March 04: As every year, the old railway station of Leopolda in Florence, came alive once again on February 11- 12 showcasing the latest vintages of Chianti Classico Collection when a record number of 197 producers offered over 700 wines to over 250 journalists from 30 countries including India, and 1800 Italian and international experts with a selection of Chianti Classico docg 2017, Chianti Classico Riserva docg and Grand Selezione 2016 and many older vintages, writes Subhash Arora who has been attending this annual event for a decade
Gran Selezione that was given the highest position in 2014 in the hierarchy of Chianti Classico docg wines-even higher than the Riserva could be released with 2016 vintage now, but a majority of producers these days age it longer and thus 2015 was their Preview (Anteprima) vintage. Only 12 from 2016 were presented as compared to 71 from the ‘current’ vintage release of 2015. There were some older ones also offered for tasting from 2014-2011 at the tables, poured by the sommeliers. It has been a wrong strategy every year starting tasting with Chianti Classico; by the time I reached Gran Selezione, a vast majority was gone. So this year I changed the order happily.
Pouring of wines
It has become a common practice to offer wines by a pre-assigned number from the bottles opened earlier in the morning and kept on a long central table both sides of which are lined up with tables with 4 tasters on each. Expert English knowing sommeliers well-versed with technical details of a majority of these wines, a total of 474 of which were offered, were assigned to each table. You were provided with a booklet giving details of all the wines and the relevant numbers. You gave the list with 6 numbers marked for every flight and the sommelier brought them to the table and poured a generous quantity into your glass.
The adjoining hall, equally long (perhaps an old platform) has 2 rows of tables allotted to the producers presenting their Preview wines and perhaps the special older vintages if they like. Only authorised 3 categories are allowed to be served though exceptions are sometimes there and welcome.
One is never certain of the producers being present on the first or the second day, generally. This year the issue seems to have finally been resolved. Producers were present on both days but as always, most owners and senior winemakers marked their presence on the first day while the second day was left to the relatively junior staff who also looked after hordes of consumers who rushed in after 2 pm for a paid tasting. At €40 a person (€20 for accredited Sommeliers) it is a Godsend opportunity for local professionals to rub shoulders with the international journalists with an opportunity of tasting the latest vintage of an incredible 500 wines or more.
Aging them longer
During the last few years, more and more producers have started aging the wines more than prescribed by law. Thus, Anteprima of Chianti Classico 2016 and 2017, Riserva 2016 and 2015 and Gran Selezione 2016 and 2015 were offered seemingly for the first time. Some even offered older vintages. Increasingly, more and more bold producers have started offering sample from the latest vintage (2018) from the barrels to get feedback from experts; many are uncomfortable to do so in the hands of not-so-expert tasters who may not understand the nuances of the work-in-progress wines and form wrong opinions. It’s a tool that needs to be used with care..
The numbers of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione seems to be increasing fast in number, as predicted by Arora who had said in 2014 that every producer would want to offer the best of his vineyard as Gran Selezione. With each producer being a member of the Consorzio it might not be so easy to stop many in their tracks before they want to release their version. So even if the quality is not as anticipated for the purveyors of the top label, the number of such wines is increasing rapidly. There were 100 samples of Gran Selezione as compared to 33 in the first year when the modification came into force. Many of the top producers have refused to offer their existing special brands which were already selling at higher prices due to the perceived quality and branding. Many offered some of their existing labels only as Gran Selezione and were able to get higher revenues.
Giovanni Manetti, owner of the premier wine estate Fontodi in Panzano had replaced the outgoing President of Chianti Classico Consorzio, Sergio Zingarelli of Rocca delle Macie in November last year. He says he is aware of the problem but says initially some producers might have taken advantage of the change in law, but by and large it represents better quality. The discussions are going on to improve the quality further by making the specification more stringent and Manetti has an important role to perform to ensure that the project remains on track of offering a distinctly higher quality. The issues of age of vines and the identification of special single vineyards would be heavy on the mind of the Consorzio.
