I had planned to publish an article today reviewing a wonderful, new recently released Chianti Classico Riserva when the little diablo on my shoulder began to shout down my better angels. As an Italian wine journalist, I naturally taste and review a lot of wines. I analyze them, pick them apart, pair them with food, music, family and friends in order to provide my opinion as to the overall quality of a wine. After all, that’s the mission of Tuscan Vines.
However, those things are admittedly “reactive”. I think part of my sphere of responsibility extends to proactivity and that providing an opinion, which might be considered in charting the overall course of the wine landscape, is beneficial.
This morning, friend and fellow wine blogger Dennis Tsiorbas reviewed a Gran Selezione from San Felice and I made note at the end of his review that although the wine was 80% Sangiovese, the balance contained no less than 5 other grapes! Therein lies the problem in my mind.
Proclamation: The Chianti Classico Consorzio should use its considerable energy and influence to put forth a declaration that the ultimate expression of their wine, the “Gran Selezione” must be produced exclusively from Sangiovese. 100% in purezza!
Why? What’s the big deal you say? Consistency. Clarity. Quality. Branding. The notion that something is special and worth seeking out.
Almost a year ago, I covered the Premiere Tasting for Gran Selezione. It was a wonderful event with dozens of excellent wines. But many of the Gran Selezione present were very expensive. Many were routinely about $50 and many bore three figure price tags. If a consumer is going to spend that amount of money on a wine, they should know what they’re getting and their expectations should be met.
Let’s examine the San Felice mentioned above. The wine is made from 6 different grapes: Sangiovese, Abrusco, Pugnitello, Malvasia Nera, Ciliegiolo and Mazzese. Imagine that someone buys this wine and really enjoys it, and then on a subsequent trip to their wine shop, they buy another “Gran Selezione” from a different producer.
Except now the bottle they buy is 80% Sangiovese and 20% Syrah. If they’re displeased with that wine, what might they think about the “Gran Selezione” designation? Or worse yet – what if the scenario is reversed? What if their first experience with Gran Selezione is a wine that’s 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet or Merlot? A wine of that blend is likely to be more lush and “international” than the blend sported by the San Felice. Who does that benefit? The consumer? The Consorzio? Certainly not San Felice!
When I covered the Gran Selezione event last May, the wines I tasted were variously produced from over 11 different grape varieties in combinations and percentages too numerous to quantify. I wrote at the time:
“What is Chianti Classico? This is another concern that was voiced to me by more than a few people at the tasting. Typically, by people far less experienced than me. I was asked: “How do you compare these wines when they are so different?” It’s a major issue I think. They are very difficult to compare against one another. Why? Primarily it’s because almost anything goes in the production of Gran Selezione. Most of the Gran Selezione wines were produced solely from 100% Sangiovese. I applaud that. But not all were and by law they don’t need to be.”
The wines tasted that day were produced from the following in some fashion: Sangiovese (100%), Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Syrah and Alicante. That’s 11 different grapes if you’re counting and if we add the varieties present in the San Felice, the number jumps to 15!
And that’s just the grapes we’re talking about. This says nothing about the wine’s style that can be impacted by things like barrique vs. botte fermentation or aging, cement versus oak versus stainless steel vinification, old versus new oak, all of which can be amplified or compounded by the varying terroirs: soil, exposure, and elevation.
Politics and the economics of business play a part in this discussion as well. Many producers are small and need to release their wines after 24 months simply for economic reasons. Many cannot afford to hold onto their wines for an additional 6 months simply to garner the Gran Selezione designation. Many feel that the larger producers have squeezed them out and that the new designation cheapens the former pinnacle; Chianti Classico Riserva. Many producers have developed intrinsic value in their Chianti Classico Riserva “brands” and have told me they’re not interested in Gran Selezione. Some will ignore the designation outright; in fact, I was told at a recent tasting by some producers that creating the designation was a mistake. I’m not sure things are quite that bad, but I do think the goal of the Consorzio was muddled from the start.
The Consorzio should create a top tier wine; a wine that is the best an estate located in Chianti Classico can produce. I applaud their mandates for additional pre-release aging and the inclusion solely of estate grown fruit. But the Consorzio should go further. The Gran Selezione wines should be 100% Sangiovese. Consumers should know what they’re buying and they should be able to compare various estates. If both consumers and producers want to enjoy or experiment with blended wines, the Chianti Classico Riserva designation stands at the ready.
Consistency. Reliability. Unique quality bar none. That should be the goal and the Consorzio should lead us there!
February 16, 2016