Last week I had the pleasure of attending a tasting of 2016 Gran Selezione hosted by Consorzio President, Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi. Organized by the Consorzio, the tasting featured thirteen different Gran Selezione wines from across the Chianti Classico zone.
The wines were served in flights organized by comune and stylistically from “lighter to heavier”. Each grouping was paired alongside various dishes including arancini, aged pecornio, pappardelle al ragu and tagliata del manzo.
Giovanni is always a gentleman and a great ambassador for Sangiovese and Chianti Classico. He was generous with his attention and eager to answer the various questions posed to him.
The Gran Selezione designation was created in 2014 and today there are over 150 estates producing Gran Selezione wines. While that may sound like a lot, the total production represents only 6% of the entire production for the Chianti Classico zone.
Many of you reached out to me via my Social Media channels to provide questions for Giovanni. As it turned out, many of your thoughts were preempted by Giovanni as he opened the tasting discussing the latest trends for Gran Selezione.
Current Trends in Gran Selezione
While there is still considerable confusion about where Gran Selezione is heading and what benefits the consumer may reap from it, the most significant trends for the designation are positive.
- Increase in Sangiovese: Manetti began by stating that, while numerous varietals are allowed to be used in the wines, the number of wines relying solely or predominantly on Sangiovese are increasing. In fact, of the 13 wines presented every one was 80% Sangiovese or more and only two had foreign grapes in the blend.
- Increased Sustainability: In crafting Gran Selezione, producers are focusing more than before on caring for their vineyards and their territories. Widespread investments are being made to minimize chemicals and fertilizers while also embracing careful water usage, planting of cover crops and crop diversity.
- Further Sub-zoning: This is clearly going to be an interesting issue to follow. Giovanni mentioned that the desire is to include the Comune name on the wine labels providing further accuracy as to where the grapes were grown. It is something that is “being enthusiastically discussed”. I asked him if he meant this would be allowed only at the Gran Selezione level and he said “Yes, that is the intention but we are still discussing this. Maybe it will be for Gran Selezione first and then filter down but for now, it is still being discussed.” (oy, what could possibly go wrong?)
- More Gran Selezione: Very simply, more Gran Selezione wines are being produced now than there were 5 years ago. This due to slight increases in production, but more so because additional producers are choosing to produce a Gran Selezione. That said, the number of bottles per producer remains fairly small.
With Giovanni’s introduction complete, the tastings began.
2016 Castello Vicchiomaggio Gran Selezione (Greve)
90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot
15,000 bottles produced
This is a deep ruby red. Floral perfume and red berries mix with cocoa powder and suede on the nose. Bright red fruits with tobacco and spice on the palate. This is elegant and graceful with soft tannins. Medium bodied, but finishes a bit “hot” on the finish. 90-92 points
2016 Villa Calcinaia Gran Selezione (Greve)
2,858 bottles produced
This is a clear medium ruby. Soft berry notes, soft wood notes and hints of herbs on the nose. Full bodied and elegant with darker berry notes than the Vicchiomaggio. Adds sweet tobacco notes and has a long, ripe, smooth finish. Very attractive. 91-93 points
2016 Castello di Querceto Gran Selezione (Greve)
20,000 bottles producer
This is a deep ruby to garnet in color. Rather shy nose with nothing but berries and hints of spice notable. Tight and reserved on the palate. Almost austere with lean, green tobacco notes that strike me as odd. More tannic than either of the first two. I’m not a fan of this. 86-88 points.
For me personally, this was probably the weakest flight although a few others shared my opinion including a notable professional wine critic. Greve isn’t my thing and these were linear and way more austere than their counterparts from other Communes.
2016 Principe Corsini Villa Le Corti Gran Selezione ZAC (San Casciano Val di Pesa)
14,850 bottles produced
Medium ruby in color. Powder, minerals, shale and red fruits on the nose with crushed cherry too. Medium to full bodied and quite tannic. Spicy red fruits are very primary. This needs some time to come together. Finishes a bit hot with sweet licorice, iron and minerals. Cellar 5+ years. 89-91 points
2016 Antinori Badia a Passignano Gran Selezione (Barberino Tavernelle)
123,000 bottles produced
The first wine that was decidedly more modern in style. Deep medium ruby. Ripe berry, vanilla and floral nose is very attractive. Vanilla is like catnip for humans. Ripe and round with wild cherry, black olive, cigarette tobacco and sweet, ripe fruit on the finish. Fresh and smooth. The firm tannins show up a bit on the finish. Really nice and very elegant. With this level of production, finding this should be easier. 91-93 points.
2016 Castello di Volpaia Coltassala Gran Selezione (Radda)
12,000 bottles produced
Deep medium ruby. Very floral with bright red fruit notes marking the nose. Bright red fruit notes on the palate are elegant, juicy and fresh. Good full body with crisp acidity; a hallmark of Radda. Dusty cherry and firm tannins mark this for the cellar. 2-4 year of patience required. Very attractive. 91-93 points.
