Posts tagged ‘felsina’
I’ve addressed this situation in the past, but it bears repeating. Chianti Classico has lost a lot of luster and that’s a shame, as there are some outstanding examples. But the truth is that the consumer thinks of Chianti Classico as an ordinary wine, one that’s overpriced and too often, merely a red wine meant for quaffing or for the most basic food pairings.
I write this as I tasted a brilliant example of Chianti Classico the other day, the Felsina “Vigneto Rancia” Riserva 2008. In my recently published book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, I wrote this about the wine:
“This estate has become one of the unmistakable reference points for Chianti Classico… It is with the single vineyard “Rancia” Chianti Classico that Felsina displays its best winemaking… this is a wine of outstanding complexity and breeding. When you find a young vintage, lay it away for a few years in the cellar, as peak consumption is generally at age 10-12.”
The 2008 release of this wine certainly fits this description, as there is excellent depth of fruit, notable persistence, lively acidity and outstanding structure. 2008 was an excellent year in Chianti Classico (and throughout most of Italy, for that matter), as this was a growing season that yielded wines that were classic (no pun attended) in nature, with excellent structure and a sense of place; brilliant producers such as Felsina made stunning wines from 2008. (Of course what makes Felsina so great is that even in years that aren’t considered classic, they still craft marvelous wines.)
Felsina of course, is not the only great producer in Chianti Classico. Fontodi is another as is Querciabella and there are another six to eight estates such as La Porta di Vertine, Rocca di Montegrossi, Castello di Volpaia and Villa Calcinaia that routinely produce excellent wines. Producers such as these make wines that show the rest of the world what Chianti Classico can and should be. But there are not enough examples.
The problem is a big one and there are many reasons; yes, Sangiovese is a grape that has a high yield, so there are still too many producers that do not oversee the proper work in the vineyard, resulting in wines that are thin with modest fruit and high acidity. Certainly the producers of today do take more care in the vineyards than those of 30 or 40 years ago (generally speaking), but there are still too many examples of ordinary wines and the disciplinare allows vintners to make wines such as these.
But a bigger problem is that Chianti Classico is a rather large area, basically from Florence to Siena and given as vast a territory as this, not every vineyard is sited in the best spot. So while we hear all about the beauty of Tuscany and Chianti Classico, it doesn’t always translate into special wines.
Vineyard in Panzano, one of the most prized sites of Chianti Classico (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
So how to fix this? Well there’s a logical solution, but it’s one that I truly think will never come about (I know that you’re never supposed to say never, but in this case, I believe I’m safe). The answer is zonation – allowing labels to list their zone of origin. This would mean that Felsina can list Castelnuovo Berandenga not just as the winery’s address in small print, but in larger print as a denomination of origin. The same would be true for Fontodi, as their estate vineyards are situated in Panzano, also known as the Conca d’Oro (“the golden hill”); other fine estates located here, such as Panzanello and Il Molino di Grace could also label their wines as being from Panzano grapes. As Panzano is recognized by everyone who is familiar with Chianti Classico as one of its very best sub-zones, listing this geographical name on a label would certainly add a dimension of prestige to the wine, which would help sales of those specific wines and perhaps Chianti Classico in general.
There are several sub-zones in Chianti Classico, from Greve to Castellina in Chianti to Radda and Gaiole; the wines vary in terms of aromatics, weight and acidity, as you might imagine; after all these areas are micro-climates. When speaking about Barolo in Piemonte, dozens of crus (single vineyards) have been officially recognized and we talk about the differences in wines from La Morra with their floral perfumes and gentle tannins as opposed to the more muscular style of Barolo from Monforte d’Alba or Serralunga d’Alba.
So why not in Chianti Classico? Well maybe it’s a Tuscan mentality; the same problem exists with Brunello di Montalcino, as has been documented by Kerin O’Keefe in her excellent book about this wine. Maybe it’s a larger problem, especially when you consider the old joke about getting more than five Italians to agree on anything. But kidding aside, it’s politics, plain and simple, as least as it seems to me. Tuscany, unlike Piemonte, is represented by both farmers and wealthy businessmen, many of whom made their fortunes in other businesses, often in foreign countries. There’s nothing wrong with these people owning estates in Chianti Classico and other wine districts of Tuscany, especially as new blood can infuse a tired corpse, but in reality, do these people have the same sense of pride about their land as farmers in Piemonte whose families have been working their land for more than 100 years in many cases?
Then you have the problem of Chianti Classico being a victim of its own success. This is such a recognizable name around the world – indeed it may be the world’s most beloved and recognizable red wine – so that producers do all they can to attract as many new drinkers as possible around the globe. This means producing an international wine – really, was it a smart decision to allow producers to include Cabernet Sauvignon in Chianti Classico? – one that too often loses its expression of local terroir. If it’s a success in Italy and the United States and Scandanvia, why change? Let’s try and make it appealing to everyone, from Russia and China to Japan and Hong Kong. Try and please everyone and you wind up pleasing no one.
