On May 13th,  at the historic New York City Public Library, some of the best and brightest winemakers from Tuscany were on hand to showcase the new face of Chianti Classico;  the Gran Selezione.  Dozens of estates were proudly pouring wines across several vintages.  TuscanVines covered the event in detail from the Antonio Galloni led tasting seminar to the walk around press & trade tasting.
In general,  the wines proved to be delicious.  However, there are a series of  challenges surrounding the new designation.  What follows are my impressions of the tastings,  notes from my conversations with the winemakers and owners who were present,  and a general synopsis of the challenges facing the appellation as it moves forward promoting its new premium wines.

The Background

~ The new Chianti Classico Pyramid Structure ~ 
(Courtesy of the Chianti Classico Consorzio)

Last year,  the Chianti Classico Consorzio introduced the new Gran Selezione designation to the world with the aim of furthering the prestige of the region’s top wines.  The above pyramid, published by the Consorzio, depicts the three tiers of Chianti Classico.  As you can see, the base of the pyramid is comprised of the Chianti Classico wines,  the middle tier by the Chianti Classico Riservas and the upper tier by the new Gran Selezione.  The two most notable requirements of the new designation are: 

  • Gran Selezione must be produced exclusively from estate gown fruit and,
  • The minimum aging requirement has been extended by an additional 6 months. 

Ordinarily,  this would seem a noble endeavor.  However, it has not been received without certain controversy.  Specifically,  some of the winemakers I spoke to are concerned that the new designation will “cheapen” the Riserva designation, thereby compromising their top wines.  This is especially true for smaller producers that may not be able or willing to delay selling their wines for an additional 6 months solely to gain the Gran Selezione tasting – a time constraint likely not to hinder most of the larger producers.

Gran Selezione Tasting

One of the first tables I visited was Castello di Ama,  represented by a charming woman from their importer, the Sorting Table.  Long an icon in Chianti Classico, the trio of Ama wines were superlative despite their clear leaning to a more modern, plush exuberant style.

2010 San Lorenzo Gran Selezione:   I’ve purchased this wine for my own cellar and this tasting did nothing to suggest that was a mistake.  Here’s my previous review and I stand behind it.  What’s more, at $38-$40 this wine is a steal.  80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot & Malvasia Nera

2011 Vigneto La Casuccia Gran Selezione:  This dark purple wine is fleshy and spicy with the 20% Merlot component really exerting itself at this point. Omits Malvasia Nera.  Really lovely marriage between Sangiovese and Merlot.  90-92 points.

2011 Vigneto Bellavista Gran Selezione:   Dark garnet with a lovely floral nose and lots of spicy ripe berries.  This wine omits the Merlot.  80% Sangiovese and 20% Malvasia Nera.  More typical, more earthy with some leathery components.  Long finish.  92-94 points.

~ Wonderful showing by the trio of Castello di Ama wines ~

One of the first Chianti Classico Riservas I fell in love with was the Antinori Badia a Passignano.  I’ve chronicled this wine across many vintages here at TuscanVines and it continues to impress. It’s now Gran Selezione. 

2011 Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva:  Modern style with noticeable oak undertones, spices and lots of fruit.  90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet, the latter is spoiling the party at the moment.  I can see this appealing to tons of people. It’s well made, accessible and affordable.  But it’s not what I look for when I see Chianti Classico Riserva on a label.  87-89 points. 

2010 Badia a Passignano Gran Selezione:  Stunning.  Absolute power house of a wine but in a sophisticated elegant style. All the hallmarks of this wonderful vintage are present with loads of berry, tobacco, earth and spice character. 100% Sangiovese. Gorgeous.  93-96 points.
~ The newest releases from Antinori ~

Residing in one of the smallest communes within the Chianti Classico zone is Casa Sola.  Proprietor and winemaker Matteo Gambaro was on hand to pour his wines.

2013 Chianti Classico:  Botte aged, traditionally made with 90% Sangiovese, 4% Malvasia, 4% Cabernet and 2% Merlot.  This is a solid classico with dusty ripe cherries, good body and a juicy finish. 86-88 points.

2010 Chianti Classico Riserva:  This is 90% Sangiovese, 7% Cabernet and 3% Merlot.  Boisterous aroma and palate with flowers, earth, cherry and espresso.  This is gorgeous.  Wonderfully ripe, juicy and fresh.  91-93 points.  