2016 Rocca delle Macie Riserva di Fizzano Gran Selezione (Castellina in Chianti)
20,000 bottles produced
Deep, medium ruby. Loads of crushed plum, spices and vanilla on the nose. Ripe and round with full body and silky, dusty tannins. Big ripe red fruits are juicy an sexy. Long finish. Best wine I’ve ever tasted from this property. 94-96 points.
2016 Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione (Castellina in Chianti)
8% Colorino and Malvasia Nera
67,000 bottles produced
Medium ruby – deep color. Black plums and black cherry give way to spicy licorice on the nose. Just lovely in the mouth with long, ripe fresh flavors that echo the aromas. Elegant tannins – fleshy and forward. A more modern style as well that is round and polished. Very seductive. 91-93 points.
2016 Felsina Colonia Gran Selezione (Castelnuovo Berardenga)
6,000 bottles produced
The Colonia vineyard is actually a very small plot that sits on top of the Rancia hill. Rocky and surrounded by forest, the vineyard was replanted in 1993. This is deep ruby with a cherry, oak and tobacco nose. Firm, tight, and very austere there are big, drying tannins obscuring the fruit. Good acidity, but needs a long slumber in the cellar. Almost a hyper Rancia Riserva which I’m convinced needs 10 years to begin showing well. Cellar for 6-8 years and have Fiorentina. This seems put together well but is hard to gauge. 92-95 points.
2016 Castello di Ama San Lorenzo Gran Selezione (Gaiole)
7% Malvasia Nera
77,780 bottles produced
Deep ruby color. Cherry, hazelnut and cocoa powder on the nose are very attractive. Huge wine, but very silky. Cherries, spices and iron make for a delicious combination. Very silky with woven, smooth tannins. This is delicious now and likely a very good value. 94-96 points.
2016 Barone Ricasoli Ceniprimo Gran Selezione (Gaiole)
6,000 bottles produced
Medium ruby color. Floral and red berry nose with hints of fresh herb. Really fresh and lively on the palate with bright cherry, spice notes and blood. Very nice effort and very different from the 2015 I tasted last summer in Castellina. That wine was marked by charry wood. Maybe Ricasoli sensed it too or maybe they treated the 2015 vintage different because of the structure. Here the wood aging is only 18 months in tonneaux 70% of which were used 2-3 passages. 91-93 points.
2016 Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo Gran Selezione (Panzano)
20,000 bottles produced
Deep ruby to garnet. Dark cocoa powder on the nose with crushed cherry and spices added in. Gigantic ripe, juicy fruit – absolutely huge. This is gorgeous. Full, long and rich with acids and tannins in perfect balance. Giovanni said it is “just a baby” but with some grilled meat, I’d happily drink this now. Sexy. I almost lost consciousness. 96-98 points.
Giovanni wanted to illustrate the potential of Gran Selezione to age – or at least provide a glimpse of what may become of the 2016s in ten years time.
2006 Isole e Olena Gran Selezione (Barberino Tavernelle)
12% Cabernet Franc
1,837 bottles produced
An interesting blend which was pointed out by Giovanni. One of the few to use non-native grapes and the smallest percentage of Italian grapes on the day. Still a deep ruby color. As dark as the 2016s. Cherries, cherry cordials, leather, smoke and dark chocolate on the nose is very compelling. Mature and elegant with lots of black cherry fruit, leather and acids to stay fresh. Very smooth tannins tell you it’s time to drink. Pretty special wine. 93-95 points.
After the tasting I was sitting with Giovanni and while these wines were excellent, the one topic that never came up during the tasting was that of pricing. I asked him if he was concerned about the price levels of the wines and if, as the prices crept higher, the inevitable comparison to Brunello concerned him. He was very pointed in his answer.
“All of the wines here today range in price from about $45-$100. The Isole e Olena maybe a bit higher. We understand they are not cheap wines but it is never inexpensive or easy to make excellent wines. The quantities are limited, they are labor intensive with strict selections. They require a lot of time consuming manual work. We think they are the equal of the greatest wines of the world – just like Brunello, Barolo and Burgundy. In that sense, they are still favorably priced.”
As I said, some of these wines I will definitely seek out. The ones at the lower scale of the pricing are pretty good values for the excitement they delivered. That said, as these wines creep to $75-$100 I think they will be a very difficult sell. I said that back in 2014 after the tasting at the NYC Public Library and I’ll say it again now. Furthermore, most of these wines aren’t released. In fact, when they shop up “for sale” upon further inspection you realize they are “pre-arrivals”. I’m not into that – never have been. So I’ll patiently wait.
These wines are unique and very different. It was easy to see a stark contrast in the styles from the northern more elevated part of the zone (Greve/Radda) to the southern and central parts of the zone (Panzano/Castellina/Castelnuovo) While there are exceptions in every Commune, I much prefer wines from the south that are a bit richer and less austere.
Many questions still surround Gran Selezione and during Manetti’s tenure, it will be interesting to watch and see which trends evolve and which get left behind.