Rocca delle Macìe, Famiglia Zingarelli 2021 Chianti Classico

Rocca delle Macie aerial photo

An incredibly flexible, reliable and affordable Tuscan red that's available all over the world, from as little as £6.99 per half or €6.95 and $12.09 per bottle. Above, the estate just outside of Castellina in Chianti. 

Want a wine that’s reliable, affordable, tasty and widely available? It’s that last part that’s tricky, and yet, when you find yourself driving through a snowstorm after a long, crappy week in a town far from a major city, it’s good to have a name or two up your sleeve.

Here’s one: Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico.

If you know the story, you might be rolling your eyes but hear me out. Its beginnings weren’t exactly auspicious: the estate was started by Italo Zingarelli, a movie producer best known for over-the-top spaghetti Westerns such as They Call Me Trinity (described by critic Roger Ebert as ‘a spoof of the traditional 1960s spaghetti Western. In fact, it is to spaghetti as spaghetti is to macaroni and cheese, a dish I have particularly disliked ever since the meat rationing days of World War II’, although he goes on to describe it with glee). After two particularly successful movies, Zingarelli decided he’d like to make wine, and dived right in, purchasing 93 ha (230 acres) of land and a run-down farmstead just outside of Castellina in Chianti in 1973. Only two of those hectares were planted to vines, and Zingarelli was no expert viticulturist, but he was enthusiastic, and quickly began planting more vines. He even bought another estate, Tenuta Sant’Alfonso, later that year.

By the time Zingarelli’s son Sergio joined him in the winery in 1985, they were exporting wines all over the world. Sergio helped convince his father that the future of the brand lay in quality, not quantity, so they dropped yields and upped the number of employees, and by 1995 they began to replant many of the vineyards, paying closer attention to clones and the terroirs they planted them in.

The estate now extends over 600 hectares (1,500 acres) total, of which 210 ha are planted to vines divided among four estates in Chianti Classico and two in Maremma. Sergio, who took over after his father died in 2000, has risen to such local esteem that he’s twice been appointed president of the Chianti Classico Consorzio. Today he works with son Andrea and daughter Guilia, head winemaker Luca Francioni and vineyard manager Alfio Auzzi. Oenologist Lorenzo Landi has been consulting for them since 2010, too. 

Andrea, Daniela, Sergio and Giulia Zingarelli of Rocca delle Macie
The Zingarelli family: from left to right, Andrea, Daniela, Sergio and Giulia

The team farms under the sustainable framework of VIVA (Valutazione dell’Impatto della Vitivinicoltura sull’Ambiente), a programme run by the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security; as such, they use no chemical herbicides and strictly restrict pesticide use; erosion is limited by organically grown cover crops and hand-hewn stone walls. They also run a hotel and restaurant in Fizzano, an 11th-century town Zingarelli purchased in 1985 and which his son Fabio, an architect, helped to restore.

But back to the Chianti Classico: Rocca delle Macìe produce a lot of it – some 79,000 cases a year – all of it from their own vines and bottled at the estate. They make a Riserva as well, and a couple of single-site Gran Selezione Chianti Classicos, but the wine I’m recommending is the straight-ahead, basic Chianti Classico.

The night I most recently enjoyed it, it was at Olive Garden, a chain restaurant with a wine list that skews decidedly sweet and simple. The Rocca delle Macìe, Famiglia Zingarelli 2021 Chianti Classico stood out like a beacon of light, a red that promised to be savoury and warming on a snow-blowing evening. It also wasn’t going to put on any airs or challenge us – just like the restaurant, which is exactly what we wanted after a long, difficult day and a white-knuckle drive through a white-out.

And it delivered. It’s juicy, dark-cherried, with a little tannic bite, a zing of acidity. It’s true I’m not the Italian wine critic here – that would be Walter, and, full disclosure, the last time he published a tasting note on this wine, he found it ‘not entirely pure, and with drying tannins’. I didn’t: I found it just earthy enough to conjure up Chianti’s hills, and just tannic enough to take on the meat sauce on my pasta. Different bottles, different people, different places, different times. But to me its most standout attribute (beyond price) was its flexibility. It’s light enough to not obliterate the sweet green crunch of a crisp, cold salad; velvety enough to sip while eating nothing but pillowy, garlic-scented rolls; tangy enough to tangle pleasantly with tomato sauce; and firm enough to handle a rosemary-scented pork chop. It apparently spends 6–10 months in French and Slavonian oak barrels but it doesn’t boast of it in its flavour; it clocks in at an entirely reasonable 13.5% alcohol, too. It is amazingly easy to match with just about anything – or nothing at all, if you’re just looking for a pre-prandial drink.

And it gets bonus points for holding its flavour for days after opening – I know as I took it home and left it on the counter, revisiting it over the next two days.

So while I feel slightly sheepish, recommending a wine I drank at a chain restaurant, I am also enormously grateful to know that, should I ever be stranded in a wine desert again – or in an Olive Garden – or simply need a reliable Chianti Classico that sells for $20 (and often less), Rocca delle Macìe’s Chianti Classico will save the day.

Rocca delle Macie 2021 Chianti Classico bottle

In the US the wine is imported by Palm Bay International, and, while they suggest a retail price of $20, its listed for as little as $12.09 on Wine-Searcher. In the UK, its going for as little as £9.99 per half-bottle at J N Wine.

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Images kindly provided by Rocca delle Macìe.

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