I was delighted to attend ‘An Exploration of the Terroirs of Chianti Classico’ master class tasting presented by Antonio Galloni, the founder of Vinous; one of the fasted growing wine websites in the world, along with Sergio Zingarelli, President of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, at the New York Public Library.
The class focused on 8 wines from different producers in order to introduce and thoroughly explore the brand new Chianti Classico designation of ‘Gran Selezione’. This is the first time in the history of Italian wine denominations, that a new type of wine was created to be positioned at the top of the quality pyramid, and not at its base. Improvements in technology and winemaking have resulted in higher quality wines that the consortium and winemakers felt there should be another category. In addition to attracting a new audience to the Chianti region, Gran Selezione wines are also poised to directly compete with the premium Super Tuscan reds that carry a heftier price tag [50$-$150 on average] then the majority of Chianti. With Chianti so popular in America, 31% of all Chianti in 2014 headed to the States, being able to compete with the Super Tuscan crowd allows for more flexibility, exposure and dollars.
Gran Selezione is being produced throughout the entirety of the Chianti Classico appellation, with 73 wineries certified in 2014 with a million and half bottles produced. At the beginning of 2015 there were 78 labels of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione for one or more vintages.
Essentially Gran Selezione is “an important Chianti Classico”; crafted to be intense and rich. To have a Gran Selezione designation, the following must happen:
• Grapes must be 100% estate grown. Winemakers are not allowed to include any grapes other then their own.
• A minimum of 80% Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo, typical to Chianti can be included, as well as classic Bordeaux grapes.
• The wine must be aged for a minimum of 30 months, with at least 3 months of bottle ageing. This is 6 months longer the Chianti Classico Riserva.
• A minimum of 13% Alcohol.
• The wine will be evaluated by a 5 person tasting panel that judges if the wine is “good enough” for the designation.
• The trademark Gallo Nero [black rooster] has been restyled and is placed in a more dominant position on the label or neck of the bottle.
Mr. Galloni advised when purchasing Gran Selezione wines, to purchase by the estate. He explained that the sign of a good winemaker is not noticing the winemaker. The wine should reflect the place, essence and vintage, not the maker. Furthering this concept, he instructed, “modern winemaking means you can pay less attention to vintages”, so again, look for your favourite winery, or one you’ve heard great things about and pick it up!
All of the following wines were aged in various sized French oak barrels. All of these wines are expected to age incredibly well, 10 or 20 years or potentially even longer. Prices are the listed retail price supplied by the winery.
1. Antinori nel Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ‘Badia a Passignano’ 2010
From the famed Antinori estate, this is one of the lightest expressions of Gran Selezione. Grapes were sourced from high altitude vineyards that impart more aromatics, and a silky, lighter body. Floral and cedar driven, with balsamic and leather notes wrapped around a core of black cherry and earth.
2. Isole e Olena Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010
A sea salt finish is the signature of Olena wines, and this does not disappoint. An energizing contrast between light, airy floral notes and big, grippy tannins highlight the rich, velvety fruit, whilst sea salt and a bit of caramel linger tantalizing between each sip.
82% Sangiovese, 9% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot
[Incidentally, this was the star of the tasting, as voted by my fellow classmates.]
3. Marchesi Mazzei ‘Castello di Fonterutoli’ Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010
Grapes were sourced from the very best lots on the property; the result is a creamy, round wine with balancing tart fruit along with a bright acidity. Spice and earth notes complete the plush, soft finish.
92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia and Colorino
4. Vignamaggio ‘Monna Lisa’ Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010
Enthusiastically complex, the floral aromas are complimented by cozy baking spices that serve as the introduction to plum, blueberry and tart cherry flavours. Charred herbs and graphite provide an engaging backbone; cigar spice and smoky earth elements comprise the incredibly long finish.
85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
5. Fontodi ‘Vigna del Sorbo’ Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010
Grapes were sourced from a single vineyard whose soil imparts an ambient ferrous quality. Rich and bold, concentrated cherry and red berry flavours are the focal point. Iron notes and good tannins provide a lovely rustic backbone.
95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
6. Castello di Ama ‘San Lorenzo’ Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010
Grapes were sourced from a high altitude, cool climate vineyard; the result is a wine with an energetic, spirited demeanor. Although it was pointed out that the wine was “tight and austere” and not drinking yet, wild berry fruit, spice along with a silky smooth lengthy finish proclaim that this will be quite spectacular with a few more years under its belt.
80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and Malaysia Near
7. Rocca di Montegrossi ‘San Marcellino’ Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010
Grapes were sourced from certified organic vineyards with clay and limestone soil. Rich and powerful, with an intense core of fruit joined by grippy tannins and a clean minerality. Spiced oak, dark fruit along with hints of savoury herbs linger mightily between each sip.
95% Sangiovese, 5% Pugnitello
8. Felsina ‘Colonia’ Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010
Felsina is renowned for their big, powerful wines, and this is no exception. Taken straight from my tasting notes “Damn is that dense fruit”, this is absolutely radiant with juicy, ripe, dark fruits [black cherry, blackberry, plum and a bit of morello cherry for good measure]. Well structured, with earthy tar notes and bold tannins providing a solid support structure, whilst vanilla, cigar box spice and woodsy oak comprise the lengthy finish.
I found them to be modern, sleek, complex wines rangeing in style from ethereal and agile to determined, muscular, powerhouse wines. Stay tuned for Part 2, which will focus on a few of these impressive wineries from the subsequent Gran Selezione ‘Together’ Tasting.
Media event hosted by the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium