Radda is probably my favourite Chianti Classico commune. With elevations up to 550m, sweeping slopes and dense forests, it is the coolest part of Chianti Classico. Historically, the challenge was to ripen grapes fully. Radda is also home to a number of great wineries, Montevertine, Volpaia and Monteraponi to name a few. The revived Castello di Radda will now provide a good way into this great commune.
The estate was bought by the Gussalli Beretta family back in 2003. Since then a series of major changes have been carried out: renovation of the vineyards; building a fairly large new winery in a very sensitive area, 80% underground; focusing on Sangiovese; appointing a new winemaker and perhaps most obvious of all reducing the amount of new oak used in the maturation of the wines. Whereas the top wine in 2010 was aged in new oak 225 L barriques, today the corresponding wines are aged in 500 L tonneaux, 50% new, in effect one quarter of the exposure to new oak. Bravo! It really shows, the fruit now takes centre stage.
At a dinner in London, I was able to taste the full range – the rosé as a lovely aperitif on a summer’s evening, the standard Chianti Classico, recent vintages of the parcel selection, Gran Selezione Il Corno and some older vintages of the Riserva. Apart from the over-oaky 2004 and 2010, they are all very good examples of dominantly Sangiovese (95%) from Radda. And the real star of the show? The standard Chianti Classico from the superb 2016 vintage with its intense violet, herbal sour cherry fruit, remarkable complexity without oak influence, brilliantly incisive acidity and fine grained tannins. I think we will hear much more about Castello di Radda in the future.
Castello di Radda has been under new management for most of this century. This happens to be the period when the effects of climate change have been most obvious in Tuscany, as elsewhere. I asked what the main challenges have been in the vineyard in this period. The answers could not have been clearer:
- new insect pests arriving from warmer regions such as the coastal Maremma;
- huge volumes of rain falling in a very short time, making it very difficult to prevent downy mildew, especially if you are farming organically. (The estate is in the process of getting organic certification.) This May (2019) was very wet indeed and for much of the month;
- high temperature peaks, such as the 32º C and more, in what once was a cool region, raising the incidence of powdery mildew;
- rising alcohol levels. In the past 12 and 12.5% was typically, now some years it is a challenge not to get above 15 or even 15.5% for the most concentrated wines, changing their character completely
- In other words, there is no ‘normal’ any longer and the weather is becoming more extreme and unpredictable.
Castello di Radda seems to be set on a very promising path. The best proof was what a good job they did in the cool, rainy 2014 vintage. These wines showed really well at this tasting with pleasantly just-ripe fruit and well-balanced acidity, a fine achievement. However, the real treat was the standard Chianti Classico 2016, a superb vintage. It can be drunk from now on and in a couple of years we can look forward to the Riserva and the Gran Selezione.