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  Comprised of 100% Sangiovese this is the only wine of the three not to be exclusively aged in Botte; but some Tonneaux is also utilized.  Matteo told me this wine exhibits the “wilder” side of Sangiovese and I’d agree. The fruit is wild, briary and spicy.  The frame is elegant with lots going on: fennel, flowers, and tobacco.  Lovely, lovely wine.  92-94 points. 

Casa Sola is not yet imported to the United States, but my European readers should be on the lookout.

~ I would love to see this wine of lines imported to the US ~

~ Map of Chianti Classico region showing the Communal subdivisions ~ 
(Courtesy of the Chianti Classico Consorzio)

Ever since I first tasted there pure Merlot, Soloio,  I have been a fan of Casa Emma.  I spoke to the winery representative at length about Soloio and although Casa Emma is very proud of that wine, there are no immediate plans to import it to the US.  I will have to go to Tuscany!  

2013 Chianti Classico:  This is 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera.  A classic here with lots of juicy berry, cherry, spice and floral notes. Really lovely and a great mainstay for the cellar. One of the best Classicos in the tasting.  89-91 points. 

2011 Chianti Classico Riserva:  This is 95% Sangiovese with only Malvasia added.  Product of the vintage?  I sense a bit of a drying sensation to the tannins and the fruit.  Not as floral or as aromatic as the Classico and a notch or two less interesting. 88-90 points.  

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  100% Sangiovese.  My tasting notes say “Wow!!”  This is huge and expressive on the nose and palate with crushed berry, flowers, earth, spice and pipe tobacco. A compelling wine.  Compared to some of the other Gran Selezione (more on that below) this is a value at $49 SRP.  Really wonderful.  94-96 points.

~ The winery representative was as lovely as the wines! ~

Felsina.  Really, I don’t think there’s any more that needs to be said.  Now we approach the next challenge for them.  Now we all expect the wines to be great.  One would easily expect, and even forgive,  a let down.  But it just doesn’t happen. 

2012 Chianti Classico:   First reviewed here:  Felsina 2012,  this wine should be in every cellar.  This is wide open and expressive with flowers, earth, tobacco and juicy crushed red fruits.  Wonderful, 100% Sangiovese.  89-91 points. 

2011 Chianti Classico Rancia Riserva:  One of the best Riserva vintage after vintage this Rancia doesn’t disappoint.  100% Sangiovese and it’s huge!  Lots of fruit, tannins and tobacco in this muscular yet elegant Riserva. It’s a steal too, around $40 SRP.   92-95 points. 

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colonia:  This was a Chianti Classico Riserva prior to the new designation.  Dark violet and smooth.  Less rustic than Rancia with lots of elegance and polished silky tannins. Long tobacco leaf note on the finish.   I’m not sure it has more going on than the Rancia and given the premium pricing (about $75 SRP) I’m not a buyer. 100% Sangiovese but in a more plush style.  91-94 points.

~ It’s pretty hard to beat Rancia ~

The next stop was at an equally historic producer, Fonterutoli.  Run by the Mazzei family for generations,  I chronicled their origins with my reviews on Ser Lapo in the past,  I had a wonderful discussion with current owner Filippo Mazzei.

Neighbors to Andrea Cecchi in Castellina,  Filippo talked at length about his desire to retain a sense of place – not just of Chianti Classico – but of Castellina in all his wines;  and to do it with clean modern practices.  His wines touch across the style spectrum but for certain they are all very well made.  The folks at Palm Bay were a hoot, and fun to chat with. 

~ Filippo Mazzei with his Gran Selezione ~

2013 Chianti Classico:  This is 90% Sangiovese with the balance to Colorino, Malvasia Nera and Merlot. A pretty ruby with lots of juicy, tart delicious cherry fruit.  Spicy, with a hint of oak – this is a bit more modern in style.  87-89 points 

2011 Chianti Classico Riserva Ser Lapo:  This is one of my favorite wines from Castellina.  90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot, the wine is classic, but retains just a little plushness and texture from the Merlot.  This is juicy, ripe and fleshy with lots of flowers and crushed berries.  Love it!  90-92 points and an outstanding value. 