Diversity of Terroir
Manetti is also very passionate about the diversity of terroir and takes the soil and climate of sub zones very seriously. He feels one of his most important jobs is to get a law that allows these sub zones to be allowed to be mentioned on the labels. These subzones from North to South are S. Casciano Val di Pesa, Greve in Chianti, Barberino Tavarnelle in the Provence of Florence; and Radda in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and Castelnuovo Berardenga in the Province of Siena.
For the last few years the Consorzio has already segregated the areas by these sub zones- assigning different colours to their signage-causing some unhappiness initially when they used to be all in alphabetic order and easier to locate but now it is quite comprehensive and helps the tasters who can sample wines from similar terroir in one cluster at a time. Needless to say there would be further confusion in the international markets from India to the US where people still barely know the difference between Chianti docg and Chianti Classico docg (denoted by Gallo Nero or Black Rooster affixed on the neck of the bottle).
Spurrier appointed Ambassador
In order to promote their wines and showcase the quality and different terroir of the region, the Consorzio started appointing brand ambassadors for important markets in 2017 and honoured experts from Italy, Canada (2), USA, and Japan during the past 2 years as Chianti Classico Ambassadors. This year the well known wine writer, author, judge and former wine merchant Steven Spurrier has been made honourary Ambassador from UK. Steven believes that Chianti Classico being a vineyard-driven wine, would take over in popularity from Medoc which is market-driven. Steven who came from London for a day has been a visitor to the Event for many years and is a self-acclaimed fan of Chianti Classico and of course an expert.
New Concept of Gala Dinner
An interesting concept has been initiated by the Consorzio for the gala dinner this year. Rather than making them more elaborate where the invitees are expected to mix with producers of the region, smaller producers might be left out of this equation, the Consorzio drew lots and assigned journalists to visit a different restaurant where assigned producers shared tables with them. I was assigned a table with 3 producers; I could talk to them at length about their wines and market strategy. Probably I would never have had the chance to meet them and taste their wines otherwise and discuss their winemaking philosophy earlier. This also involved several restaurants that might sell Chianti Classico wines better. There was even a prize for the best restaurant offering. This is an excellent initiative that one hopes, will be continued.
Chianti Classico in Prowein
Chianti Classico is pride of Tuscany. There will be an opportunity to meet producers and taste many of these wines in Prowein too in Hall 16 stand H50 from March 17-19. If you are attending the Show you might want to check out and meet these producers:
Badia a Coltibuono, Bibbiano, Bindi Sergardi, Borgo La Stella, Brancaia, Cafaggio, Cantalici, Casale dello Sparviero, Castellare di Castellina, Castelli del Grevepesa, Castello di Monsanto, Castello di Verrazzano, Castello di Volpaia, Castello Vicchiomaggio, Cinciano, Conti Capponi, Villa Calcinaia, Famiglia Nunzi Conti, Fattoria Cerbaia, Fattoria di Ruppiano, Fèlsina, Fontodi, La Sala, Le Filigare, Le Regge, Lornano, Losi Querciavalle, Luiano, Nittardi, Orsumella, Piemaggio, Podere Lecci e Brocchi, Querciabella, Renzo Marinai, Riecine, Ruffino, Tenuta Cappellina, Tenuta Carobbio, Tenuta Casenuove, Terrabianca, Torraccia di Presura, Vecchie Terre di Montefili, Villa Mangiacane, Villa Montepaldi, Villa Trasqua, Viticcio.
The quality of Chianti Classico is on the move in a northerly direction and Tasting of some of these wines will make you concur with Steven Spurrier and me that Chianti Classico is consistently getting better in quality and you must have some in your cellar.
For an earlier related Article, please visit:
Tuscan Tasting 2018: Blind Tasting of Wines from 9 Municipalities of Chianti Classico