Last Monday I was able to attend a Chianti Classico tasting in Toronto at which 28 of the top producers in the region poured their wines.
2016 marks the 300th anniversary of the establishment of the Chianti region, though evidence exists of references to Chianti as a specific wine as far back as 1427.
In 1924, the black rooster was selected as the trademark emblem for Chianti in order to protect the wines as producers beyond the area were improperly using the term Chianti, and in 1932, the original production zone was given the additional designation, “Classico.”
For centuries, Florence and Siena were bitter rivals who often fought for dominance in the area. The legend has it, that, eventually, in order to set the boundary in the disputed territory, the Repulbics would each have a knight set out at dawn when the cock crowed, and the point at which they met would be the dividing line.
The Sienese chose a white rooster, the Florentines a black… but the crafty Florentines kept their rooster in a dark coop and practically starved it for days, so that when it was freed, even though dawn was still far away, it began to crow madly. As a result, the Florentine knight had a huge head-start over his counterpart, whose rooster apparently waited dutifully until dawn to crow. When they met at Fonterutoli, they were only 12 kilometers from Siena. Hence, centuries later, the Black Rooster!
Since 1996, Chianti and Chianti Classico have been two distinct appellations – or production areas.
The differences between Chianti and Chianti Classico include the Classico requiring a mininum of 80 percent Sangiovese, while Chianti requires only 70 percent. No white grapes are permitted in the Classico, whereas Chianti can have up to 10 percent. Vine density is greater for Classico, and yield is more restricted 1.5 tons per hectare less and only 2 –versus 3 for Chianti- kilos of grape per vine. Alcohol levels are higher for Chianti Classico by 1 to 1.5 percent, with the minima going up from 12 to 12.5 to 13 percent for the categories mentioned below.
In 2014, approval was granted for a third level of excellence, “Gran Selezione” which joined the existing Riserva and Classico categories. “Chianti has no “Gran Selezione” category.
For this top category, wines must have 30 months of aging from January 1 of the year following the harvest, including a minimum of 3 months of bottle refinement.
Aside from the extra aging requirement, each winery has some latitude in determining what will constitute its particular “Gran Selezione”. Some are 100 percent Sangiovese, some blend in other Tuscan varietals, and others use international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
For some, the Gran Selezione comes from a single vineyard, for others it is comprised of the best parts of their holdings, and for others, it is made by selecting the best barrels after the wine is made. Each winery decides on a strategy that it believes will represent it at its best.
Though approval for this category was only given in 2014, wineries could market wine from earlier vintages as Gran Selezione provided that the production met the newly established standards, including those for aging.
So, it is only in the past few years that we have begun to see Chianti Classico’s “best of the best”, but they will now be arriving on our shores more frequently.
Chianti Classico is light years away from the “Vino di Tavola” Chianti we used to find in the squat, round, straw-covered bottle or “fiasco” decades ago. At every level, from Classico, through Riserva, to Gran Selezione, these tend to be very, well-crafted wines, with the depth and potential longevity rising with each category.
Because the wine-making choices are varied, it is difficult to generalize, but as a rule, the Gran Selezione at an early age carry significant tannin on the finish. Either you decant them for several hours for current drinking, or you lay them down for a few years for future enjoyment. It all depends on how the wine was made – some producers even use 100 percent new oak, I believe.
While some of these wines are currently in stock, with a few on the general list – though likely from an earlier vintage than the ones I tasted in Toronto – many will be appearing in Vintages over the next year, and I will try to highlight them when the time comes.
Rocca delle Macὶe Famiglia Zingarelli Chianti Classico, $16.75, is a Vintages essential, and the 2013 has high marks from the Wine Spectator and theWine Enthusiast, and “two glasses” from Gambero Rosso, the Italian Wine Guide. The winery writes of a wine that is lively with character and aromas of cherry and violet. I found the 2014, which we will see soon enough, to be tasty and well done, and not overboard in any way. The excellent Riserva will also be out in October for $22.95
Carpineto Chianti Classico 2013, $19.95, released in April, can still be found in Barrie, Guelph, and the Sault. The next vintage will also have good depth and expansive flavours. Natalie McLean called the 2013 solid, with “tart black cherries, leather and earth”, and gave it an 88.
