I like to take chances on random older wines at auction. Sometimes it's not such a smart way to go. Other times, it's good enough to make up for the misses. Here's one of those.
About a year ago I bought a lone bottle of 1988 Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva. The fill was mid shoulder, suggesting that wine had leaked out of the cork somewhere along the way, mostly likely because of heat damage. Such a wine would taste oxidized, much like bad vinegar.
Somehow, not all "low fill" wines get their low fill because of heat damage. Honestly, who knows where the wine goes. Perhaps it soaks into the cork? The cork on this bottle was three-quarters saturated, but the top of the cork, which I expected to be covered in gunk, was pristine. Go figure.
The wine is dark ruby with slight browning at the edge, nothing unexpected for a 21 year old wine. Then the intoxicating perfume, a complex aroma of sandlewood, mushroom, cherries, camphor and balsamic notes that I find in traditional Chianti. This is really good. In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied with tart cherry, sandlewood and mint notes, with an old wood savor, fine tannin and juicy acidity. This is terrific aged Chianti that is best with food but no slouch on its own, if you don't mind a slightly dry finish. Surely this was never sweet and fat wine, and I don't expect it (or prefer it) to be that now.
Searching for information on this wine, I found a few interesting tidbits worth adding. First, one page mentions that the Antinori family bought Badia a Passignano in 1987 and that this 1988 wine was the first vintage they produced. Of course, the property wasn't new to wine, having been a monastery since 395 with a report of a 1000 year old vitis vinifera plant found when the Antinori acquired the property. Can that be right?