The more things change, the more they change. Chianti Classico and its producers have certainly embraced the notion.
Last month, I attended the Grand Chianti Classico Tasting in New York City. In addition to the debut of hundreds of new vintage wines, I was one of a few journalists to attend the Masterclass on Chianti Classico’s newest designation; the “UGA” or Unita Geografiche Aggiuntive.
Got it? No….? Color me ruby with violet highlights.
What changed and what’s the impact?
The first thing to realize is that the changes outlined in this article apply to Gran Selezione only. While it may seem confusing at first glance, this restricts the new discipline to only about 6% of Chianti Classico’s wines. At least for now. So, what’s changing?
Consorzio President Giovanni Manetti and noted Italian Cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti lead the Masters Class. Since Manetti held the job as Chairman of the Consorzio, he has wanted to further delineate Gran Selezione. Masnaghetti was instrumental in analyzing the climate, elevations and soils of the various Chianti Classico Commune. As a result of that analysis the following has been approved by the Consorzio as of June 2021.
- Chianti Classico will now be divided into 11 geographic areas (UGA’s)
- The name of the UGA where the grapes are grown is permitted on the Gran Selezione label
- Gran Selezione must now be at least 90% Sangiovese
- The remaining 10% must now be only from indigenous varietals. International varietals are no longer allowed
The 11 newly approved Geographic Classifications are as follows:
- Lamole (which was carved out of Greve)
- Castelnuovo Berardenga
- San Donato in Poggio (a merger of Barberino Tavernelle & Poggibonsi)
- San Casciano
- Montefioralle (also carved out of Greve)
Producers from Lamole will have three years to decide whether to label their wines Lamole or Greve. After that, the choice is binding. I had a front row seat for the Master Class presentation. Below are my impressions of the wines presented.
Gran Selezione Master Class Tasting
During this portion of the tasting, I took detailed notes. The lecture was, well, lengthy. Patient soul that I am, I listened attentively but I can multi-task so I had plenty of time with the wines. One minor, though significant flaw in this tasting was that all of the wines presented with the exception of two were from 2016. The others were from 2018; a much weaker vintage. As the pours were small and no food was available, no scores will be provided.
2018 Castello di Querceto, Greve: 100% Sangiovese. Medium ruby in color with cured meat, cherries and leather on the nose. Medium in body with bity, tart acidity asserting itself too much. Muted cherry flavors with tannins that are bitter and astringent. Not a fan of this one.
2018 I Fabbri, Lamole: 100% Sangiovese. Medium ruby in color with fresh lilies and wild berries on the nose. Pretty. Brighter berry on the palate than the Querceto with hints of vanilla. The fruit turns slightly tart on the finish which is rather austere and cut short by medium weight tannins. This is organic. It’s “OK”.
2016 Le Cinciole, Panzano: 100% Sangiovese. Medium ruby in color with dark cherries dominating the nose. Bright red fruits on the palate with good, refreshing acidity and structure. Needs to resolve some tannins but the future will be kind here I think. This is from the East side of Panzano where the elevation is slightly higher and it stays a bit cooler. Organic. Quite good, but not great.
2016 Castello di Volpaia, Radda: 95% Sangiovese, 5% Mammolo. Deep ruby color with aromas of worn wood, fresh flowers, crushed herbs and wild cherry notes. Love this nose! Ripe cherry fruit on the palate with black pepper, toasted spices and tobacco. Large scaled tannins beg this one to be cellared. Organic. Very good, but needs 5+ years to present itself more.
2016 Rocca di Montegrossi, Gaiole: 92% Sangiovese, 8% Pugnitello. Deep ruby in color with aromatic notes of wild berry that are very, very shy. Nothing else presents itself on the nose over the course of 90 minutes. Delicious on the palate with dark berry, elegantly toasted oak, toasted nuts, spices and freshly turned earth. This is from the southern most tip of Gaiole very much near Castelnuovo Berardenga. Very good wine that is also organic.
