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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Wednesday, March 03 2010. 16:10

Tuscan Marathon 2010 : On to Florence for Chianti Classico

Tuscan Marathon 2010 as Conte John Salvi MW describes the 1000-wine Ante Prima  tasting  organised by the Consortia of San Gimignano, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino last month is a 4-part series only an expertlike him  with decades of experience can illustrate. We move to Florence for the second leg- the Chianti Classico Collection! 

Photo By:: Adil Arora

Buon Girno Firenze

Tuesday, and since the Consorzio had kindly organised a private car to take us to Florence, nearly 2 hours later than the rest of the group, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast gazing at the incomparable view.  A delightful driver picked us up at 10.00, swept us away and kept us engaged in conversation all the way to Florence and our AC hotel. 

We checked in, took possession of our room and walked over to the Stazione Leopolda, Viale Fratelli Rosselli 5, where the Chianti Classico Collection 2010 was taking place.  We hoped to be in time for the President’s speech, Marco Pallanti, at midday, but in fact I had time to walk round and greet friends.

My wife teven started tasting seriously before he gave it at 12.30.  In the final analysis it was a simple but warm speech of welcome containing little of vital importance.  As always, the organiser and my good friend Silvia Fiorentini was everywhere at once, greeting, controlling, supervising and welcoming. 

We tasted a number of wines, some Parmigiano cheese of varying ages, and when they started serving lunch we walked over to our favourite little pizzeria and watched the pizzas being made in front of us before we ate them.  Back again after lunch we settled down to serious tasting. 

The system here is the well tried one of sitting quietly at a table and choosing the wines one wishes to taste from a numbered list in front of one.  The sommelier will then bring them to you, which makes it both easy to manage and easy to concentrate.  We tasted for nearly 3 hours and were bowled over by the outstanding quality of Volpaia.  Wine Spectator gave 5th place recently, among the world’s top 100 wines, to Castello di Brolio (Ricasoli).

This year 152 producers showed their wines as well as 29 Grappas.  Tomorrow there would be 32 Chianti Classico of the 2009 vintage at the producers’ tables and about 60 barrel previews.  Over 200 journalists have been invited this year.  Sr. Pallanti said that he would not mention the word “crisis” but used it anyway! 

We were told that the years 2004-2009 were all incredibly good weather-wise.  They used a saying that I much appreciated, by Ezra Pound, - “A classic is something new that remains so through time”.

Before returning to our hotel we looked at the new “Chianti Classico Lifestyle” presentation of merchandise and noted that this year is the 17th edition of this remarkable event.
It is important to note that the Chianti Classico vineyards range in altitude from 200 – 800 metres and the climate is basically continental but without excessive fluctuations in temperatures.  The soil is chiefly stony and shallow and slopes are frequently steep.  Most of the area is covered in woods (oaks, chestnuts, pines and some cypress). 

Chianti Classico Zone

The boundaries of the Chianti Classico production zone have remained unchanged from those stipulated in the ministerial decree of July 1932, which delimited the borders. The area totals 70,000 hectares (172,000 acres) in the communes of Castellina, Gaiole, Greve, Radda in Chianti and parts of Barberino Val d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Poggibonsi, San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.  No less than 18,000 hectares are dedicated to vineyards and 25,000 to olive trees.

Today the Consorzio Del Vino Chianti Classico has over 600 members ; 344 bottle under their own label.  In 2005 the Black Rooster became the emblem of the ENTIRE Chianti Classico denomination.  As a denomination trademark it is included in the state authorised seal that is applied to every bottle.  

Chianti Classico Cuts the Umbilical Cord

There are some new and important regulations.  Following the passage of the CMO wine regulations, created in 2008 by the European Community, the Italian Farming and Forestry Ministry drafted an official proposal to change law 164/1992, which regulates the Italian Denominations of Origin.  The Consorzio must be notified of the sale of bulk wine “at least 2 days prior to enactment of sale”.  For wine in bulk “batches destined for sale as Chianti Classico DOCG MUST have the chemical-physical characteristics foreseen for the already certified wine”.

Chianti Classico has been waiting for another law that is now just in process of being passed after 78 years.  Chianti Classico vineyards will finally be growing grapes destined SOLELY for Black Rooster wine.  This regulation, in the soon-to-be-approved text modifying law 164/92 – the framework law for Italian wine -  formalises the veto on planting or declaring vineyards for the Chianti DOCG.

“In vineyards located in Black Rooster Territory ONLY grapes for Chianti Classico and NOT Chianti may be grown”.   This is claimed as “a solution that, after 78 years, separates Chianti Classico from Chianti definitively, cutting an umbilical cord between 2 distinct wines without getting into legal battles”. 

The Consorzio says “This can be called historic”, but opinions about it are both strong and divided as many fear that growers will now just put everything into Chianti Classico, thus lowering the intrinsic quality.  Time alone will tell!  The text continues “in the production zone for Chianti Classico wine it is prohibited to plant and inscribe vineyards in the Chianti DOC register or to produce Chianti or Chianti Superiore wines”. 

