Rediscovering Chianti – Cool? Traditional? How about Fun and Tasty!
What is the major pleasure of the wine journey? You never arrive! No matter how much you know, how many wines did you taste, how familiar you are with the producers, there is always something new, something unexpected, something to learn and discover. Case in point – Chianti. Say the word “Chianti” – what image comes to mind? Come on, don’t even start on Fiasco, please. The “image” here is more of “what do you think of the Chianti”? Outside of being (sometimes) a safe and inexpensive choice at the restaurant, or a no-brainer selection to accompany the pasta dinner, how often do you dream of a bottle of Chianti, left alone salivate at one thought of the particular bottle of Chianti wine? Yeah, I thought so. But – the wine is a never ending journey – so let’s take a look at what is going with the Chianti nowadays.
A few weeks ago I attended a Chianti seminar and tasting in New York. The goal of the seminar was simple – to convince the group of wine bloggers, writers and wine trade professionals that Chianti is cool. Actually, this was the request from the event organizer, Consorzio Vino Chianti, that the seminar attendees would tweet about the event using the hashtag #ChiantiCool. To showcase the “cool” factor, 6 wines which we tasted during the seminar were presented in the semi-blind way. Of course all the wines were Chianti, but we were not given the information about the producers – and all the bottles were wrapped in the tin foil, so nobody would get any ideas.
The very first wine we tasted simply put me on the offensive. It was so tremendously acidic, it was hard to enjoy it at all – some people in the audience claimed that this was a “traditional Chianti the way it should be” – well, may be, but this was not cool at all in my book. Going from one wine to another, it felt like the wines were slowly improving, with the wines #5 and #6 been quite decent. Here are the brief notes, for what it worth:
- Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010 (12.5% ABV, 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Trebbiano) – dark ruby color. Pure ripe tart cherries on the nose, hint of earthiness, touch of herbs. Palate – astringent and acidic, ouch! Drinkability: 5
- Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010-(14% ABV, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Syrah) – Dark Ruby color, Caramel and blackberries on the nose. On the palate, some cherries in the back, lacks depth. Drinkability: 7-
- Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva 2010 (12.5% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino) – dark ruby color. Cherries, earthiness, similar to the wine #1. Prevalent biting acidity on the palate – definitely a food wine, more balanced than the wine #1, but lacks depth. Okay as food wine, not a sipping wine by all means. Drinkability: 7
- Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010 (13% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino) – Dark ruby color. Interesting dustiness on the nose, herbs, cherries, touch of plum. On the palate, lots of tannins in front, soft acidity, some cherries. Drinkability: 7+
- Chianti Montalbano DOCG Riserva 2010 (13.5% ABV, 100% Sangiovese) – Dark garnet color. Beautiful legs from switling. On the nose, the wine is beautiful, complex, with nutmeg and herbs. On the palate, it is sweet and savory, with good fruit, many layers and very good balance. Drinkability: 8-
- Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG Riserva 2010 (14% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Garnet color, a bit lighter than the others. On the nose, there is lots of earthiness, cherries and savory notes. Palate shows matching earthiness (great!), herbs (thyme, sage), perfect complexity and nice long finish. Drinkability: 8
I don’t know what was the principal of selecting wines for the seminar, but cool they were not really. Thus after the seminar ended, I was questioning the whole presence of myself at the event, especially considering that now I had to wait for another hour before the walk-around tasting would start. I definitely glad that I was there with Stefano (Clicks & Corks), as it made the wait a lot more palatable.
Without any expectations, we started our walk-around tasting with the table number one. The very first sip of the very first wine literally made me shake my head in disbelief. The wine was simply delicious (tasting notes will follow). And wine after wine after wine made me to go wow, and then wow and wow again. Power, finesse, clarity, perfect balance – literally each and every wine we tasted was at the top of the game. It was almost mind-boggling to hear the winemakers explaining that their wines are made in the traditional style. Yes, I get it – it is a traditional style, as many wines were made as a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino, but then the Chablis-like minerality on the nose, coupled with the layered, luscious fruit instead of just leather and tobacco notes – I have a hard time calling this “traditional” – but I will gladly call these wines “cool!”.
