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Savoring Sangiovese

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For many people, when they think of Italian red wine, they think Chianti, the best-known and largest of Tuscany's wine regions. Sangiovese is its principal grape, and makes up a minimum of 70 percent of the blend that often includes other indigenous grapes. In the past, white wine grapes were allowed, but more recently, Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet and Merlot) have been permitted at up to 15 percent. Still, it's Sangiovese that gives Tuscany (and all of the many sub-regions that make up Chianti) its standout reputation. Here are the panel's top three picks:

2016 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico, $22

On first pour, this classic Chianti takes a little time to open up. When it does, you get a heady mix of strawberry, cranberry, cherry, rose petal, earth and anise. The well-balanced palate offers smooth berry and bright cherry fruit flavors backed by bracing but well-integrated, food-friendly acidity. Ripe tannins add grip to the long finish.

2016 Busi Chianti Rufina, $15.99

Rufina is the smallest sub-region of Chianti, and with the exception of Classico, it is arguably the best known and most consistent. The Busi is 100 percent Sangiovese, and opens with floral aromas marked by cherry blossom and hints of leather and licorice. The bright fruit flavors are backed by earthy black tea on the finish.

2015 Mazzei Poggio Badiola Toscana, $16.99

This wine is a blend of 70 percent Sangiovese with 30 percent Merlot (which exceeds the limit to be labeled Chianti). Dark chocolate-covered cherry and deep berry aromas color the nose. The creamy, red fruit flavors are backed by tangy acidity and touches of fennel and spice. It's definitely a crowd-pleasing charmer.