At the foot of the Apennines, in the northeast corner of Tuscany, lies the Selvapiana estate. Here, ancient tradition and history blend in a confluence of wine and ancestry.
In medieval times, Selvapiana stood as a watch tower to protect Firenze’s north east border. Eventually, during the Renaissance, the building was enlarged dramatically into a villa that was used by noble Florentine families as a Summer retreat. In 1827, Francesco Giuntini acquired the property and became the first generation of the Giuntini’s to own the estate. Today, winemaker Federico Giuntini and his sister Silvia represent the 5th generation of the family to own Selvapiana.
Selvapiana is the preeminent producer within the Chianti Rufina zone. But what is Chianti Rufina?
Chianti Rufina Basics
Selvapiana calls Chianti Rufina home. But what exactly is Chianti Rufina and how does it differ from Chianti Classico? Chianti Rufina is one of seven sub-zones of the Chianti DOCG – that does not include Chianti Classico; which holds it’s own DOCG. Rufina, pronounced “ROOFina”, was established by Cosimo de’ Medici in 1716. It is the smallest sub-zone of Chianti and when compared to other DOCG, only Carmignano is smaller. Under the rules for Chianti, wines from Rufina must be at least 70% Sangiovese, while from Chianti Classico they must be a minimum of 80% Sangiovese.
Foresight & Innovation
Although it’s small, Selvapiana has contributed significant innovation to Chianti. In 1978, Giuntini realized the great potential of Rufina and Selvapiana. As a result, he hired Franco Bernabei to be consulting winemaker. Together they created Bucerchiale, a single vineyard Sangiovese Riserva which was an unheard of notion at the time. The wine was an instant success and Bernabei consults to this day.
This cycle of improvement and innovation continues. In 2005, the new wine cellar was finished and supplements the existing, historic cellar. Additionally, since 1987, the estate has received organic certification for its vineyards.
Selvapiana covers a total of 250 hectares. Approximately 60 are devoted to vineyards which bear the names of the sharecropping farms that once worked the land. The remainder are olive groves and forest.
For this feature, I tasted through all the current releases from the Selvapiana Estate. My reviews speak for themselves but to steal my own thunder, I was greatly impressed.
I Vini di Selvapiana – All wines Certified Organic
Sometimes good comes from bad. A few months back I had received a sample of the 2019 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina. The wine was flat. Dried out, devoid of fruit and hollow. I sat with it for a while to be certain it wasn’t corked. Convinced, I decided to present the wine in a “Twitter Only” review. I was disappointed because in a vintage like 2019, I expected a nice wine. Well, the tweet was spotted by Silvia Giuntini, who requested that her importer reach out to me. This article is the result and benefit of that single tweet.
2019 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina – This is a second tasting of this wine. It clearly portrays the first bottle as somehow flawed, though this is still a straightforward red. In the glass, the light ruby color is nearly transparent. Aromas of cherry, sandalwood and spices are softly presented. Light to medium bodied on the palate with monolithic red berry flavors. Dusty herb and spice notes frame the fruit. This bottle is clearly sound. However, it’s as basic as basic can be. That’s ok, just measure your expectations. 86 points. Find this wine.
The 2017 Selvapiana Vigneto Erchi is 100% Sangiovese coming from a 6 hectare vineyard that is about 21 years old. The Erchi farm was purchased in 1998 and planted with vines in 1999. The 2017 is only the second release of this Cru.
Deep medium ruby. Deep aromas of black cherry, pipe tobacco, fresh red flowers and crushed clay. Medium to full bodied with ripe, juicy flavors of wild cherry that turn sapid in the mouth. Cigar leaf tobacco, leather and earth notes are gorgeous. Lengthy finish is tinged with cured meat and fennel. Impressive wine. Value is there. 93 points. Find this wine.