What gives, you ask? I think there are a couple of factors which are dramatically changing the story of the Chianti wines. First factor, or rather factors, are the modern winemaking techniques – in one word, the Quality. Better quality of the grapes, harvesting at a pick, reducing yield, improved fermentation capabilities, the barrels and tanks are better and cleaner, and so on. And then, it is the …. Terroir! When I commented to one of the winemakers that a few of his Chianti bottlings from the same year taste so incredibly different, he answer was “of course”. His property, which is about 100 acres in size, has 5 (!) different micro-climatic zones… Most of the people come to think of Tuscany, the land of Chianti, as something universally monolithic. Yes, with the idyllic moniker of “rolling hills of Tuscany”, but one and the same. At the same time, Chianti is a huge grape growing area, with probably a hundred of the sub-zones and microclimates, all producing “traditional”, but oh-so-different wines. In most of the cases, people can think of Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Rufina, but actually Chianti is so much more than just these three regions – Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli are some additional sub-zones, never mind single vineyards. Winemakers are learning all the time, what works and what doesn’t, and we are lucky to be able to taste the products of their labor of love.
Did I get you tired of my rambling by now? Okay, time to talk about wines. Below you will find the tasting notes. Yes, there were lost of wines, and they were so good! I also made an effort to extend above and beyond my simple “+++” ratings to give you more descriptors. I don’t throw those “+++” ratings easily – and here, a lot of wines were simply outstanding, table after table after table.
Here we go:
Azienda Agricola Corbucci – this was a very impressive start – very nice and approachable wines, made in the “drink any time” style
2012 Chianti DOCG “Corbucci” – ++, dry, leather, good acidity, a bit astringent
2012 Chianti DOCG “9Code” – +++, old vines, 7 days fermentation. fruit, earth, balance!
2009 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Corbucci” – +++, aged for 2 years in French barriques, excellent!
Azienda Agricola Emanuela Tamburini
2012 Chianti DOCG “Mauro” – +++, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, light, open, earthy nose. Very much Bordeaux in style on the palate.
2010 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Italo” – +++, aged for 24 mo in combination of cement tank and oak barrels, beautiful, open, layered
2008 Vin Santo del Chianti DOC “D’Incanto” – ++, oxidized style, aged in small open barrels for 5 years without topping off
Azienda Agricola La Cignozza
2010 Chianti DOCG – +++, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Mammolo, aged for 1 year in big barrels. Roasted meat on the nose, perfect acidity, dark fruit – excellent!
2008 Chianti DOCG Riserva – +++, 80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo. Sweet open nose, nice fruit, multi-layered – outstanding!
Azienda Agricola Lanciola – harvesting by hand, 2 green harvests, 5 different microclimates within one vineyard!
2012 Chianti DOCG “Podere Elisa” – +++!
2012 Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG “Lanciola” – +++, outstanding, open
2011 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Podere Elisa” – +++ excellent!
2011 Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG Riserva “Lanciola” – +++, barnyard and roasted notes, wow!
2008 Vin Santo del Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG “Lanciola” – ++++, unoxidized style, caramel, apricot, candied fruit, perfect balance, wow!
Azienda Agricola Malenchini
2012 Chianti DOCG – +++, 5% Merlot, stainless steel, nice, light, smokiness, pleasant
2012 Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG – +++, 10% Canaiolo, smokiness, balance, power, a bit of tannins
Azienda Agricola Pietraserena – Arrigoni
2011 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG “Poggio al Vento” – +++, Sangiovese/Syrah (10%), 1 year in barrique, 1 year in bottle. Restrained nose, beautiful!
2011 Chianti Colli senesi DOCG “Caulio” – +++, 100% Sangiovese, roasted nose, nice fruit, open, clean, easy to drink
2012 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG – ++, 10% Canaiolo, cement tanks. Coffee, roasted notes, a little short on palate
2012 Chianti DOCG “Poggio al Sorbo” – +++, 100% Sangiovese, vineyard at 750 ft elevation, stainless steel, Raspberries and smoke, mocha, chocolate on the nose, clean and open palate
2012 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG “Bindi Segrardi” – +++, red fruit, clean, elegant, beautiful
Cantina Sociale Colli Fiorentini Valvarginio
2010 Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG “Collerosso” – +++, organic wine, pure tobacco on the nose, same on the palate, beautiful balance
Cantine Fratelli Bellini – traditional and very good
2013 Chianti DOCG “Bellini” – ++-|, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino, young, simple, easy to drink
2010 Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva “Bellini” – ++-|, aged for 2 years in oak, nice, easy, simple, soft, touch of leather
2012 Chianti DOCG “L’Arco” – ++-|, 10% Merlot, touch of smoke
2011 Chianti DOCG “Principe del Sole” – ++-|, soft, round
2009 Chianti DOCG Riserva – ++-|, 10% Canaiolo, nice, soft
Castel di Pugna
2012 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG “Ellera” – ++, simple, clean
2008 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG “Ellera” – +++, excellent, sweet fruit, nice, elegant
