not enough anymore to describe the rising quality of a lot of Chianti Classico that were produced in the last 10 years,” he said.

READ MORE: CHIANTI CLASSICO’S TOP DESIGNATION UPS WINE GAME AMID RULE CHANGES

We tasted more than 6,000 Italian wines this year and that itself is an achievement, considering the conditions during the pandemic. The greatest number of wines on our Top 100 list come from Tuscany (41), followed by Piedmont (19), the Northeast (15), Sicily (9), Veneto (8), Campania (6), and Sardinia and Umbria with one each.

On close scrutiny, our Top 100 Italy list may look a little different this year. In the past, it was filled with the latest-release Barolos and Brunellos. At the start of 2021, the big question among the JamesSuckling.com tasting team was how producers in Piedmont and Tuscany would have coped with the most recently released vintage – the very hot 2017. After tasting nearly 400 Barolo 2017s and over 170 Brunello 2017s, our list goes some way in answering the question.

Of the 12 Brunellos on our list, none are from the 2017 vintage. They are all 2016 Riservas, and this is probably the last opportunity to snap up wines from that fantastic vintage on release. On the other hand, all 19 Barolos included in the list are from the challenging 2017 vintage. None appears among the top 10, but there are some fabulous Barolo 2017s to try, such as Roberto Voerzio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata 2017 (No. 16), Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Casa Maté 2017 (No. 18) and Azelia Barolo Cerretta 2017 (No. 20).

Tasting Editor Jo Cooke rates some Italian wines at his office on the Tuscan coast. (Photo by Elsa Bazlov)
The Benanti family in Etna is making fantastic wines, including our No. 7 pick (right), the Benanti Etna Rosso Della Serra Contessa Particella No. 587 Alberello Centenario Reserva 2015. (Photo by Stuart Pigott)

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On the face of it, producers in the Langhe, the Barolo-producing zone in Piedmont, seem to have been better placed to deal with the extreme growing season in 2017 than their colleagues in the Tuscan hilltop town of Montalcino. This is sure to be an ongoing discussion.

And our tastings were full of surprises and delights. For example, tasting our No. 2 wine, the Romano Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella Monte Lodoletta 2015, was a mind-blowing moment. You hover over the glass with your nose and are transported into a sublime world of complex aromas and flavors to savor. But, when you put your glass down, what you are left with is a sense of exquisite balance, despite the well-known potency of this wine.

And this emphasis on elegance and balance is a trait that many Amarone producers seem to be following, and that’s good news. As regards the Dal Forno, cellar it and bring it out for your next important anniversary, but not next year, nor the one after! Meanwhile, try the Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012 (No. 15 – intact, linear, Bertani style), or Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera 2016 (No. 73 – exquisite, tight and focused).

At left, James and Marie enjoying one of our highest-rated Italian wines, the Tenuta Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno 2019. At right, the Eredi Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2016 and Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso Santa Caterina d'Oro Riserva 2016 were the No. 10 and No. 9 bottles in our Italian Top 100. (Photos by JamesSuckling.com)

SICILY RISES

Other highlights this year include a summer tasting of Sicilian wine by Senior Editor Stuart Pigott and myself, in James Suckling’s house in Tuscany, where we made the acquaintance of a number of excellent wines, especially from the headlining Etna volcanic area. There are seven Etna wines on our list, but for Stuart, the Benanti Etna Rosso Serra Della Contessa Particella No. 587 Alberello Centenario Riserva 2015 (No. 7) was, as he noted, “a new dimension in Etna red that belongs in the highest league of Italian and global wines.” It is made from over 100-year-old, pre-phylloxera nerello mascalese (85 percent) and nerello cappuccio (15 percent) vines. Read the tasting note for this one. It’s a very rare bird, with only 240 cases made, but with a price tag of under $100 a bottle, it’s well worth fighting for.

The top 10 wines on our list include a number that frequently claim their place at the top of the order. Consistent quality, year by year, mark these wines and their producers as standard-bearers of the level of quality that Italy can produce. They include Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2016 (No. 3 – one of three perfect scores this year), as well as two other Brunello producers that made exceptional 2016 Brunello Riservas: Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso Santa Caterina d’Oro Riserva 2016 (No. 9) and Eredi Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2016 (No. 10).

READ MORE RATING NEW BAROLOS: FRIENDLY AND RICH 2017S MAKE AN IMPRESSION

SPECTACULAR SAFFREDI: James tastes the Fattoria Le Pupille Safffredi 2019 with Clara Gentilli and Elisabetta Geppetti.

Then we have other Tuscan icons, such as Tenuta Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno 2019 (No. 5 – a worldwide super-Tuscan favorite), Petrolo Valdarno di Sopra Galatrona 2019 (No. 8 – the wine that changed the face of Tuscan merlot) and Fattoria Le Pupille Maremma Toscana Saffredi 2019 (No. 6 – a fabulous blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot from Tuscany’s coastal region, Maremma).

In among the leaders is a white wine from Trentino, the Foradori Manzoni Bianco Vigneti delle Dolomiti Fontanasanta 2020 (No. 4), which Stuart described as “maybe the greatest natural white wine I have ever tasted.” This must now be one of the best-value whites in the world. And it sells for about $24 a bottle.

But quality exudes from every wine on our Top 100 list and, on top of that, there are some excellent bargains to be had. Take, for example, the 95-point Brunelli Garganega Verona Carianum 2019 (No. 58), the 94-point Colli di Castelfranci Fiano di Avellino Pendino 2020 (No. 84), or the 94-point Montevetrano Campania Core 2018 (No. 97). Wines like these won’t compromise a wine-lover’s budget.

Since the troublesome, hot and dry 2017 vintage, things have gone well for producers in Italy, and our future Top 100 lists are going to be ever more crammed with top-quality wines from all over the peninsula. We’re all looking forward to next year’s Italy tastings.

– Jo Cooke, Tasting Editor

The list of wines below is comprised of bottles tasted and rated in 2021 by the tasters at JamesSuckling.com. You can sort the wines below by vintage, score and alphabetically by winery name. You can also search for specific wines in the search bar. 

READ MORE: TOP 100 WINES OF ITALY 2020

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