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  This is powerful with great structure noteworthy of the vintage.  Lots of crushed berries, with leather, tobacco and spices. Very complex.  Adds some menthol at the end.  92% Sangiovese and 8% to Colorino and Malvasia Nera.  91-93 points

2011 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  As good as the 2010 was, I think this was better.  My note is nearly identical, but the wine seemed to explode more from the glass and burst on the palate.  This is not yet released on the market.  92-94 points

~ Gorgeous line-up of wines from Castello Fonterutoli ~

On hand from Fontodi was Giovanni Manetti himself – ever the gentlemen and very charming – he was generous with his time and insistent that we meet at Dario’s the next time I’m in Panzano.   One of what I’ve now decided to call the killer F’s (Fontodi, Felsina, & Fonterutoli)  these wines are simply outstanding. 

2012 Chianti Classico:  Maybe not as good as the 2010,  but I really love the style here.  Clean, precise, with lots of classic character. Flowers, berries, and tobacco on the nose and palate are delicious.  100% Sangiovese.  89-91 points. 

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo:  A single vineyard wine and 95% Sangiovese with 5% Cabernet in the blend.  This has wonderful structure with lots going on.  Black plums, crushed berries, clay, leather and tobacco.  It’s all you could want.  Long spicy finish.  92-94 points.  

2011 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo:  Even better than the 2010!  This is absolutely packed with fruit, acids and tannins.  Everything is there and then some in perfect balance.  Crushed wld fruit, fresh flowers, sage, tobacco leaf and espresso – could this be the wine of the vintage?  It’s a must buy.  95-97 points.  

A friend recommended that I stop over to see the wines if Il Molino di Grace.  Tim Grace is an American who came to Italy with his parents when his father was transferred for his job.  Not a bad deal for this friendly Ohioan who decided to make wine in Panzano.   His wines were excellent and when I asked Tim if he was the winemaker,  he told me no,  and that Franco Bernabei was his winemaker.  Well, duh…right then I knew the wines would be delicious.  Tim’s wines are imported but much of that goes to “on premise” sales.  That said, Tim stressed that he works to keep prices low because he wants his wines to be under $100 on any wine list.  

2012 Chianti Classico:  Botte aged in the classic style – this 100% Sangiovese has lots of Tuscan dust character with sage, pine, berries and spice.  It’s delicious and an excellent value.  88-90 points. 

2008 Chianti Classico Riserva:  Slightly more modern, in that 1/3 of this wine is barrique aged, but you’d be hard pressed to tell.  Cherry, leather and dried herbs make a nice package on the nose and palate. Along the more elegant wines, suitable to the vintage, this has a very feminine finish.  Classy. 89-91 points. 

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  100% Sangiovese from the estates best grapes.  This is not a single vineyard wine.  Lots of earth and fruit on the nose and palate with dried herbs, leather and juicy acidity.  This is excellent and traditionally made in grande botte.  Should be good value too around $45.  90-93 points.

~ Tim Grace, Owner of Il Molino di Grace ~

If there’s a better winemaker than Paolo di Marchi in Tuscany,  I’ve not heard of him.  As the gentlemen pouring the wines remarked – Paolo can flat out make wine.  What’s more – Paolo is not concerned with market timing in the least.  His wines are released when they and he, are ready.  Read on.

2012 Chianti Classico:  I haven’t enjoyed a bottle of his Chianti in a while and this reminded me that I really should go back to it.  80% Sangiovese with 15% Canaiolo and a dollop of Syrah,  this is wonderful.  Juicy, fresh and lively with crushed fruit, river stones and tobacco. Slight hint of game.  A massive production of 120,000 bottles makes this easy to find.  87-90 points. 

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  This is pure silk.  80% Sangiovese with 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Syrah, it’s one of the more unique blends encountered at the tasting.  This has it all going on. Power, finesse.  Loads of crushed plums, stones, minerals, tobacco and earthy notes.  To be released 2019!  I’ll wait.  93-96 points.

2006 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  Yes, 2006 and this has only just been released.  Paolo created this wine for the 50th anniversary of his family being at Isole and his 30th anniversary as winemaker. It’s gorgeous and even better than the 2010.  The complexity of the 2010 is ramped up and fleshier in this older version.  Makes me wonder what the ’10 will be like in 5 more years.  Stunning effort. 95-98 points. 

~ Bravo Paolo!  The downside?  The Gran Selezione will unfortunately be near $100 upon release and the production is a miniscule 1,400 bottles ~

Barone Ricasoli has deep roots in Gaiole that go back generations.  The iconic Castello di Brolio stands watch over the property and graces the estates labels.  If there is a knock on Brolio, it’s that to my tastes that wines lean heavily toward the plush, modern side of the spectrum.  That was evident during the tasting, though clearly, the wines are very well made.

