One of the things I’m asked most often by experienced wine drinkers and novices alike is “Was such and such vintage a good year?”  My answer almost always involves the phrase “it depends.”   Italy may look small, but in total area, it’s about twice the size of the US state of Georgia.  With the various soil types, coastal influences and altitudes, climate and vintage conditions can easily vary within the same year.  Perhaps the perfect illustration involves 2010 vs. 2011 in Chianti Classico.

While 2010 in Montalcino is regarded as among the finest recent vintages, 2011 was generally not as good as the hotter conditions in the south of Tuscany robbed some of the freshness from many of the wines.  However, in Chianti Classico, 2011 has generally outpaced 2010 based on my tastings.  The higher elevation of many of the vineyards tempered the effect of the heat and the large diurnal temperature swings create the perfect environment for Sangiovese to ripen optimally.  The other factor?  Unlike Brunello, Chianti Classico can be blended with other grapes, so to the extent the Sangiovese wasn’t “perfect” in 2011, those conditions can be ameliorated by including approved percentages of other varietals.

Today we’re showcasing several examples of 2011 Chianti Classico Riservas and Gran Selezione.  Many of these wines are widely available in the market and should be considered cellar worthy examples of the type.

~ From the center of Panzano; go left! ~

Selected Tastings:  2011 Chianti Classico Riserva & Gran Selezione

Founded in 1977, the Castellare estate is relatively young. However, the estate is fortunate enough to hold some of the highest vineyard parcels in all of Chianti Classico. Located in Castellina, the 46 acre estate has become a sort of natural refuge for forestry and wildlife. In fact, many of the birds that grace Castellare’s label are native to their estate – which is legally protected. Each label changes with the vintage; a nod to these protected birds.

The 2011 Il Poggiale Chianti Classico Riserva hails from Castellina in Chianti.  We decanted this wine for about 60 minutes as it was very tight upon opening.  It’s a dark ruby in the glass with penetrating aromas of coffee, cherries, leather and dusty spices on the nose.  The flavors match the aromas well with a strong added note of fresh fennel that is very appealing.  This is full bodied and very muscular with large scale acids and tannins ramped up in balance with the fruit.  Very well done.  92 points. About $35.  Find this wine.

~ Wonderful example of the terroir of Castellina in Chianti ~

Not far from the reaches of Panzano lies the small hamlet of Barberino d’ Elsa; home to Castello di Monsanto.  Run today by family proprietor Laura Bianchi,  the estate has always been a bastion of time honored production methods.  Laura summed it up nicely for me:

“Our goal is to make wines of integrity and personality that are true to their terroir.  If this means that we have had to back away from certain technological advances and remain firm in the face of pressure to make wines of the moment, it’s a risk my family and I have been more than willing to take.”

The classically produced 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva is a medium ruby to violet in color.  The wine is a traditional blend, with 90% Sangiovese joined by 5% each of Colorino and Canaiolo.  Pretty floral aromatics present the nose with tightly wound cherry and spice aromas contributing.  On the palate, there is a nice core of bright berry fruit with leaf tobacco, cake spices, and a trace of vanilla. Not to the level of the famed “Il Poggio” but a good introduction to the house style. Nice balance. Good value.  90 points.  About $20.  Find this wine.

~ Pretty violet color here ~

There are few names as well known or revered as Castello di Ama and for this report, the estate submitted it’s trio of exceptional Gran Selezione wines from the 2011 vintage.  Castello di Ama has been leaning toward a more plush, modern style of Gran Selezione and along those lines, these three wines are slightly different in composition and highlight the single vineyards from where they’re sourced.

First up was the 2011 Castello di Ama Bellavista Gran Selezione which is the oldest single vineyard produced by Ama and also the most classic wine of the three.  This deep garnet red wine is 80% Sangiovese and 20% Malvasia Nera.

The aromas from the glass are classic, with flowers, spicy ripe berries and turned earth.  On the palate, the wine is a bit leaner than I would have expected.  Red fruit flavors are joined by worn leather and dusty earth. If you’re a purist, this is your wine, but at this insane price point, I expect more of everything.  91 points. About $150-$200 per bottle.   (Yes, you read that correctly)  Find this wine.

~ Maybe this will develop better as it ages. The stuffing is there, but at the price, it’s not really a risk I’m willing to take. ~

The Villa Cerna estate can trace its roots back to 1000 AD – an astounding thing to ponder even as I write the words.  The modern day Villa Cerna has been owned by the Cecchi family since the 1960’s and routinely produces a solid Chianti Classico but an even better Riserva from estate vineyards in Castellina in Chianti.

The 2011 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva gorgeous.  Deep violet to ruby in the glass, the nose is warm and inviting with loads of cherry, flowers, eucalyptus and tobacco. Flavors follow the aromas with clean, precise delineations. Very well made and a bit more forward in a playful manner. More evocative now than the slightly more structured 2010. I love this, but limited importation. 93 points.  Find this wine.

