City Wine Merchant recently conducted one of the first comprehensive tastings and discussions in the United States to focus on the new Chianti Classico Gran Selezione category. For me, this was one of the most exciting tastings that we have hosted, in large part because it represents a real step toward the future for Chianti Classico. Debate ensues regarding the merits and need for this new category. Nevertheless, it will have a lasting impact on how consumers view this great appellation. It was a truly great night of wine. Here’s some background and a recap.
A New Classification for one of the World’s Great Wine Regions
In 2014, The Consorzio of Chianti Classico approved a new Gran Selezione designation to represent the pinnacle of the quality in wines bearing the Chianti label. Gran Selezione wines must be made from estate-grown grapes of a single vineyard (or selection of the estate's best parcels) and the aging requirements are longer than those of riserva (30 months vs. 24 months), including three months in bottle. Sangiovese must make up at least 80 percent of the blend, with other approved grape varieties allowed. Gran Selezione wines are also subject to a panel tasting along with chemical and physical analyses by authorized labs. The new category is projected to represent no more than 10 percent of the Chianti Classico production.
Wine Tip: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione is a new classification above Riserva, made using grapes harvested only from the winery’s own vineyards, with upgraded requirements for alcohol, extract, and aging.
Flight 1: Greve and a comparison of oak aging
Our tasting began with wines from the Greve district, and a comparison of oak aging. First up was Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Gran Selezione La Forra 2011. The Nozzole estate north of Greve sits on land that has supported vines for more than 700 years. The rugged mountain area covers about 1,000 acres, with about one-third planted with vines and olive groves. La Forra is the estate’s finest parcel, with 35 year-old vines situated on a south-facing slope at an altitude of 900 feet. It is the sole source for the Riserva and Gran Selezione wines. This is aged in neutral oak, and has been a hit with just about everyone since we brought it in. It is made in a classic style, with vibrant acidity, typical violet and spice aromas, and a long finish of black cherry fruit. Generally speaking, it is cooler in the north of the Classico region, where Greve sits, and this wine displayed the typical characteristics of this area.
Fattoria Viticcio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Beatrice 2011. Owned by the Landini family since 1960, Viticcio is comprised of 60 hectares, including woodland and olive groves. About 30 hectares are planted with organic vineyards, the majority with Sangiovese, and the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Gran Selezione comes from a very low-yield single vineyard planted in limestone. The wine is 95% Sangiovese with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. A portion is whole berry fermented to preserve the mineral notes linked to the terroir. Malolactic fermentation takes place in barriques and tonneaux (30% new), and the aging continues inside these barrels for a further 18 months. This was a step up in body, and displayed chewy tannins. Overall, it showed a much more rustic character. One of my favorites of the night.
Luiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ottantuno 2010 was the final wine of the flight and A great contrast in style. Luiano is an ancient fort and farm in the hills near Greve, dating to the year 1389. The land spans 40 hectares at an average altitude of 300 meters above the sea level. The Palombo Family, who has been running the winery for the past three generations, recently renovated Luiano's vineyards and structures. This is 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot from two very small parcels, La Fonte and Il Lago, planted in limestone. The most “modern” wine of the evening, this is aged 24 months in a mix of French and Slovonian new oak barrels. It is aged another 12 months in bottle. The oak influence is more apparent here than in the other wines, and the wine showed serious richness and length. If anything, the wine came across as more one-dimensional than the others.
Flight 2: Castelnuovo Berardenga
San Felice Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Grigio 2010 began our second flight, where we moved to the southern end of the Chianti Classico zone. The San Felice estate lies in Berardenga, where it is often warmer and has unique mixed soils. There is abundant rocky soil here, as well as good temperature variation between day and night. Il Grigio Gran Selezione is made from a rigorous selection of Sangiovese (80%) from three of the estate’s finest vineyards, Chiesamonti, Colti, and Pianaccio. Additional indigenous grape varieties (20%) are also used, including Abrusco, Pugnitello, Malvasia Nera, Ciliegiolo, and Mazzese. These grapes grow in the Vitiarium, a renowned collection inaugurated in the 1980. The site now boasts over 200 forgotten varieties. Each grape variety is fermented separately, and then aged 24 months in 50% large Slovonian ovals, and 50% in French oak barriques. It is aged in bottle for 8 months before release. This is far more complex and rich than the normal Il Grigio Riserva. Loads of red fruit mingle with tobacco, earth and spice. So good.
Felsina Chianti Classico Rancia Riserva 2010 is a legendary riserva that will not seek GS classification. Felsina grows almost solely Sangiovese, using only old “massale” selections cultivated from cuttings from their top old vineyards. The vineyards are farmed organically and the average age of the Sangiovese vines is remarkably old, some in excess of fifty years of age.
The estate vineyards straddle Chianti Classico and Colli Senesi, giving Felsina uniquely complex and varied soils. Albarese (rocky limestone/clay) and galestro (shale) mixes with the sandy, less rocky soils of the Colli Senesi to create very complex, soft, perfumed wines. No wine demonstrates the uniqueness of Felsina better than Rancia. The wine is fermented in steel tanks followed by aging in new and once-used oak barriques for 18-20 months. It is aged 6-8 months in bottle. This is pure and focused Sangiovese, and is every bit the equal of the GS wines. During my recent visit to the estate, it was confirmed that Rancia will not be re-classified. In order to gain approval, the wine would have to be aged longer, and that is something they are just not willing to change. Rancia will remain Rancia.
Flight 3: Ama and Chianti’s Two Worlds - Ancient and Modern
Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione San Lorenzo 2010. Amidst olive-clad hills and vineyards in the Gaioli district sits one of my favorite producers in the world. Castello di Ama is a small 15th century hamlet above the tiny village of Lecchi in Chianti. Here, 89 hectares of vineyard are subdivided into five magnificent shell-like slopes known by the traditional names of Bellavista, San Lorenzo, Casucia, Bertinga and Montebuoni. The San Lorenzo vineyard faces east-southeast, and is planted in calcareous soils with a good amount of clay shale. It takes its name from the 15th-century church of San Lorenzo located in the center of Ama. The wine is fermentated in steel tank, and malolactic fermentation occurs after racking. The wine is aged in 20% new barriques for 12 months. It was bottled in late 2012 and aged in bottle until release in 2014.
To me, this wine is classic Tuscany. Along with Felsina’s Rancia, there is such a pure Sangiovese character here, and such great acidity. This was a bit more closed down than the other wines that came before it, indicating that Ama has built a wine for the long haul. I can’t wait to taste this again in a few years.
Castello di Ama Haiku 2010, the final red of the night, was a departure. Haiku is an assemblage of 50% Sangiovese and the remainder equal parts Cabernet Franc and Merlot from the Montebuoni vineyard. The wine is aged in 30% new barriques for 12 months, and another 12 months in bottle.
Like the San Lorenzo, this is truly great wine making. What separates the two wines, however, is that this is really the art of blending. I was introduced to this wine on my most recent visit to Ama, and Marco was proud to point out that the iconic knight on this label is taking a step forward. Indeed, I see this wine as not only the future of Ama but also as a beautiful example of the future of Chianti Classico. This is structured and powerful, in the same way that Cheval Blanc or Ausone is. This really highlights the great terroir at Ama. Earlier this year, I wrote about Italy's two worlds, ancient and modern. Nowhere is this more evident than at Ama. Marco and Lorenza often draw on a comparison between wine, music and art, and house a world-class contemporary art collection at the estate. There is old and new woven together everywhere. With the Haiku, they are certainly recalling the past while looking toward the future. And the future is very, very bright at Ama, and in Chianti Classico.