The 2018 Selvapiana Pomino Villa Petrognano is a deep bright ruby. Brilliant aromas of wild raspberry, red cherry, flowers and sage are spot on. Juicy, fresh cherries on the palate with tobacco, hints of smoke and medium weight tannins that offer grip but moderate with food. This is very nice for the vintage. It could be the elevation and the terroir near the Apennines keep this wine fresher than many other 2018s I’ve tasted. 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. Great value around $21. 90 points. Find this wine.
The 2017 Selvapiana Vigneto Bucherchiale is a lovely medium ruby clear to the rim. Textbook Bucherchiale nose. Animale! Salume, wild boar sausage, porcini and crushed cherry are complex and wild. Juicy, sapid wild cherry, fresh fennel, and toasted nuts are medium bodied and persistent on the palate. Fresh, but boy do the tannins clamp down on the finish which is just slightly “hot”. Needs plenty of cellar time like most Bucerchiale do. I’m still holding the 2009 in my cellar. Give this 7+ years at a minimum and then be wowed. 95 points and a steal just under $30. Find this wine.
Bucerchiale is sourced from vineyards that were planted in 1968 and 1992. It is 100% Sangiovese and spends 36 months in French barrique before release.
The 2016 Selvapiana Fornace hails from vineyards planted in 1994 and 2003. It’s a deep crimson to ruby in color. Crushed cherry and leather dominate on the nose with powdered spices and leaf tobacco emerging too. Really intriguing. Viscous on the palate with ripe cherry, dusty minerals, espresso grind and fennel. Medium to full body. This is very elegant but could still use 1-2 years in the bottle to soften the tannins a bit. Yet, this is deliciously approachable right now. Spends 29 months in barrique before release. 92 points. Find this wine.
Overall, there’s no question these wines are exciting and well made. Furthermore, in many cases they represent incredible value given the quality and complexity. Bucerchiale remains a favorite and to me, is an essential in a Tuscan cellar.
But we’re not done! Co-Owner and winemaker Federico Giuntini has graciously agreed to sit down with us for a chat.
La Intervista con Federico Giuntini
TV: Ciao Federico, come stai?
FG: Grazie mille Giovanni and thank you for the wonderful article.
TV: Piacere mio, iniziamo. These days, many consumers are eager to seek out excellent wines but also wines that are organic. What year did the estate become organic and why did you decide to seek certification?
FG: When I first started to work at the estate, during the Summer of 1987, after high school, I asked Francesco to work organic. I saw that it was important then. We had a couple of vineyards where we began the process and after that Selvapiana became fully organic. Regarding certification; we certified the vineyards and olive trees only.
TV: Let’s talk about the individual roles at the winery. You’re the winemaker with Bernabei assisting. How are your roles defined? What role does Silvia have in the winery?
FG: Selvapiana is still a very small family operation, so roles are not so clear and strict. Silvia is in charge of the office, I mostly work in the vineyards and direct sales. More recently during 2019, my eldest son Niccolo, is now in charge of the cellar and he worked very closely with Franco Bernabei. Franco has helped us since 1978.
TV: Besides Chianti Classico, which many of my readers are familiar with, I think the two most recognizable Chianti zones are Rufina and Colli Senesi. Generally speaking, what makes Rufina different from Chianti Classico?
FG: Rufina is unique due to its position at the foothill of the Appenines. Because of the altitude, Rufina generally has a longer ripening season, with cooler nights. This promotes balance with a slow ripening of the grapes. But never too ripe. Soils can vary too of course, but the main difference is the location.
TV: Bucerchiale is your oldest vineyard with parcels dating back to 1968. It was my first introduction to Selvapiana when I tasted the 1985 vintage. I still remember it. For me, it’s one of the best vineyards in all of Tuscany. What do you think makes it so special? And to that point, I always find “animale” and “cured meat” in that wine. E specially on the nose. Is it the soil that imparts that character?