Ruffino Chanti Classico Riserva Ducale, $24.95 lives on the general list, and is excellent and smooth. The 2012 is on its way, and the 2011 is almost universally admired for its depth and balance – it is smooth with plush, dark fruit, velvet tannins, and good acidity. There are notes of cedar and vanilla as well.
June 11 Vintages Release
Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2014, $24.95, from Nova Scotia, is a real treat for those who are fond of Moscato d’Asti, made as it is from hybrid grapes including Acadie, New York Muscat and Ortega. This will be highly aromatic, sweet, and low in alcohol – just 7 percent.
Crios Chardonnay 2014, $13.95 hails from one of Argentina’s most reliable producers, Susana Balbo. It is meant for early drinking, with both tropical and stone fruit notes, good acidity, along with some toast on the nose and vanilla on the palate from oak treatment. A steal, and recommended with Asian fare by the winery.
Whitehaven Pinot Gris 2014, $19.95, from New Zealand, has earned several gold medals for its creamy texture and depth and length of flavour. Pear and spice are detectable on the nose, with more of that rich pear fruit on the palate. The winery suggests serving it with food, such as smoked salmon, and even laying it down for a year or two.
Jardin Sauvignon Blanc 2014. $15.95 - in South Africa, it is “Jordan”, but in North America, because of the California winery of the same name, it is marketed as ‘Jardin’. Whatever the name, this is an excellent wine for the price. Stephen Tanzer detects “aromas of lime zest, gooseberry, flint and fig”, along with some salinity accompanying passion fruit flavours. He says it has a lovely balance and suggests it will be even better with a few years in the cellar.
Uggiano Prestige Chianti Classico 2010, $16.95. We are starting to get some leather on the nose as this wine matures. This is ‘Classic’ in every respect, with dark cherry and violets on the nose, more of that flavour on the palate, and a touch of cedar on the finish. It is an enjoyable wine with all elements in harmony.
Brigaldara Valpolicella 2014, $15.95. Some producers in the Veneto are lamenting the super-popularity of ‘Ripasso’, fearing that the classic Valpolicella is being far too over-shadowed. Try this to see why they don’t want that to happen. This wine has aromas of cherry and spice, and flavours of bright fruit, with some chocolate and leather as well. It will be great with grilled meats.
Balbas Reserva 2005, $22.95, is 90 percent Tempranillo and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and already 11 years old. There are orange tinges to the bright red colour, due to its age, with savoury notes to the bouquet, and harmonized spice flavours. It is round and full, and mellow.
Clos du Bois Sonoma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $24.95, has real breeding. There are lip-smacking dark fruit flavours, and the wine is fully integrated and smooth, so that you keep wanting just one more sip. The tannins, while gentle, are nevertheless persistent and leave you with a fuzzy sensation, which just suggests that the wine should be decanted and given a chance to breathe before enjoying. It could easily hold for three to five years without any trouble, but it is so tempting to drink it now. Your steak or prime rib is whispering, “Please, Clos du Bois Cab, Please!”
At the Wine Rack
For the next couple of weeks, two Ontario wines are on sale for $12.95
Inniskillin Estate Riesling Pinot Grigio 2014 is just off-dry with tasty pear and white peach balanced by the suggestion of lemon. It is an easy-sipping summer white, and quite well made.
Jackson-Triggs Reserve Shiraz-Cabernet 2014 is a very good value, offering some of that dark berry fruit we associate with Shiraz, but it is held in check by the Cabernet, along with just a smidgen of tannin. Break out the burgers and enjoy.