Cutback in the Sale of Chianti Classico

There is also a new recession fighting regulation.  The Consorzio has decided that, in order not to flood the market, 20% of the 2009 production will be held back and not put onto the market until it is ready to absorb it.  Blocked for up to 24 months, this can be rescinded at any time with partial or total unblocking.  We were told that banks are now again giving liquidity to the Chianti Classico System.  This rule is also not universally popular with producers.  Top quality producers who can sell their entire production without any problem feel that they will be penalised vis a vis growers of lesser quality who have problems selling their wine and will be advantaged by such a system.

Wine Tasting A La Gala Dinner Style

This had been a long afternoon and we grabbed a cappuccino and a short rest before returning yet again to the Stazione Leopolda for dinner.  The dinner, scheduled for 20.00, was of course served rather after 21.00 and after an endless aperitif session and lots of deep fried nibbles. 

During dinner we tasted over 20 wines of our choice served by an excellent sommelier and finished with a magnificent tasting of Vin Santo wines served with a buffet of desserts. I very carefully sat myself next to John Matta at dinner, a very old friend and owner of Castello Vicchiomaggio, and during dinner he gave me in great detail the weather conditions and meteorological factors that led up to and created the 2009 Chianti Classico.  I stress again that conditions vary hugely and this is just one grower’s experience.

Chianti Classico Vintage 2009

So what of the 2009 Chianti Classico?  What was I told?  That is the vital question.  The winter had good rains (less than 2009-10) but it was not very cold and there was virtually no snow - just a touch at the end.  The risk of summer hydric stress was therefore averted. 

Budburst (aperture delle gemme) was on schedule around 22-27 April, with temperatures around 18°-20° C by day and 8°C  by night.  Here early budding is not desirable as there is still the danger of spring frosts.  This year April and May were nice and warm and the flowering arrived during the last week of May and lasted until mid June with warm weather, little or no rain and certainly no burning heat.  There was just a little “coulure” (colatura) and “millerandage”.  Soil humidity was good.  However vegetative growth was a veritable jungle and extra labour was required for cutting back and thus avoiding the danger of oidium.  This was a lot of work. 

June having been a warm month, July was the same without any torrid heat and maximum temperatures of 30°-32°C.  Nights were cool.  August was very hot but again not torrid.  Colour change (invayatura) took place last week of July and first week of August.  Basically all key phases were on time this year. 

In September there were a few brief but intense storms, more or less every 10 days, which produced a lot of rain that the vine could have done without.  Some growers clipped back the bunches on the Sangiovese at the beginning of August as there was a risk of over cropping.  Secondary growth (feminelle) was also cut.  It seems that here the feminelle can ripen in December and are pleasant to eat rather like juicy raisins.  A lot of deleafing was required, both to allow sun to get to the grapes and to control humidity. 

John Matta started picking his Sangiovese 16th September, after his Cabernet Sauvignon.  Basically his order of picking was grapes for Rosé, Canaiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and finally Petit Verdot.  There was no rot this year in spite of the rains and the worry.  Grapes were wonderfully healthy, partly due to the weather and partly due to meticulous agronomy. 

Those who did not deleaf did get rot.  Most growers agree that Sangiovese should be picked very ripe as unripe it has a vegetal taste.  It is a late ripening grape with a long cycle rather like Nebbiolo.  The maxim is “if you think pick today then pick tomorrow”! 

Fermentation went smoothly and easily, colour extraction was good and the wines fell bright without problems.  September and October were bright and sunny apart from those rains already mentioned.  For October picking it was wise to start later in the day as the heavy dews did dilute up to 1° of alcohol.  John picked his last Sangiovese on 10th October. 

The Malo-lactic fermentation took place immediately following the alcoholic one.  Some growers in dryer places did have some hydric stress and some yellow leaves and shrivel.  These people also had high alcohol and late ripening phenolics.  They were saved by those September rains. The result is that the 2009s are excellent and also forward, clean, fruity, aromatic and succulent.  A success!  

President Pallanti had said “Grapes arrived in the finest condition and are good for ageing”.  Total acidity was generally low due to an almost total absence of malic acid and very low volatile.  Production forecasts are around 295,000 hectolitres (7,793,075 gallons).

Day Two at the Old Leopolda Stazione

Wednesday was a continuation of the previous day, except that the producers were present standing behind their tables, and I walked round and talked to them while my wife sat and tasted with the sommeliers.  During the morning I tasted every single 2009 that was available – I counted 32 of them and each producer gave me his account of the weather conditions and phenomena of the vintage. 

The final analysis, as stated at more length above, is that it is an excellent vintage.  The fruit is clean, pure and wonderfully Sangiovese.  They are wines that will develop relatively quickly and in the present market situation this is a considerable advantage.  They are classic Chianti Classico and well worth the attention of all serious buyers.  Between my wife and I, we ended up tasting over 120 wines, so we feel justified in expressing the above opinion.

A delicious self-serve lunch was laid out at the end of the immense hall and there was superb polenta. 

We then continued tasting until almost 16.00 and just had time for a cappuccino before the bus whisked us away, almost exactly on time, for Montepulciano.  Once again Silvia Fiorentini and the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico are to be hugely congratulated in organising an enormous event with professional skill and great hospitality.  Thank you indeed Chianti Classico Selection 2010!

John Salvi MW


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