2016 Felsina Colonia, Castelnuovo, Berardenga: 100% Sangiovese. Medium ruby in color with aromas of fresh flowers and red cherry. Very aromatic. Full bodied on the palate with massive cherry fruit that is very, very elegant. Wow! Toasted spices, porcini mushroom and fennel frame the fruit flavors. This is very good. I have seen it written that Colonia is the highest part of the Rancia vineyard, but this was not my understanding. The winery principal at the tasting confirmed for me that Colonia is a vineyard parcel unto it’s own that is surrounded by a forest. It is higher up than Rancia, but it is a distinctly different parcel of land.
2016 Dievole, Vagliagli: 100% Sangiovese. Medium ruby with aromas of crushed red fruits and a slightly medicinal, piney aroma. Good, medium bodied fruit with bright cherry and sapid, sour cherry notes. Nice finish is soft and elegant. This is very good, but needs some cellaring to develop the aromas further.
2016 Castello di Fonterutoli, Castellina: 92% Sangiovese and 8% Malvasia Nera and Colorino. Dark ruby with drop dead gorgeous aromas of fresh flowers, perfume and crushed cherry. Full bodied flavors of cherry, pipe tobacco and spice are lovely. Dusty and long on the finish. This is excellent.
2016 Castello di Monsanto, San Donato in Poggio: 95% Sangiovese, 3% Colorino, 2% Canaiolo. Medium ruby. Aromas of fresh flowers, caramel, black cherry and smokey tobacco on the nose are spell binding. So delicious in the mouth. Elegant and ripe with flavors of crushed cherry, mint, tobacco and cake spices. Fresh, ripe and persistent. Velvety tannins are just amazing. I love this, it’s excellent! Find this wine & Support Tuscan Vines
2016 Principe Corsini Don Tomasso, San Casciano: 80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot. This is a blend that won’t be allowed under the new rules. Deep ruby in color with notes of lilies and green herbs that dominate the aromas. I can’t get past the nose. Super tannic in the mouth that dries everything out. Black cherry notes but the Merlot character is very green. What happened here? I reported on this wine just over a year ago. After re-reading that article, this has either done a 180 in the bottle or it was flawed for this tasting. Organic.
2016 Villa Calcinaia Conti Capponi, Montefioralle: 100% Sangiovese. Deep ruby in color with a shy nose of cherries and spices. Wonderful on the palate with bright cherry flavors that are accented with dusty cocoa and turned earth. Tannins clamp down hard on the finish but this seems put together very well. Needs 5+ years to show its best I think. Very good, Organic.
The Walk Around Tasting
When the Master Class ended, the second event of the day began; the walk around tasting. To say this tasting was gargantuan would be to damn with faint praise. You would need two weeks to taste every wine present; likely more. What the Consorzio did well was organize the wines by the new UGA. So finding certain producers was easy if you knew where they were located. For this part of the tasting, I only have brief general impressions. Pours were small and I tried to visit tables only where there was a winery principal present.
The first stop was at an old, comfortable standby. See? Here is proven yet again, one of my favorite wine axioms. Producer over vintage. I haven’t tasted many 2018s that have excited me. Yet, the Antinori 2018 Badia a Passignano Gran Selezione tastes like it was made from another vintage. Ripe, fresh, juicy, succulent even; this is one wine to buy each and every year. For those of you considering Solaia or Tignanello in 2018, my bet would be they are exciting wines too.
Next I made my way over to Bibbiano. Having just tasted the 2019 Classico for my recent report, I wasn’t planning to try that wine. However, I changed my mind in an effort to gauge consistency. The 2019 Bibbiano Classico performed admirably again. It’s a juicy, fresh Sangiovese that is very well made. The 2018 Riserva was nice too – I remember that, but I don’t remember much more about it. Perhaps that says something, but it was not a bad wine. It was simply overshadowed by the 2018 Gran Selezione. This is interesting because the 2016 Gran Selezione is so gorgeous. The winery Rep. told me that they skipped the 2017 vintage. The 2018 is the next wine on the market and I was rather impressed with it. Perhaps it lacks some of the concentration the 2016 had. That’s fair to expect, but it is a worthy successor. Ripe, round, fleshy – it’s a wine to drink now and over the next 5-7 years.
