Revisiting Chianti

The ‘Definitive Italian’ wine tasting took place at Lord’s Cricket Ground in late June – so obviously a perfect summer’s day is what the organisers had in mind.  Sadly for those who came to see the Armed Forces cricket match at Lord’s on the same day – including what sounded like thousands of children – the day saw a massive thunder storm and pretty persistent rain.  Ah, l’estate inglese!, the English summer, we had to explain to our freezing Italian visitors.  But tucked away safely in the Lord’s reception rooms the trade and press were treated to a large Italian tasting.  Among the many wines available to taste, I decide to focus mainly on Chianti (and nearby relatives) as it has been a few years since Janet and I have visited this famous area in a period of history known as PB (pre-blog) or PW (pre-website).  While this feels like millions of years ago, of course it isn’t but sadly our visit in 2007 was not written up detail. 

IMG_5366Chianti Classico, the wine from the smaller historic area between Florence and Siena, is or should be basically Sangiovese with minor additions of other Tuscan grape varieties – Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and Colorino. Sadly the current regulation allows 20% of ‘other’ grape varieties which can include Cabernet or Merlot.  If these powerful varieties are above, say, 5% of the blend this really changes the character of the wine substantially.  To be authentic the wines should be pale, fragrant, refreshingly acidic and should have an astringent tannic finish. The best shorthand description of the taste is a combination of fresh and dried fruit (thank to Jane Hunt MW for this tag) and the wines develop interesting tobacco, herb and tea notes with age.  There are plenty of lovely big fruity wines in the world – but proper Chianti is not one of them. 

In the light of this starting point, what is the current state of Chianti?   I tasted three wines from Monteraponi, an estate I first came across when organising a tasting of the splendid 2006 vintage

Monteraponi Chianti Classico 2008 – both less fresh and ‘sweet’ than the very fine ‘06, but this has nice clove notes, a decent depth of fruit and would make very good drinking with Tuscan food – which after all is what these wines are for. 

Monteraponi Chianti Classico riserva 2006 – richer than the above, with more structure and extraction, probably now getting into a plateau of maturity.  Very good but perhaps not outstanding at riserva level.  

Monteraponi Chianti Classico riserva ‘Baron Ugo’ 2006 – a special cuvée (if that is the right word for an Italian wine) made only in the best vintages. Interestingly it is less immediately expressive than the other wines but with an impressively taut palate and with years of development ahead of it. One to keep. 

With these we can compare:

Querciabella Chianti Classico 2009 – Querciabella is a very lovely and lavishly restored estate just outside Greve in Chianti which has made a name with its modern style wines.  It has one of Tuscany’s best whites in Batàr. While this name plays with the name of a famous white Burgundy, the grape blend here is Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, fermented in oak barrels.  So this company has its eyes firmly on grand European styles, not just Tuscany.  Their Chianti is 95% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, which given their ‘internationalist’ leanings is quite a good compromise as the Cab does not dominate but just fills out the Sangiovese.  This is excellent drinking – light in the mouth, good fruit, supple and smooth.  It won’t be tough enough for traditionalists but when it is as well done as this I can live with more than one style of Chianti. 

Fietri Chianti Classico 2007 – here the blend is Sangiovese and Alicante, a type of Grenache which has been in Tuscany for 200 years. This is from a tiny, seven hectare, estate and is a rich example, more like a riserva than a straight Classico.  Here they have gone for some power, rather than suppleness. 

Castellare Chianti Classico 2009 – on this fine old estate, the blend is very traditional, Sangiovese and Canaiolo. A super, rich and forward Chianti, a spicy, herby, nose, plenty of fruit on the palate, good length if of moderate intensity.

Castello di Uzzano, Chianti Classico 2008 – quite a classic Chianti in a traditional style, sappy attractive fruit, plenty of acidity, true to type. Both the Uzzano wines are 100% Sangiovese, which is not traditional but at least is not overly international in style.

Castello di Uzzano, Chianti Classico riserva 2007 – dense colour, packed with sour cherry and plum fruit, high acidity and lots of racy tannins; need time but has lots of promise. 

By a final comparison, I am going to slip in a wine from Chianti Rúfina, north east of the classico area but in many ways the most traditional area of all, making wonderfully austere and long-lasting wines. 

Villa di Vetrice Chianti Rúfina riserva 2001 – these wines from grapes grown at altitude in a cool area do need time to come around but, like old-style Barolo, is worth the wait. The great bonus is that they are not expensive – even in the UK you can get this for around £10 which is quite a bargain given that someone has been storing it for you for ten years! A superb evolved nose (that classic tea leaf and raison combination), moderately dense palate, light and taut, good length. For me this is the real deal at a great price. 

These examples show that good Chianti is worth seeking out.  It can still have a very distinctive profile in today’s crowded market place and one to be treasured. 

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