Our favorite Chiantis don't actually go by the name Chianti. In the early 1980s, Sergio Manetti, the owner of a winery called Montevertine, decided to quit the Chianti appellation because he felt that too many of the wines bearing the Chianti name were crap. He had also grown tired of the constant wrangling over what grapes could be used to make Chianti. Manetti believed that sangiovese, a grape native to Tuscany, was the true "voice" of Chianti, and rather than submit to regulations that would have forced him to dilute the sangiovese influence in his wines, he chose to forgo the right to call his wines Chiantis. Manetti's consistently brilliant wines were a testament to the greatness that could be achieved with the sangiovese grape and also stood as a powerful rebuke to the misguided appellation authorities and all of the rotgut that went out under the Chianti name.
Manetti passed away in 2000, and Montevertine is now run by his son Martino, who has proven to be an exceptional winemaker himself. The estate makes three different wines: one called Pian del Ciampolo, another called Montevertine, and a third known as Le Pergole Torte. The Pian del Ciampolo is the "lowest" of the three, but it is better than pretty much any other Chianti you can find (even if it isn't called Chianti).
The 2011 Pian del Ciampolo ($30), which is 90 percent sangiovese, 5 percent canaiolo, and 5 percent colorino, has a terrific nose redolent of cherries, Italianate herbs, and licorice. It is a medium-bodied, succulent wine with excellent freshness and depth, a nice spiciness about it, and pleasantly rustic tannins. "Sensational" would be an apt description. The Montevertine, which costs about $45 a bottle, is a step up in quality. We haven't had the 2010 Montevertine, but the 2009 was outstanding and is still widely available. As for Le Pergole Torte, it runs around $100 a bottle and belongs on any short list of Italy's greatest wines.