When I saw Giovanni Manetti next to the Fontodi table, I wasn’t going to miss tasting his newest releases with him. His daughter was manning the family table! Again, despite the fact that I just tasted the 2019 for my report, I tasted it again. What a beautiful wine. It performed just as it has. To me, that wine is a staple despite it’s price. It simply and consistently punches above its price point.
The 2018 Vigna del Sorbo was also wonderful. Another 2018 made as though it were from another vintage. Still, this one is very pricey and in comparison to the Antinori above, I’d have to choose the former. At $100+ the Vigna del Sorbo just isn’t worth it. The Lamole was also very nice. I questioned Giovanni about the wine. He told me that it’s from vineyards Fontodi owns that are not located in Panzano and therefore not part of the Fontodi Estate. He said they acquired the vineyards there to produce another example of Sangiovese from a different terroir. As a Classico Annata it’s a nice wine from 2018, but nothing terribly exciting.
The next stop really made an impression on me. I’ve only written about Castello Vicchiomaggio one other time, but that will be changing. Their Classico will be in Part 2 of my upcoming report. At this tasting, I tried only the 2018 Riserva and 2017 Gran Selezione. My tasting sheet was filled with “Wows” and “Love this”. I was especially surprised because Greve normally isn’t one of my favorite Commune. The GS has 10% Merlot in it (for now) and I think that really contributed to the fleshy texture of that wine. But the Riserva was not far behind. Two challenging vintages and the winemaker, who was pouring!, commented how hard he worked in both of them. It shows, I would happily recommend both of these wines that I believe would score in the low to mid 90s.
Querciabella is fully organic, biodynamic and vegan. The commitment to quality is paramount. Sebastiano Castiglioni does not waver from any of those positions. It shows in the wines, across the portfolio, consistently. Both the 2017 Riserva and 2018 Classico are wonderful wines. They are from two very different vintages but the flavor profiles and texture were almost imperceptible. The one caveat to that is that the 2017 was a bit rounder and fuller. Purchase these with confidence.
Winemaker Angela Fronti is doing amazing things at Istine. From the wonderful 2019 Chianti Classico to the Riserva tasted for this article, the quality and balance from this winery has never been better. Fronti was supportive of the new UGA classification believing it was a needed step in differentiating the zones of Chianti Classico. She advocated for 100% Sangiovese in Gran Selezione, but other producers believe the option to blend was critical given the changing climatic factors.
The 2019 Istine Levigne Riserva is spectacular. Buy it on sight when it is fully released. I’d estimate a mid 90s score for this wine, maybe even a point or two higher. To me, it’s a quintessential Radda Sangiovese. All that floral character and minerality from the high altitude vineyards comes shining through. It’s a benchmark type of Sangiovese.
In writing this article, I kept thinking back to one that I wrote years ago that was published in the Wine Buyers Guide. This seems to be the last step for Gran Selezione. What’s left to do? Move to 100% Sangiovese? Restrict yields or extend aging limits further? I am not sure I see any of those things being realistic or adding much value.
Manetti mentioned the possibility of extending the UGA Commune name to Riserva and Annata wines, but at this point, that’s only a suggestion. If that happens, won’t that increase confusion? I see that as a counter intuitive step towards the goal of differentiating Gran Selezione and yes, elevating it to a stature above all other wines produced within Chianti Classico.
Clearly one thing is certain; the territory of Chianti Classico is distinct and the producers want to exalt and promote that. Where it goes from here, or as I said in the Wine Buyers article – Where is it heading? – is just about anyone’s guess.