2011 Chianti Classico Riserva Brolio:  Very modern with plush silky fruit and black fruit core dominated by the 20% of Cabernet & Merlot in this blend.  It’s tasty but a bit too far away from what I want in a Riserva.  87-89 points.  Your mileage may vary.

2011 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledila:  This is a single vineyard wine with a unique label that recalls the history of Chianti Classico over the generations.  Spicy, peppery and smokey, again the barrique influence here is notable.  This is 100% Sangiovese with lots of red fruit, dust, spice and leather.  It’s very good.  SRP will be about $65.  89-91 points 

2011 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Castello di Brolio:  This is the estates flagship wine and is a blend of 80% Sangiovese along with 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet and 5% Petit Verdot.  The dark purple colored wine has aromas of plums, smoke, vanilla and spice. Plush on the palate with flavors following the nose.  Many either loved or hated this wine.  It’s not my favorite. 88-90 points.

~ The Colledila label is very cool up close. But I hate the bottle shape ~

Frequent readers of this site will know I have been enjoying bottles of the Rocca delle Macie 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva, so I was excited to try the estates new releases. Sergio Zingarelli, the current President of the Consorzio was on hand to speak during the seminar.  

2013 Chianti Classico:  This is a medium ruby colored wine for every day drinking. Soft, with pleasing aromas and flavors of cherry and spice. It’s not pretending to be anything that it isn’t.  Solid and nothing more.  85-87 points. 

2011 Chianti Classico Riserva:  Now we’re talking!  Everything about Castellina is here.  Flowers, crushed fruit, red stones, fennel and tobacco.  I love this wine and it’s an amazing value around $24 which is the price the Palm Bay rep. quoted to me.  Hunt it down.  90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet and 5% Merlot. 92-94 points. 

2011 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Fizzano:  This is 95% Sangiovese at the expense of the Cabernet and is also a single vineyard.  This wine is absolutely stunning.  I was floored, frankly.  Huge core of ripe fruit supported by silky tannins and fresh acidity.  Flowers, sage, tobacco, meat, are all there.  The problem here, despite the 20,000 bottles produced, is that the Rep. quoted the price to me at $150.  That blew me away.  But it is breathtaking.  95-98 points.

~ Both of these wines are gorgeous ~

It’s been years since I’ve discovered a young energetic winemaking team at Tolaini and they continue to impress with their range of wines.  Consistency is not something to discount and the Tolaini wines display that.  With the ageless Pier Luigi helming the ship, and his daughter Lia a guiding force, the wines continue to improve.  While already excellent, the limits here seem boundless. 

2011 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  I got an in depth look at this wine for our Current Release Chianti Classico Report and it was excellent then.  Differences between then and now?  Minimal – as I say, I love this estates consistency. That said, perhaps this showing was more elegant and not as rustic.  Fennel, black cherry, tobacco and spices make this an enticing Gran Selezione with lots of juicy freshness.  I love it and for sure, the value is there. 100% Sangiovese  91-93 points.  

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:  It is tough to choose between these two wines.  The 2010 is displaying a bit more structure and perhaps less finesse?  Maybe it will live longer than the 2011, but it’s splitting hairs.  Dark cherry, spice, tobacco, fennel and flowers are present, precise and delicious.  Only a fool would find fault with these wines. 100% Sangiovese. Excellent representation of Castelnuovo.  92-94 points.  

~ The 2010, pictured among the press kit showing Pier Luigi Tolaini ~

Do you know Vignamaggio?  I’ve had their wines before, but damn if I can tell you when!  Their Mona Lisa is delicious…. but where are these wines?  I’ll tell you one thing,  this producer from Gaiole is better than I remember and I did myself a favor checking in at this table.  

2012 Chianti Classico Gherardino:  This is 85% Sangiovese with the balance to Merlot.  This is a smooth, soft Chianti with a nice deep violet color and that plushy Merlot mouthfeel lending itself to the wine.  Herbs, crushed black plums, spices and earth make this a nice, juicy accessible red.  Pretty. 87-89 points.  Good value. 

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Mona Lisa”:  This is 85% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet.  The international grapes show in the color of this purplish wine and really flesh out the texture of this silky Chianti.  This wine is more of a modern angle, but it’s delicious with forward flavors of black cherry, pipe tobacco, cedar, and espresso. Surprisingly ready to drink with no rough edges – the tannins are silky and integrated.  May not be everyone’s cup of Chianti,  but I love this.  92-95 points.  

