Chianti Classico and the New Top Quality Levels of Italian Wine
All photos by Robin Goldsmith.
If you had to choose a wine style or region from the 'Old World' that you really didn't want to live without, there would surely be many contenders - Rioja, Barolo, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne etc. etc. etc.. However, one wine that I would definitely add to this list is Chianti Classico, a DOCG appellation lying between Florence and Siena in the Italian region of Tuscany.
In 1716, Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany officially delimited the 'Chianti' production zone. However, in the early 20th Century, wine also labelled Chianti, began to be made outside this area. Therefore, in 1924, winemakers of the original Chianti created a Consortium, symbolised by the military Black Rooster Trademark, to protect the style, quality and name/reputation of their wines. Eight years later, a decree was issued allowing the addition of the suffix 'Classico' to distinguish those wines made within the original production zone. Today there are 7,200 hectares of vineyards registered as Chianti Classico within a total vineyard area of 10,000 hectares. The wine must comprise a minimum 80% of Sangiovese and a maximum 20% of other red indigenous or international grape varieties. Chianti Classico is exported to more than 50 countries, including USA (31% of exports in 2013), Germany (10%) and UK (6%).
In 2013, a major development was undertaken, with a new top quality level agreed by the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico. A classification of 'Gran Selezione' was created for wines, made from grapes selected from an estate's best vineyards or single vineyard, which have been aged for at least 30 months including three in bottle. The second level is termed 'Riserva', for which the minimum ageing requirement is 24 months including three in bottle and below that is 'Annata' (12 months' ageing). Minimum alcohol percentages are 13%, 12.5% and 12% respectively. Additionally, in order to receive appropriate certification, the winemaker must declare in advance the classification of wine for which he/she is applying. This ensures a careful pre-selection of grapes and encourages even more judicious advance decision making on the final wine style. In order to achieve Gran Selezione certification, tests are conducted by authorised laboratories and tasting panels to ensure that the chemical and organoleptic characteristics are suitable.
The principal constituent grape of Chianti Classico is Sangiovese, known for its fresh fruity flavours, particularly when young, redolent of sour cherries, with plums and/or strawberries often present too. The fruit profile is complemented by earthy, leafy qualities, a touch of spice, high acidity and medium-high tannins. There may also be notes of leather.
The UK debut of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione took place in London on 25th November and a few of the many highlights are mentioned below:
A beautifully enticing nose of cherries, red berries and plums leads on to a velvety smooth and fruity palate with hints of savoury notes and a touch of dark chocolate on the long finish.
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Isole e Olena 2006 (80% Sangiovese, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Syrah) – available in the UK from Liberty Wines.
A red fruit depth is complemented by freshness, finesse and bright acidity plus hints of
tomato and red pepper from the Cabernet Franc.
Vignole Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Crespine 2009 (90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – available in the UK from Belloni Ltd..
Classic notes of sour cherry are to the fore in this wine, with a saline and savoury quality
present too, plus hints of black pepper and leather, firm tannins and red fruit acidity.
Castello La Leccia Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Bruciagna 2010 (100% Sangiovese)
This wine is still young, but shows great potential with a sour, yet refined cherry fruit depth
and good tannins.
This young and fruit-driven wine displays notes of cherries, red berries, plums and hints of wild flowers.
Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Il Puro – Vigneto Casanova 2010 (100% Sangiovese) – available in the UK from Lay & Wheeler Ltd..
Another wine with great promise, the acidity and tannins will become beautifully integrated with the cherry, berry and chocolate notes.
This youthful wine displays a typical cherry character, a touch of salinity and a hint of milk
chocolate on the end palate.
This aromatic, rich wine has notes of red fruit, cherries, spice and leather plus a long finish with a touch of mint.