2011 Chianti Superiore DOCG “Villa Cambi” – ++-|, nice, elegant, open
2007 Chianti Superiore DOCG “Villa Cambi” – +++, aged for one year in Tonnau, roasted fruit, plums, spices, excellent!
2008 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG Riesrva “Ellera” – ++-|, 5% Canaiolo, nice, elegant, restrained
Castello del Trebbio
2013 Chianti DOCG – ++-|, Sangiovese/Canaiolo, stainless steel, brilliant ruby color, fresh berries, sweet fruit, good acidity, simple!
2009 Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva “Lastricato” – +++-|, nice complexity, leather, spices, fresh, elegant
Le Fonti a San Giorgio
2012 Chianti DOCG – ++, 5% Pignatello, nice, soft, simple
2013 Chianti DOCG – ++, fresh, clean
2011 Chianti Montespertoli DOCG – ++, Sangiovese/Merlot, very goo, unusual garden herbs
2009 Chianti Montispertoli DOCG – +++, smokey blueberries, roasted notes, liquid steak, wow
2010 Chianti Montispertoli DOCG Riserva – ++3/4, 15% Merlot, nice, round, strawberries, good tannins, pepper, tobacco
Pietro Beconcini Agricola
2012 Chianti DOCG “Antiche Vie” – +++,excellent, clean, blackberries, mocha
2010 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Pietro Beconcini” – ++, cherries, nice, round, supple
Pieve De’ Pitti
2011 Superiore Chianti DOCG “Cerretello” – +++, Sangiovese/Canaiolo/Black Malvasia, nice, balanced, unusual fresh fruit notes
2010 Superiore Chianti DOCG “Cerretello” – ++++ nose/+++ overall. Nose – wild berries, perfect balance, fruit, very fresh overall
2009 Superiore Chianti DOCG “Cerretello” – +++-|, amazing nose – Barolo!
2008 Superiore Chianti DOCG “Cerretello” – +++, wild berries on the nose, perfectly powerful palate
2007 Vin Santo del Chianti DOC – ++, Trebbiano and San Colombano, aged in Chestnut wood, nice, could use a bit more acidity
Podere Volpaio – organic and beautiful
2010 Chianti DOCG “Volpaio” – ++, nice, simple
2010 Chianti DOCG “Terre De’ Pari” – +++, Beautiful, open, fruit on the nose, perfect balance on the palate, delicious tannins
2004 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Terre De’ Pari” – +++, Tobacco, smoke, barnyard on the nose – wow, beautiful
2001 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Terre De’ Pari” – +++, same as 2004, with even more complexity.
2012 Chianti DOCG – ++, nice, light, simple, good fruit
2012 Chianti Superiore DOCG “Il Superiore” – ++-|, nice, good fruit, good balance, good acidity
Val di Botte
2013 Chianti DOCG “Val di Botte”– ++, nice simple, $3 wholesale!!!
2012 Chianti [Classico] DOCG “Val di Botte” – +++, excellent, soft, round, clean, beautiful.
2012 Chianti DOCG – +++, nice, round, touch of smokiness, tobacco
2011 Chianti Montalbano DOCG – +++, pure minerality, gunflint, cherries, tobacco, earth, nice fruit, excellent balance
Overwhelmed? Well, I really wanted to share these notes. I don’t know if you read them at all, if you did not – just scroll back for a second, and then tell me – how often do you describe Chianti wine as “smoke, gunflint, wild berries, liquid steak, smokey blueberries, mocha, chocolate”? And yes, I had to use all of those descriptors – as this is what these wines were calling for. Is that cool? You bet. This is also traditional – but now, the beauty and diversity of Tuscan terroir shines through these wines. Don’t take my word for it – while I insist that Chianti now are fun and tasty (and cool!) wines, go grab a bottle and prepare to be blown away, as I had. Cheers!