Rufina (or Rùfina to give its Italian spelling and punctuation) is a small but distinctive area close to the major population centre in Florence. Some of the larger estates were originally summer residences for the Florentine nobility. However, what is surprising about the area is how quickly you are immersed in real, deep countryside. This is not the manicured, rolling hills of the southern part of the Chianti classico zone; rather, it is marked by small towns set in large expanses of countryside, some altitude (up to 400m) and the cool nights due to the proximity of the Apennines. The towns of the area – Pontassieve (which as its name indicates bridges the Sieve river), Rufina itself and Dicomano – are functional and low key.
For the traditionalist this is a wine-making zone to treasure. It was one of the four areas mentioned by Cosimo III de’ Medici in 1716. In an early attempt to limit the use of famous names to designated areas, he named Pomino as one of four quality areas, outling an area which covered what is now Pomino and Rufina. One version of the text available to me is: ‘only the high hills of Rufina yield a long-lived, full-bodied and aristocratic red wine’ – but I would like to check this out with reliable source! Much later Rufina was among those to be awarded its DOC as early as 1932 and the DOCG properly followed in 1967. There are currently just 21 producers in the Consorzio, whose website we can kindly say in 2011 is definitely a work in progress. Like the wines, things move slowly in these parts – but that is a strength as well as a weakness. The wine style is pretty traditional too.
The wines are of course Sangiovese based. The legalities require at least 75%, plus up to 10% of Canaiolo Nero, up to 10%, singly or combined, of Malvasia Bianca or Trebbiano and of course, nowadays, up to 10% of other authorised/allowed black grapes, ie Cabernet, Merlot, etc. Hence Rufina is a surviving bastion where white grapes can be used in Chianti, though this happens rarely. In practice the wines are overwhelmingly 90+% Sangiovese. Very little white wine is made – though we tasted a number of interesting ones from an unusual range of non-Tuscan grape varieties, which tells its own story! From a wine-making point of view, the distinctiveness of the zone lies in a combination of classic Chianti soils, clay and limestone marls, altitude (100-400m), the cooling wind from a pass in the Appenines to the north and contemporary forms of old style viniculture, for example, the use of large wooden barrels (botti) for long ageing.
The key feature of the wines of Chianti Rufina is austerity. The wines used to resemble a lighter version of Brunello. In other words they needed years to come around but then developed layers of interest – at a fraction of the price. In this lies Rufina’s particularity and difficulty. Austerity is not currently fashionable in the world of wine, which favours lavish fruit and new oak. The area’s response has been two-fold. Some, eg Galiga e Vetrice (see link above), have ignored current trends and have gone on producing tough, long lasting wines which need time – some of their ‘current’ offer is 20 years old. More typically, most producers have used contemporary wine-making techniques or a judicious use of French grape varieties to soften their wines, though the hallmark high acidity and tannins remains. These wines repay keeping. It really is a connoisseur’s zone.
For the featured Rufina wineries, click here
A few further bottles tasted at dinner during our trip of July 2011:
Ceretto Libri Chianti Rufina 2009 – we had hoped to visit this small biodynamic estate on the edge of Pontassieve but sadly others were so generous with their time, we couldn’t. So we had to try this as dinner instead: excellent depth of flavour and colour, much more substantial and pleasantly rustic than many others, really worthwhile
Frascole, Chianti Rufina riserva 2006 – 90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, organic viticulture; definite orange/brown edge, not initially very expressive nose, attractive rounded palate (the influence of the Merlot), good fruit and some mushroom notes. I found myself in agreement with Gambero Rosso: rather lacks profile on nose before expressing itself on palate.
Tenuta Perrini Pezzatina Asteria Chianti Rufina riserva 2006 – slightly bretty (‘sweaty saddle’), but also lovely oak notes, refined fruit and tea leaves. Good.
We also enjoy the wines of Colognole and Selviapiana which you can buy from the Wine Society in the UK.
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