~ The vineyards of Villa Cerna are well drained sloping sites filled with clay and galestro ~

~ Vineyards of Villa Cerna, Castellina in Chianti. Beyond the copse of trees lies the actual Villa which is centuries old ~

The 2011 Monteraponi “Il Campitello” Chianti Classico Riserva  is simply spectacular and becoming a wine I seek out in every vintage.   In the glass the wine is a deep ruby with lovely violet reflections.  The aromas are captivating.  Fresh flowers, spices, crushed wild cherry, tobacco and herb notes fill the room.  I love smelling this almost as much as drinking it.

On the palate, the wine is pristine and pure.  Ripe wild cherry and berry notes fill the mouth with dusty minerals, spice, leather and sweet tobacco notes that are harmonic.  The soil in Il Campitello is galestro,  so the vineyard takes on a marked powdery, shaley mineral note that I love.  Wonderful freshness and balance round this wine out.

Il Campitello is 90% Sangiovese 8% Canaiolo and 2% Colorino.  It’s classic in every sense and will be a staple in my cellar.  It’s not always easy to find, but when you do, I would not hesitate to grab it.  It’s not inexpensive, but it delivers.  95 points. About $45.  Find this wine.

~ Il Campitello is a single vineyard Riserva from Maestro Michele Braganti ~

Antonio Zaccheo cut his teeth if you will on single vineyard Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that are outstanding. Over the years, Carpineto has had its ups and downs, but since Antonio’s continued involvement, quality has seen a dramatic rise across the breadth of the family properties. So too has this Chianti Classico Riserva.

The 2011 Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva is a delicious blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo.  It’s a deep ruby in the glass with violet hues and is compelling to taste. Intense aromas of crushed cherry, fresh herbs, spice, mocha and leather are gorgeous. Flavors follow with depth and finesse adding cocoa and pipe tobacco. This is really delicious and was great with broccoli rabe and grilled sausages but equally as delicious without the food. Bravo!  93 points.  A lovely value at about $22.  Find this wine.

~ Don’t ignore the family of Carpineto wines. They are very nice values ~

The second entrant from Castello di Ama is one to pay attention to.  The 2011 Gran Selezione Vigneto San Lorenzo is a deep ruby color with medium violet reflections.  The striking aromas are filled with crushed berry, mocha, leather and tobacco that are pronounced. On the palate, the fleshiness from the Merlot is noticeable but the wild berry, spice, caramel/mocha and herb notes are just lovely.  More tannic than expected, this could settle for a year or two in bottle. Really excellent and a nice value.  94 points.  About $40.  Find this wine.

~ The cheapest of the three Castello di Ama Gran Selezione, but that is not a slight in the least. This is serious wine with wonderful availability ~

The final wine to represent Castello di Ama was the absolutely outstanding 2011 Gran Selezione Vigneto La Casuccia.  The La Casuccia is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot which adds, to be honest, a dripping sex appeal to this wine.  The deep ruby to purple colored wine is ripe and fresh with loads of red berry, toast, sweet pipe tobacco, and licorice notes on both the nose and palate. Aristocratic and elegant, this coats the palate with smoothly integrated tannins and a long, fruit driven finish.  First tasted with wedge salads with blue cheese and bacon, we finished it with grilled NY Strips and it sang with both.  Stunning, absolutely stunning, but very costly. 97 points, about $175.  Find this wine.

~ Prices vary on this one, so shop around. It’s $150 at the base, but the sexiness of this wine is hard to resist ~

The story of Tolaini’s humble beginnings have been well chronicled here.   Yet from those humble beginnings rose a manicured, impeccably run estate located in Castelnuovo Berardenga led by Pierluigi Tolaini, and a brilliant energetic winemaking team.  With Michel Rolland lending his tutelage where necessary, the wines from Tolaini have never been better and they deserve your attention.

~ View of the Tolaini cantina from high atop the Al Passo Vineyard ~

Today, we’re including the 2011 Tolaini Gran Selezione.  This 100% Sangiovese is meticulously crafted.  Hand harvested grapes are sorted twice; first in the vineyards as clusters and then again after de-stemming.  Whole berry fermentation takes place in both stainless steel and French oak fermenters.  For aging, the wine rests 6 months on the lees, 6 months in stainless steel and 6 months in bottle.  The efforts achieves notable results.

In the glass, the wine is a deep ruby that trends almost to garnet.  There’s a slight fade at the rim of the bowl.  The color has darkened from the bright violet tones noted 2 years ago.  Aromas of red plums, red stone fruit, fennel and dried herbs are attractive and easily noted and carry through on the palate which is fresh and lively.  She’s an elegant lithe dancer in a flowing white lace dress that captivates your attention with its wistful, yet playful nature.  The slight heat of the vintage is well balanced here and while there’s no rush to drink this, I don’t sense that it will evolve greatly beyond where it is.  Drink now and over the next 7 years and you will be highly rewarded.  93 points and fairly priced around $30. Find this wine.