~ The Vignamaggio Lineup: I didn’t taste, or I lost my note on, the 2013 Classico pictured here ~ 

Finally,  I stopped in at one of my favorite Radda producers, Volpaia.  We featured a nice article on Volpaia not too long ago – a worthy stop here as it covered a wine that was not part of this tasting.
The Rep. from Wilson Daniels was knowledgeable and courteous with his time and really enjoyed talking about the wines.

2009 Chianti Classico Riserva “Coltassala”:   This was the 2009, for a note on the 2010, see here:  Current Chianti Report.  Ripe and rich, with lots of cherry, dusty spices, tobacco and dried flowers on the nose and palate.  This is 95% Sangiovese and 5% Mammolo but I don’t sense anything in this wine from the latter.  A former Super Tuscan, this now bears the Riserva designation.  I like the 2010 much better than this version and the price quoted scares me.  SRP ~ $70.  89-91 points. 

2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Il Puro”:  “The Pure” – i.e. 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard source devoted to this new wine.  Organic and barrique aged.  This is an amazing effort.  Loads of ripe crushed berry, fresh flowers, turned earth, slight toast, coffee and fennel on the nose and palate.  Stunning aromatics with flavors to match.   This is a potential benchmark.  Miniscule production of 2,000 and not yet released to the market.  Once again, like some of the other wines in this tasting,  the quoted price scares me.  But at least the quality is here.  SRP $125.  97-99 points.  Wow!

~ That is “Il Puro” in the glass ~


Closing Remarks,  Impressions and Concerns

This was an amazing tasting.  There is no getting around that.  The wines I tasted were excellent across the board and really showed well.  This is especially true because for the most part, they were tasted without food.  Occasionally, I’d have a crumble of Reggiano with me, but not too often.  

It is clear that by creating this new designation, the producers and the Consorzio were aiming to create an ultra premium tier of wine that could be the pinnacle reference of the Chianti Classico brand.  I’m not sure how successful that will ultimately be.  The wines are clearly of very high quality. However, my feeling, which was shared with many of the other tasters I spoke to,  is that a good portion of these wines are ridiculously priced.  There are lots of excellent wines made from Sangiovese (and blends thereof) that are equally as delicious and complex and none of them approach $100-$150 per bottle.  I see this as a serious concern for the Consorzio, though much of that may depend upon who the producers and the Consorzio are attempting to market Gran Selezione wines to.  That said, there are numerous values to be had and many wines that I’d willingly add to my cellar.  My comments above are clear so there’s no need to re-hash them.  Shop around. 

Style?  Image?  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 less experienced than me.  I was asked:  “How do I compare these wines when they are so different?”  It’s a major issue I think.  They are very difficult to compare against one another.  Leaving aside the stylistic differences that can arise between botte and barrique and rusticity versus plushness, the wines tasted were all very different. Why?  Primarily it’s because almost anything goes in the production of Chianti Classico & Gran Selezione. Most of the Gran Selezione wines were produced solely from 100% Sangiovese.  I applaud that.  But not all were and they don’t need to be. 

The balance of the wines tasted above 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.   That’s an awful lot of personality to interject into a wine that ultimately carries a single designation.  Consumers that taste one Chianti Classico and love it,  may grab another bottle from a different producer and find a completely different sensory experience.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing and if you read this site regularly, you’ll have a leg up in your search,  but I don’t know if that’s the best thing for “Chianti Classico” as a brand. 

I spoke to a few producers during the tasting about pricing and they seemed sensitive to it. So perhaps there can be some softness around this issue going forward. What’s more,  I spoke to Andrea Cecchi a few nights after this tasting. Andrea is being nominated to head the Consorzio when Sergio Zingarelli steps down.  Although not present at the tasting Cecchi will release at least one, if not two, Gran Selezione wines in the coming vintages and they will be reasonably priced.  He views pricing as a major concern to be addressed, so hopefully the trend toward higher prices will be reversed.

Although much of the above commentary seems negative,  that would be an unfair take away.  As I said at the outset, the wines were of excellent quality across the board.  Read carefully, bookmark this article, and taste!  Go shopping armed with knowledge and you’ll be rewarded.

Thanks for reading!   Salute.

 

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