Feb 27: The 2019 edition of the 8-day Anteprime Toscana Tasting kicked off in Florence on February 9 with the showcasing of 2018 Chianti docg wines at Fortezza da Basso in Chianti on February 10 with the usual fervour but the vagaries of nature make it difficult to love this vintage of 2018, opines our expert John Salvi MW who was invited to attend again the annual event
Chianti is one of the best-known wines in the world and was famous long before almost any other wine. It is managed and run by the Consorzio Vino Chianti and, strangely enough, is quite separate from Chianti Classico. Indeed, Chianti Classico takes itself so seriously and self-importantly that it is forbidden to make Chianti inside the delimited Chianti Classico area.
Chianti is made throughout a great part of Tuscany. It may be made in the Provinces of Arezzo, Firenze, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena. Its origins are lost in the mists of time, but the first mention of the wine that was to become Chianti dates back to the 800s BC, to the time of the Etruscans.
The earliest reference to Florentine retailers dates to 1079 and a wine-merchant guild was created in 1282. Chianti actually started off as a white wine, then transforming into a coarse, dark-coloured red wine, before refining into the fine wine that it is today. It was Cosimo 111, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1670-1723), who first issued a decree that Chianti could only be made within the designated area of Castellini, Gaioli, Radda and Greve, an area that covered some 70,000 hectares.
The Consorzio Vino Chianti was established in 1927 and the first modern official delimitation of the area was made in 1932. It was granted Registered Designation of Origin (DOC) on August 9th, 1967 by Presidential Decree and later became a DOCG in 1984. Chianti was updated for the last time by a decree on 19th June 2009.
Chianti, as well as just being called Chianti docg, may also be produced with the following regional names attached: Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Rufina and Montespertoli. With more rigid rules of production the word “Superiore” may be added to that of Chianti. To carry any of these nomenclatures the wine must contain a minimum of 70% Sangiovese. Two other appellations also exist: “Vin Santo del Chianti” and Colli dell’Etruria Centrale”.
Chianti Vines in Tuscany cover some 15,500 hectares, farmed by over 3,600 producers, producing over 800,000 hectolitres (hL) of all Chianti appellations.
Tasting at Chianti Lovers 2019
My day was spent tasting as many of the 2018 wines that I could find, and I was not overly impressed. All over Tuscany, and not just in Chianti, the vines suffered from intense stress by heat and drought to which they were subjected during the summer of 2017. The vines went into the 2018 vegetative cycle in a weakened state and were unable to give their best.
The result was light wines with high acidity and low alcohol levels. This latter was perhaps not unwelcome in a period when alcohol levels are becoming steadily higher, indeed too high. The wines will be ready for early drinking and are light, pleasant fruity, but weak. They are not wines to lay-down or to age.
Alessandro Zanette of Melini confirmed this and said that they lacked both sufficient ripeness and body. Another grower said, “Yes, all that is correct BUT the Tramontana put things right at the end”. The Tramontana is a wind from the North that dries out moisture and helps to concentrate the juice in the grapes. It is much beloved here in Chianti when it blows at the right time and not overpoweringly.
The weather description that follows also applies to Chianti Classico. The 2018 weather pattern could be described as “uneven” and “changeable”. Throughout the vegetative cycle there was a lack of sustained, dry sunny weather. The winter had been rather cold with some snow and some sub-zero temperatures late winter. Bud-break took place at the end of March. An uneven Spring followed with a lot of rain in both March and May.
During much of the summer, sunny days alternated with short spells of, sometimes, very heavy rains. Humidity levels therefore were very high and pressure from Peronospora (downy mildew) was very intense indeed. Today, treatments usually stop mildew from getting further than attacking the leaves, but this year it got onto the baby grapes and caused a certain loss of yield. This, of course, meant a lot of work in the vineyards and a lot of expensive products for effective treatment.
Even during summer, the weather failed to settle and there were several violent storms until the beginning of September. These kept up the high humidity level discussed above and kept temperatures below average. This, in turn, resulted in an extended maturation period, causing a relatively late vintage.
Also, vegetative growth did not stop before colour change, which is one of the pre-requisites for great red wine. Vegetation continued until late August. This meant that the root was pumping goodness into all this fresh growth instead of only having the berries to feed. September finally brought fine weather and a regular pattern. Hot, sunny days and cool nights enabled the grapes to ripen fully and develop both flavour and bouquet. The vintage eventually took place under excellent weather conditions.
Vintage dates and conditions varied considerably from North to South Tuscany, especially in terms of rainfall. Generally speaking the vintage began around 20 September for Sangiovese and ended mid-October. Because of the 2017 stress, described above, yields were below average. Late harvesting was an advantage as grapes could take full advantage of the return of fine weather. The Tramontana, mentioned above, helped concentration.
The Consorzio may be a little optimistic in saying that, “2018 Chianti shows a good level of concentration and has ideal chemical and organoleptic features for medium-long ageing”. However, one is always proud of one’s baby, even when it behaves badly, so a modicum of over-enthusiasm must surely be permitted!
John Salvi Master of Wine