~ Tolaini produces exceptional Chianti from Castelnuovo Berardenga ~

The 2011 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva evidences the purity and essence of Castellina in Chianti which shine through in this wine.  The dusty white road.  The red stones. The sunflowers.  The fennel pollen.  The wild berry.  The nose and palate of this wine is simply everything that a Chianti Classico Riserva should be.  It’s a singular expression of Sangiovese that lovers of the grape hunger for.  Balanced, nuanced, with medium weight tannins that afford drinkability sooner rather than later – but with the structure required to hold it in your cellar until it’s 10th birthday.  The value?  Spectacular. 93 points. About $22. Find this wine.

~ The Gallo Nero is honored at Rocca delle Macie ~

The Zingarelli family runs the Rocca delle Macie estate in Castellina in Chianti.  Currently, Sergio Zingarelli is the head of the Chianti Classico Consorzio.

~ Classically styled and an enticing value ~

Next up is the 2011 Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva.  This single vineyard Riserva is comprised of 90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo and 3% Colorino.   After vinification, the wine is aged in French oak barrels for no less than 20 months and then 3-6 months in bottle prior to release.

The 2011 is a fresh looking medium violet color.  I always tend to notice a slightly darker, more vibrant color to Chianti when Colorino is included in the blend.  I might be imagining that, but nevertheless….

~ Vineyards on the Monsanto Estate ~

The aromas from the wine are simply superb and classic in every sense.  Ripe berries abound, buttressed by clove, white pepper, fresh tobacco and crushed flowers.  It’s very pretty.  On the palate is where I find this wine to be most attractive.  It’s incredibly bright, fresh and juicy with crushed red fruit simply exploding on your palate.  On the perimeter, leafy tobacco, dusty spices, fennel seed and coffee notes are present.  On the back end, the tannins do clamp down a bit, especially without food.  However, with pappardelle sul ragu and braciole, this simply exceeded my expectations.   Perhaps it’s a bit pricey vis a vis Brunello, it’s a fair comparison to highlight for my readers I think,  but I was not disappointed in the least here.  94 points.  About $44. Find this wine.

~ A superb effort from one of the greatest vineyards in all of Chianti Classico ~

Located in Panzano, the Montebernardi Estate extends over 53 hectares, approximately 10 of which are devoted to vines.  Although the estate has documented roots as far back as 1085,  wine production didn’t take place until 1992.  Prior to that time, the grapes were sold off in bulk locally. In 2003, the Schmelzer family purchased the estate and set about revitalizing it.  Investments were made in the winery, cellars, vineyards and the villa on the property and in the exceedingly short span of 10-13 years, these investments have yielded astounding dividends.

The 2011 Montebernardi Chianti Classico Riserva Sa’etta is drop dead gorgeous.  This wine walks a fine line between exuberant ripeness and complex aristocracy and does so with perfection.   The color is a gorgeous deep ruby with nary a lightening at the rim of the bowl.

Aromas rise from the glass.  Rich, ripe crushed cherry are backed by sweet pipe tobacco, crushed dried herbs, vanilla, and freshly cut lilies.  On the palate, the wine is juicy, fresh and round with ripe flavors of red plum and cherry, fresh sage, toasted coffee and wonderful mineral accents.  Balanced well with fresh acidity and very well integrated tannins. The ripeness of the vintage I think is characterized in this wine, but as I said, it successfully walks a very fine line. Great Sangiovese. 94 points. Find this wine.

~ Note the deep ruby color of this wine ~

Gaiole is in North East Chianti Classico,  about 8 kilometers from Radda and 20 kilometers north east of Siena.  In addition to it’s prominence as a wine region,  it plays host to an annual “Strada del Bianca” cycling road race that begins and ends in Gaiole.  Capanelle is one of the areas most notable producers.  A virtual baby on the Italian wine scene, the estate traces its wine producing roots to 1974 when Roman businessman Raffaelle Rosetti purchased the estate and the farmhouse.  Today, the estate and its 16 hectares of vineyards produce about 80,000 bottles of wine annually

~ Greve in Chianti ~

The 2011 Capannelle Chianti Classico Riserva is also a perfect foil for the above dish.  Comprised of 100% Sangiovese and aged in Austrian oak,  the vessel has imparted nothing to the wine.  What you are left with is a stripped down, pristine expression of Sangiovese.   Bright violet in the glass,  the wine speaks terroir on the nose.  Bright floral notes are accented with piney minerals, tobacco and berry notes.  Fresh and brisk on the palate, the wine’s flavors mimic the nose with a soft mushroom and woodsy note that plays well against the savory herb notes on the mid palate.  Aged 18 months in large 16 hecto-liter barrels.  91 points.  About $34. Find this wine.

~ Classically styled, in a more austere way, but the perfect companion to Tuscan chicken stew ~

Although not included in this report, my coverage of the Gran Selezione Press Event includes several impressions of additional 2011 Gran Selezione and Riservas including:

Mazzei Chianti Classico Riserva Ser Lapo
Felsina Rancia Riserva
Mazzei Gran Selezione
Fontodi Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo
Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva
Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva Colledila
Castello di Brolio Gran Selezione

You can read these snapshots here:  Gran Selezione


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