Chianti Classico diversity

Celebrating the diversity of Chianti Classico: the 2015 London tasting 

As wine lovers, we can all have our preferences within the large region which is Tuscany. We might love the bright, cool, austerity of Chianti Rùfina or the richness of the Tuscan coast, but there is no getting away from the point that Chianti Classico is now definitively a broad church.  With only a large proportion of Sangiovese (minimum 80%) as an absolute rule, the permutations are endless.  After that you can play with any of the following: 

  • up to 100% Sangiovese for vivid, crunchy, high acid and moderate-to-high tannin wines 
  • austere, lifted and fragrant wines with Sangiovese blended with Canaiolo or Colorino, the local specialities both of which complement Sangiovese with floral, aromatic notes but do not dominate it
  • up to 20% Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot which above 7-8% profoundly changes the character of the final wine. With a  majority of Cabernet as the blending parter the wines are yet more structure but with added colour and black fruit, with Merlot the result is a softer, mellower texture and rich, black fruit.  
  • extraction times for more or less tannin and, some producers believe, a different evolution of tannins. For some very long maceration, longer than 3 weeks, produces wines with high but subtle tannins
  • with regard to the maturation of wine, there is a broad spectrum from neutral cement/stainless steel, through mildly oxidative but neutral large oak and new French oak barriques.  Within this spectrum using cement/stainless steel leads to raw, vivacious wines; old oak casks leads to some rounding out of tannins and no oak flavour; while new French barriques convey a sleek texture and an added layer of vanilla and sweet spice.  

To be mathematical about it, if there are broadly three options for the blend, three for extraction times and three for maturation, that gives you a minimum of 27 options for starters.  

IMG_2887This variety within a Sangiovese-theme was clearly exemplified in the Chianti Classico London Tasting of November 2015.  The notes below relate to just one historic estate, Vignamaggio, in Greve in Chianti. It has a long and formerly turbulent history going back to 1250. Today, as a holiday, wedding and conference destination – with a renaissance villa – it is no doubt a lot more peaceful.    

Vignamaggio perfectly exemplifies the theme of diversity.  I don’t remember tasting wines from one estate which which show such extremes of style. 

The Chianti Classico Terre di Prenzano 2013 is 100% Sangiovese aged in large, neutral wooden casks for a clean, lively, sour cherry palate, a welcome rusticity, mouth-cleansing acidity and a touch of bitterness. This is not wine for tasting or ceremony, it’s for drinking with food. 

A mid point stylistically is represented by Gherardino, Chianti Classico 2013 which is quite modern in approach with 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot, though aged in large casks again. There is undoubtedly a softness in the palate and some blackberry fruit here to go with the sour cherry of Sangiovese, but don’t be fooled, there are firm, grainy tannins here which will give the wine the capacity to age for 10-15 years. 

Finally, the Gran Selezione Riserva di Monna Lisa 2011 is 85% Sangiovese, 8% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine spends 18 months mainly in French barriques.  There was sweeter fruit here than in wines which are 100% Sangiovese with plum and strawberry fruit and slightly warming alcohol. The oak was done well as on release after four years there are no overt new French oak aromas.  A long finish with a classic dried herb note. 

Thus in three wines we have gone from 100% Sangiovese aged in neutral casks to 15% French varieties aged in barriques.  The current state of Chianti Classico in a nut shell.  If you have a preference, the only thing to do is to find the styles that you like and stick to them.   My preference is for Sangiovese and its local blending varieties and neutral casks there is a world of difference to explore in Chianti Classico.  

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