Chianti Rufina – Special Wines and Special People
During my recent trip to Toscana, I was able to visit the Chianti Rufina zone for two days; this district, located east and slightly north of Florence, is a wine area that should definitely be better known.
There are seven Chianti districts in addition to the Chianti Classico zone and each has its own unique characteristics. For Chianti Rufina (pronounced roo-fee-nah), it is the elevation of the vineyards that gives this area its identity. The plantings are between 150 to 500 meters (500 to 1640 feet) above sea level; this means that the vineyards in Rufina are on average, the highest in terms of elevation of any Chianti district, including Chianti Classico (vineyards here are generally between 100-300 meters above sea level).
According to Barbara Tamburini, consulting enologist for this zone’s Fattoria di Grignano, the high elevation means a longer ripening time on the vine and higher acidity; the combination of which makes for longer-lived wines. “At the higher elevations,” she notes, “we receive more direct, pure sunlight, which helps ripening.”
There are about 22 producers in Chianti Rufina, most of whom produce Chianti Rufina DOCG of course, but there are other wines of note from this area as well. At Fattoria Lavacchio, Dimitri Sidorinko and Faye Lottero produce a lovely white named Pachar, a flavorful, elegant blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, while at Fattoria di Lago, the 2007 PInot Nero displays good varietal character and offers very nice complexity.
There are two very famous wine estates in Chianti Rufina: Frescobaldi and Selvapiana. The former is one of the best-known producers from any of the Chianti districts and their Nippozano Riserva has become a household name for Chianti. I tasted the 2007, which has typical forward fruit, moderate tannins, is easy-drinking and of course, has lovely Chianti typicity.
I also sampled their top two reds: the 2007 Mormoreto, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and the 2007 Montesodi. The first wine is quite ripe with black currant fruit and a hint of olive in the aromas with young tannins and the stuffing to age for 10-12 years (perhaps longer). The Montesodi is even better; this wine, a long-time favorite of mine is a 100% Sangiovese that is silky, flavorful and just beautifully made each year. This 2007 displays the richness of this vintage in Tuscany, while also offering a lot of finesse. While this is tempting to consume now, it will offer even greater pleasures in another 7-10 years, though given the track record of this wine, this bottling may indeed drink well for as long as another 15-20 years.
At Selvapiana, owner Federico Giuntini Masseti has helped elevate this estate into one of the most consistent from any Chianti district. The 2009 Chianti Rufina normale is a beauty, with textbook red cherry and currant fruit mingled with notes of allspice and cinnamon; it’s a lovely wine for the next 2-3 years. A step up in concentration is the 2007 “Vigneto Buerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva. Sourced from the estate’s best vineyard, which is 40 years old, this 100% Sangiovese has delicious red plum and red cherry fruit and polished tannins. It’s an elegant wine that is a joy to drink now and it will offer pleasure for another 7-10 years.
I also want to note the elegance of the wines from Colognole, a moderate-sized estate managed by Cesare Coda Nunziante. I was impressed by this man’s no-nonsense attitude and his down-to-earth manner; he is clearly not looking for high scores, but rather, he is after making the most typical wines he can from his vineyards. I tasted three vintages of his Chianti Rufina normale (2008, ’07 and ’06), with the ’06 showing the most complexity at this point, though the ’07 will eventually display greater complexities in a few years, while the ’08 is a lovely wine for current consumption. His Riservas are naturally bigger wines, yet they are quite elegant and thankfully, the oak is minimal while the acidity is nicely tuned; the 2007 is especially impressive.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the quality of the wines at Fattoria di Vetrice, a small estate run by the Grati family. These wines offer lovely varietal purity, very good acidity and an extremely delicate touch when it comes to wood. The regular Chianti Rufina 2008 is a tasty wine for consumption over the next year or two and has an elegant, lightly spicy finish. The riserva bottlings are extremely impressive, both the 2006 and especially the 2004; not only do they offer more depth of fruit as well as greater complexity, but the wines are impeccably balanced and display beautiful freshness. Too often I have tasted various riserva wines from various Chianti districts that are too over oaked; the result being that the fruit is muted in the aromas and on the palate with the wines having a slightly bitter edge to them. This is definitely not the case at Vetrice- these are wines that are a pleasure to drink and ones that superbly represent their terroir. For me, this is one of the finest estates in all of Chianti.
Finally, I want to note the 2004 Vin Santo from Grignano. Amber gold with aromas of almond and pear, this has excellent concentration, beautiful complexity and impressive persistence; the cleansing acidity gives the wine a dry finish. This has remarkable freshness for a 16 year old wine and yes, this is the current release of this wine from Grignano! It is a first-rate Vin Santo – complimenti to winemaker Barbara Tamburini!
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, Chianti Rufina is a district that should be better known. There are several outstanding producers here and the overall quality of the wines is quite high. I’ll write soon about a wonderful restaurant named Mulino al Vento near Pontassieve that highlights the wines of the district and offers some of the best grilled meats and poultry I’ve tasted anywhere in Tuscany. Another reason to recommend Chianti Rufina!