Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chianti Classico - The Latest

Alessando Cellai, winemaker, Castellare di Castellina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently sampled dozens of examples of the 2007 Chianti Classicos at the Anteprima tasting in Florence held over two days in mid-February. This year, the focus was on 2007 normale bottlings and 2006 riserva wines. As some producers hold back their releases, there were also wines from other vintages, even as far back as a 2004 from one estate that counts this wine as a current release.

I had been looking forward to the 2007 vintage from Tuscany, as it followed a very nice 2005 and a powerful, if not subtle 2006 vintage. 2007 was cool, unlike many recent vintages, so the wines have beautiful acidity, but also excellent fruit concentration, given the long growing season. All ingredients for some beautiful wines.

And I am happy to report that there were many excellent Classico bottlings from 2007, brimming with fruit and displaying beautiful structure. Unfortunately, some vintners took a good thing and tried to make it better, as too many 2007s are very big with rich oak; these are powerful wines that often lack finesse. My guess here is that some producers want to make more than a Classico, as they aim for a Super Tuscan style. Perhaps they are feeling the decrease in sales for Chianti Classico, as more consumers these days turn to wines that sell for $12-15 instead of the $16-24 that most bottlings of Chianti Classico warrant. Maybe they believe they will give consumers more bang for the buck. Or it could be that they are in search of a high score (mid 90s) for their wine, thus enabling their chances at greater sales.

I personally don’t like the idea of making a bigger wine than is necessary. For me, Chianti Classico is a mid-weight wine and one that has many charming qualities about it. There’s nothing wrong with a Chianti Classico being drinkable when young and I look for most examples to be at their best in 3-5 years. This is what makes 2007 so special, as I believe the best wines (in terms of quality as well as balance) will be at their best in 5-7 years. That’s a nice bonus and a big positive for Chianti Classico, so why should producers try and change that? My wishes are that more producers make Chianti Classico and not something else.

That said, here are some of my favorite bottlings of 2007 Chianti Classico with a few notes:

Castello di Volpaia – beautiful strawberry fruit and lively acidity with excellent structure.
Querciabella – plenty of fresh red cherry fruit; nicely balanced with firm tannins.
Castello di Bossi – a more modern style wine that recalls the heritage of traditional wines; nicely structured wine.
Castellare di Castellina – big, rich red fruit and a powerful finish; excellent complexity
Badia a Coltibuono – always a favorite, this is a charming wine with tasty red cherry fruit and subtle spice.
Bibbiano – another supple wine much like the Badia; beautifully balanced.

As for the 2006 Riservas, I was less impressed, as the wines seem a bit heavy with lower than normal acidity. These are of course, more powerful wines than the regular bottlings, but that doesn’t mean the wines need to lack proper structure.

There were successes, though especially from Lilliano and Monsanto. The former 2006 Riserva offers notes of cedar and dried cherry with very good acidity, while the Monsanto has similar flavors and structure, but takes things up a notch. There is plenty of bright fruit while the tannins are silky and the finsih is quite long and complexy. Both wines should be at their best in 5-7 years, with the Monsanto drinking well for perhaps another year or two beyond that.

Laura Bianchi of Monsanto also showed her 2004 “Il Poggio” Riserva, which continues the great tradition of this wine. From an outstanding vintage, the wine offers excellent fruit concentration with gorgeous aromas of dried orange peel and truffles and beautiful fruit persistence throughout. This is a superb wine, one that should drink well for 10-12 years and one that shows that a producer can make a great Chianti Classico while adhering to a style that focuses on harmony and structure instead of tannin and power.

Giovanni Ricasoli Firidolfi, owner, Castello di Cacchiano (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Finally I would like to single out the wines of Castello di Cacchiano, located in Monti (Gaiole) in the southern reaches of the Chianti Classico zone. Giovanni Ricasoli Firidolfi runs this property and has been producing some of the area’s best balanced and most complex wines in recent years. Giovanni poured his 2006 normale and his 2005 Riserva. Both wines display beautiful cherry and currant fruit with notes of truffle and cedar and offer excellent structure. The finishes are nicely balanced and offer spice and subtle earthiness. These are wines made with respect for the land and are beautiful food wines. How nice to taste impeccably made Chianti Classicos such as these which are clearly not made with an eye for big scores, but rather are fashioned with elegance and charm while displaying a specific sense of place.

Giovanni also showed his 2001 Vin Santo, a wonderfully lush and remarkably delicious treatment of this wine type. There are beautiful aromas of caramel, maple syup amd almond with great fruit concentration and a long, medium-sweet finish with cleansing acidity. As powerful a wine as this is, his style used to be much bigger with this wine; in fact vintages of this wine in the mid 1980s were so rich, you would be tempted to pour the wine on ice cream- not a bad idea, but not really what Vin Santo is all about. Thankfully, Firidolfi has lightened up a bit on this wine and the resulting 2001 is a classic Vin Santo. And if that wasn’t enough, Castello di Cacchiano also produces one of the best extra virgin olive oils each year in Chianti Classico. Quite a lineup!

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