Sunday, May 17, 2015
In 2013, producers of Chianti Classico created a new denomination of quality within their zone, the highest rung in the ladder, their version of a "grand cru" called "Gran Selezione". Approximately 10% of the production based on stricter selection and longer aging qualifies to be the creme of the crop, one step above the already serious Riserva designation. While Brunello has more prestige and commands higher prices, the insiders know that Chianti Classico can produce equally compelling expressions of Sangiovese. Earlier in May, the 600+ members strong Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico presented the inaugural tasting of Gran Selezione wines, the first release they are so marked. For most, it was the much-acclaimed 2010 vintage, but some debuted with another vintage, whatever happened to be their top qualifying wine currently being offered.
My overall impression is that Chianti Classico is a very reliable wine. The highs and lows are not as dramatic as some other regions (like Bordeaux or Burgundy, for instance), and the vintage variations though perceptible, do not, in my opinion, doom the quality. That is to say, as I tasted Riservas and Gran Selezione through 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011, there was not a bad wine in the line-up of about 30 producers, each offering 2-3 wines, although some wines were moderately marred by reduction (a sort of a burned rubber flavor, which should dissipate with age or oxygenation). I was particularly impressed with 2009, a vintage that is showing lots of flesh and polish, with smoother tannins, while maintaining balance. And with 2011, that seems to me like a blockbuster year - the wines are ripe and expressive, but not overripe, with strong but fine tannins, depth, excellent acidity, and overall are more pleasant than the more austere 2010's. There were also a number of basic 2012 Chianti Classico's, tannic and fruity, which left me with positive impression.
My favorite wine of the tasting was 2011 Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna Del Sorbo Gran Selezione - simply a gorgeous expression of (mostly) Sangiovese, dense, tannic, with layers of flavors I didn't find in others, one of the best Sangiovese in the world, period - and it's a relative bargain for $60-70/btl. The 2006 Isole e Olena Gran Selezione was also quite superb but much more expensive (they quoted over $200/btl). Felsina was fine as usual, and this was the first time they imported their highest-end Chianti Classico Colonia Gran Selezione (should be $80-100 retail), a very good wine.
Other memorable wines were Riserva and Gran Selezione selections from Volpaia, Il Molino di Grace, Castello di Brolio, Ormanni, Castello la Leccia, and Badia a Passignano (Antinori). As mentioned, the level of quality was high across the board.
Chianti Classico, particularly at the Riserva and Gran Selezione levels definitely strikes me as a reliable appellation with typical flavor profile of dark cherries and leather / tobacco, with excellent structure (tannic/acidic presence & balance), that doesn't quite reach the highs of other more premium regions (like Burgundy), but it also doesn't disappoint as often.
All in all, I walked away impressed and encouraged.