Impressive bottles of the new ultra-premium tier of Chianti
Classico, which Italian legislation last year named Gran Selezione, have begun entering the market.
These wine clearly raise the bar of Chianti quality. These wines
are a step about Chianti Classico Riserva and a considerable step up from
standard(if still very good) Chianti Classico.
Recently, a group of Chianti producers have sponsored
tastings in major Canadian cities to get the word out.
It is worth their effort: Canada is the world’s fourth
largest market for Chianti Classico. In British
Columbia, Chianti sales have risen nine per cent in
the past year while sales of premium Chianti Classicos have risen 16%.
The difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico is one
of geography. The borders of Chianti Classico were defined in 1716 and take in
the vineyards between Florence and Siena. Currently, 7,200
hectares of vineyards have been registered to produce Chianti Classico. The
wines are made primarily by the 566 members of the Consorzio Vino Chianti
With the growing popularity of Chianti in the 20th
century, plantings – mostly of Sangiovese grapes, a main variety – spread
across the Tuscan landscape, surrounding the historic Chianti Classico area.
There are plenty of good wines (along with plenty of
ordinary wines) made in the greater Chianti area. However, the producers in the
Classico area take great pains to defend the reputation of their frequently
The Gran Selezione designation is the latest effort to
burnish the reputation. It was created as a vehicle for the very best and most
terroir-driven wines of Chianti Classico. Currently, only four per cent of the
Classico wines have this designation. As other wines are rolled it, it may
account, at most, for the top 10%.
The Gran Selection wines are all estate-grown wines, made
with a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, with the other 20% being either indigenous
varieties or international varieties like Merlot. Fermentation must be done
with the wild yeast in the estate vineyard, not with inoculations of cultured
yeast. The object is the preserve the terroir.
The wines must have a minimum of 13% alcohol and must be
aged 30 months, usually in wood and bottles, before release.
And when a producer nominates a wine to be a Gran Selezione,
the wine must first pass a blind tasting by a panel of wine judges.
If you still remember Chianti as the inexpensive red in a
pot-bellied bottle that university students used to drink, you will get a
little sticker shock from the new Gran Selezione wines. The three so far listed
in British Columbia
are priced between $40 and $55 a bottle. These wines are San Felice Il Grigio
2010, Vicchiomaggio La Prima 2010 and San Fabiano Calcinaia Cellole 2010.
Additional listings are in the works, judging for the
enthusiasm for Chianti Classico espoused by the Liquor Distribution Branch’s
senior buyer, Barb Philip MW.
led by Sergio Zingarelli, the owner of Rocca delle Macìe and the current president of the Chianti Classico consortium. One
of his Gran Selezione wines would retail for $106 if it gets to this market;
another will retail around $50. These are exceptional wines, as they should be
for the price.
While you are waiting, you should try his
budget Rocca delle Macìe
Chianti Classico. The LDB currently has the 2011 vintage in 82 liquor stores at
about $20 a bottle. At the tasting, I tasted the 2013, which will be here soon,
and which is a delicious wine bursting with cherry aromas and flavours.
The basic Chianti Classico wines are good.
However, the wines designated Gran Selezione or Riserva (the tier just below)
offer more of everything: the wines are deeper in flavour, more elegant in
structure and better suited to aging. All the Gran Selezione wines that I
tasted scored 90 to 93 points.
When next you buy any Chianti Classico,
take a look at the Black Rooster, the traditional trademark of these wines. It
has been slightly updated and the symbol, which used to be on the government
seal, now has a more prominent place, either on the neck of the bottle or on
the back label.
Why that trademark? Here is the
entertaining explanation from the consortium:
The Black Rooster has
always been the symbol of the entire Chianti region. The origin of this is
lost in time: an amusing legend narrates of the rivalry existing in the Middle
Ages between Siena and Florence.
According to this
legend, in order to cease their endless fighting, the two Tuscan cities decided
to leave the definition of their respective boundaries to a remarkable feat
between knights: they were to leave their hometowns at cockcrow and wherever
they would have met each other, that exact spot would have been the border
between the two republics.
purpose, the citizens of Siena
raised a beautiful white rooster, which grew big and fat. The Florentines,
instead, chose a black rooster and never fed him, so that on the fateful day he
was so famished, he started to crow even before sunrise.
As a result, the
Florentine knight was able to set out very early in the morning: he met the
knight from Siena in Fonterutoli –merely twelve
Kilometers from Siena -, as the latter had left
much later: this is the reason why almost all of the Chianti territory was
united under the rule of the Florentine
Even if this is only a
legend, it is however confirmed that the Black Rooster profile has represented
the emblem of the historic Chianti League, which ruled over these lands
since the beginning of the 14th century. The artist Giorgio Vasari painted the
Black Rooster on the ceiling of the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio,
as an allegorical representation of the Chianti region. The Consortium has
ultimately selected this seven-century old symbol as a certification of its