FG: We are really lucky to own such a great spot. The first parcel was planted in 1968 as you say. Then a second parcel in 1992 and a younger one in 2001. The oldest part, mainly because of vine losses and low planting density was ripped up and re-planted just a few years ago. We let the soil rest for 43 years before we replanted. The soil is definitely in that wine. And you’re right – Vigneto Bucerchiale 1985 was probably the best we ever made. In addition to what you say, you can also find the “woodlands after rain” – a sort of earthiness with great minerality.
TV: And Bucerchiale is 100% Sangiovese and the estates’s flagship wine. But now you’re producing Vigneto Erchi which is also 100% Sangiovese. What is the main difference between the two? In my tastings above, I suppose I’d generally say that Bucerchiale is a bit more rustic while Erchi seems more polished. What do you think of that? What are the differences in altitude between the two vineyards?
FG: Vigneto Bucerchiale is the project of Francesco Giuntini, with a young Franco Bernabei. And even Luigi Veronelli was involved then who encouraged the planting! Vigneto Erchi is the project of my generation. We bought the land in 1998 and planted the vineyards in 1999; just 6 hectares. We waited until the vines reached a good age and selected a new cru. Vigneto Erchi is in the municipality of Pontassieve in a kind of conca d’oro (not so great as the one in Panzano!) It sits next to I Veroni, Poggio a Remole, Il Capitano e Cerreto Libri. Soils there have more calcareous limestone and much more iron than Bucherchiale which is mostly clay with limestone. Bucherchiale is higher at about 200 meters while Erchi sits between 150-200 meters. The two make for an interesting comparison.
TV: Let’s chat about vintages for a moment. Which year do you think was the most difficult vintage you’ve ever worked and what made it so hard? Contrarily, which was the easiest and why?
FG: Well, my first one was 1987 and was really, really complicated. Lots of grapes (High yields) even though we green harvested a lot that year. There was lots of rain during the harvest as well and lots of Botrytis. 1992 was also very complicated. Those are 2 years when no Bucerchiale was made. Then I think 2013 and 2019 were probably the 2 easiest. Conditions were perfect in our area.
TV: Definitely 2019! I’ve had discussions with a lot of winemakers across Italy and they are all praising that vintage. 2019 comes with great fanfare so what do you think of it?
FG: Ha! Giovanni, the best thing I can say is that I hope to see another quality vintage like this!
TV: Regarding vintages, good and bad, I’m always discussing the changing climate with winemakers. Hotter and drier Summers are forcing them to make changes to the way they farm. Lying further to the north, and under the protection of the Apennines, what decisions have you needed to make in order to combat the warming climate?
FG: Many things have been changed and there is much more to be changed. We can not move the vineyards and so we have to play where we are! We practice later pruning to delay bud break, so you avoid Spring frost and also you can delay ripening this way. We use cover crops and manure to increase organic substance and have better microlife to the soil and reduce water stress to the vines. We work the soils deeper and more aggressively during winter to prevent the soil from becoming compacted. Also, canopy management has changed. We don’t pull away the leafs any more; no hedging. We like to keep the grapes more in the shade. Last but not least, before the big heat waves we spray products that help to reduce the temperature of the leafs, like caolino (white-clay and algae).
TV: Wow! That is a ton of intervention, it’s amazing.
FG: Well, every vintage is different certainly, but we have to be prepared to react given what nature provides us. We work all naturally so taking care of the vines and soils the best we possibly can will reduce the chance that we will have problems later.
TV: Well, thank you so much Federico. In wrapping up, tell us what’s new at Selvapiana? What’s exciting? What would you want my readers to know that I haven’t brought up?
FG: New is the new generation! They are slowly taking over. I am not too old but again, we have to be prepared! Niccolò is already working 100% in charge of the cellars and now he’s doing a lot in the vineyards. Plus, my daughter Rebecca is starting to help at the wine shop.
TV: Grazie tanto Federico – I truly appreciate your time and your passion. I know my readers do as well so thank you for enlightening us.
FG: Grazie a te Giovannin. I hope we see each other soon.
I hope you enjoyed Federico’s insight and if you are not already familiar with his wines, please do check them out. In the US, they are handled by Dalla Terra Imports.