|PHOTO BY WAYNE CRAWFORD|
Wayne On Wine
Chianti Classico Reserva and Gran Selezione
By Wayne Crawford
If you were drinking red Italian wine in the early ’60s, you likely drank Italian red Chianti from a fiasco (fjasko) bottle covered in swamp weed or ate in an Italian restaurant with a candle burning in a fiasco for ambiance. The wine, while not particularly good, was cheap, rough, wet and the lowest class of Chianti produced. It seemed to work well with tomato-based pasta dishes.
All this began to change in the mid-1970s, when Italy raised classification standards, much like France for cheese and wine with a protected designation of origin or DOC (think controlled) statue. The Chianti region in Tuscany was first awarded DOC status in 1967 and, after 10 years, DOCG (think controlled and guaranteed) status in 1984, provided the wines could qualify to match new quality and production standards, reduce vineyard yields, eliminate the integration of large quantities of white grapes from the blend and withdraw the option to allow grapes from outside the growing region.
These were the two highest classification standards but wineries also had the freedom to label the wine reserve, if they aged the wine for 24 months and maintained a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent. This usually was done in good vintage years. The primary grape is the red sangiovese, which is also the number one red grape in Italy by quantity.
These changes, along with an improved sangiovese grape clone selection, raised the wine quality. Chianti is the largest classification wine zone in Italy. In the center of this region is the Chianti Classico region between Florence and Siena. This year the Classico region celebrates 300 years since its founding in 1716 by Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The black rooster is the traditional label for Classico wines and a symbol drawn from 13th century history.
Chianti Classico Reserva wines were selected for this article as they represent some of the best quality Chianti produced in Tuscany today, and many can be found at reasonable prices and age eight years. While reserva wines are high quality Chianti, a new top-level classification was added in 2013 and released in February 2014. This new level is labelled Gran Selezione and the winning wine in the Big Canoe Wine Group’s blind-tasting for this article was San Felice IL Grigio 2011 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG.
The new standards include 13 percent minimum alcohol compared to 12.5 percent, aged 30 months compared to 24 for the reserva, minimum portion of sangiovese is 80 percent similar to the reserva, all wine from properties under the same ownership and the wines must be selected by a technical commission that is independently observed. To date, at least 35 wines have been approved to carry this label. Recall a grape picked in 2011 for production had not yet reached three years in age by 2013, so going forward you will begin to see more of these wines in the marketplace.
Most of these wines are medium- to full-body with dry tannins and medium-to-high acidity. Aromas and flavors of dark berries, cherry, spice, floral violets and nuts can be detected. This wines will pair well with Parmesan, provolone and fontina cheeses, grilled pork, veal, chicken, lamb and steak, pasta with tomato sauce, sausage, particularly venison-based, pizza, lasagna and grilled mushrooms. Italian cookies complement any meal.
‘Wines drinking well now’
San Felice IL Grigio 2011 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG, $37.99. This well structured wine is a dark ruby-red with complex aromas of cherry, black currant, blackberry, floral violet, mineral and spice. The grape blend is sangiovese 80 percent and 20 percent native grapes: abrusco, pugnitello, malvasia nera, ciliegiolo and mazzese captured together in a full-body red with powerful tannins. It offers a lingering finish and was selected as the best wine in the Big Canoe wine group blind-tasting. This wine should age for another eight years. Highly Recommended and one of the first Gran Selezione approved wines.
Brancaia 2010 Chianti Classico Reserve DOCG, $29. A blend of sangiovese with some merlot, this wine is dark ruby-red in color with black cherry, blackberry, violet, spice and melon aromas. On the palate, it offers dark black fruit, noticeable tannins and a full body with hints of almond and cherry. It has a long, dark fruit finish and is from a highly awarded winery in the central Chianti Classico region. Highly Recommended.
Castello di Gabbiano 2011 Chianti Classico Reserva, $19.99. A blend of 95 percent sangiovese and 5 percent merlot to soften the tannins, this wine is ruby-red with some amber color on the rim. Aromas are of black cherry and berry along with spice. On the palate, it offers a medium body with cherry, blackberry, cloves and pepper. Its lingering finish is dominated by black fruit and spice—a well crafted wine for the price. Best Buy.
Other Chianti Classico Reservas to consider: Castelgreve 2011, $30; Santa Margherita 2012, $21; Castello Della Paneretta 2012, $27.99; Castello di Monsanto Riserva 2012, $23.99; Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010, $68; and Tenuta di Nozzole La Forra Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012, $54.
‘Drink what you like’
In my next article, the focus will be on Chilean red wine blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot.
Wayne Crawford is a French Wine Scholar FWS and certified specialist of Wine CSW and member of the American Wine Society.