This problem does not exist only in Chianti Classico; there are international wines made in other part of Italy as well. But few wines are as well known as Chianti Classico and few have lost as much market share (at least in the United States, a very important market, without question) as this wine. Price has something to do with this and it’s not the fault of the local producers that the US dollar isn’t as strong against the Euro as it used to be (although admittedly, it’s better today than four or five years ago). But for a wine that was routinely $14 on retail shelves about five or six years ago, it’s now $18-$20 and that’s for the basic Chianti Classico, not riserva. For $14, tens and hundreds of thousands of American wine drinkers are purchasing Malbec from Argentina. What does this have to do with Italy? Nothing of course, but these consumers are looking for a wine they like at a price that they’re comfortable with. If Chianti Classico can’t come in at that price, so be it, Malbec can.
Back to Felsina and Fontodi and a few dozen Chianti Classico estates that really deliver the goods. As I wrote above, these producers show the world that Chianti Classico can be a very special wine. It’s just that too many producers in Chianti Classico take the easy way out, cashing in on the success of the Chianti Classico marque. The bottom line is average quality, which drags down the overall image of this wine. As it stands now, Felsina and Fontodi will sell every bottle of wine they make, as they continue to push themselves to make the best wines possible and enough people realize that. It’s a shame that too many Chianti Classico producers don’t make similar efforts. Resting on your laurels – if one can call it that – is never a good thing and Chianti Classico sales – and the image of this wine - are taking a beating.
In my last post, I listed a few of my choices as the Best Italian Red Wines of 2011, focusing on Amarone as well as Barolo and Barbaresco. In part two, I will look at some other wines from Piemonte as well as several from Tuscany. Again, this is a partial list; for more information about all my selections, see the end of this post.
2008 Elio Grasso Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Martina” - While this great estate in Monforte d’Alba is best known for their cru Barolo, this selection, named for Elio’s wife, has become one of the finest examples of Barbera d’Alba. Light purple with inviting aromas of black plum, blackberry and violets, the wine is matured in half-new French barriques, but unlike too many examples of Barbera these days, the oak sensation here does not overwhelm. The 2008 bottling is especially accomplished with lively acidity and excellent persistence; it’s also quite delicious. This is fine now, but it will be better in a year when it settles down and should drink well for another 3-5 years. $30
2009 Vietti Barbera d’Alba “Scarrone Vigna Vecchia” – This is arguably the most famous version of Barbera d’Alba; it’s also one of the most famous red wines in all of Italy. Vietti owns this vineyard, planted on a steep hillside in Castiglione Falletto and prodcues two wines from here. The regular Scarrone Barbera is from the section of the vineyard that averages 60-65 years of vine age. That’s pretty impressive, but this “Vigna Vecchia” (old vine) bottling is sourced from the vines on this hill that are aproximately 85 years old! Now imagine how small the yields are and how concentrated the wine must be and you have some idea of how spectacular this wine truly is! Deep ruby red-light purple with aromas of boysenberry and black plum, this has excellent concentration and a generous mid-palate with layers of fruit. The acidity, though not as high as a more traditional Barbera is still very good and there is a powerful finish with excellent persistence. This is, in a word, hedonistic. A modern Barbera that is as captivating and as well made as any on the market, this is a beautifully made, exquisitely balanced wine that will impress you like few red wines made from any variety. If you haven’t had this wine in the past, you owe it to yourself to find a bottle of this wine, as the 2009 is a memorable a version as any in some time. This is so appealing now, but this will improve and drink well for another 7-10 years. $75
E. Mirafiore Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 - The Mirafiore line of wines, produced at the venerable estate of Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba is a special set of wines that harkens back to the origins of this firm in the late-1800s, when it was known as Mirafiore. Made from grapes grown in Serralunga, the wine was aged in medium and large-sized oak casks for two months, resulting in a wine of beautiful variety purity. Displaying aromas and flavors of cranberry, black raspberry and violets, this is medium-ful with moderate tannins and a lengthy, satisfying finish. What a lovely Dolcetto on its own or served with duck, rabbit or pork tonight or over the next 2-3 years. A lot of character here for only $20.
2007 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva “Vigneto Bucerchiale” - Under the guidance of Francesco Giuntini A. Masseti, this estate has risen to the top of a very small group of the finest wine estates in Tuscany. This wine is produced from a single vineyard on the property that was planted back in 1968. The lovely aromas of wild strawberry, bing cherry and rose petals are simply intoxicating and there is beautiful texture and structure with medium-weight tannins, ideal acidity and excellent persistence. An outstanding offering – this is what great Chianti should taste like! Appealing now, this will drink well for 10-12 years. $35 (and worth every penny.)
2009 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico – You can never go wrong with a wine from this estate, one of the most consistent in Tuscany for more than 40 years. The 2009 Chianti Classico offers aromas of red cherry, thyme and red roses with very good depth of fruit, a beautifully defined mid-palate and excellent structure; the oak is subtle and there is very good acidity. Beautifully balanced and such a lovely food wine, enjoy this over the next 5-7 years. $20
2009 Felsina Chianti Classico- Here is another great producer that produces first-rate wines across the board. While probably best known for their Riserva bottlings (both a regular and the exquisite “Vigneto Rancia” offerings), their Chianti Classico normale is noteworthy as well. 100% Sangiovese, aged in medium-sized Slavonian oak casks, the wine offers textbook varietal aromas of red cherry along with notes of red roses and thyme and has a beautifully defined mid-palate, lively acidity and excellent persistence. Approachable now, but at its best in 5-7 years. $20
2008 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico “Castello di Brolio” - This is the famous Brolio estate where the recipe for Chianti Classico was formulated back in the 19th century. Today Francesco Ricasoli oversees production at this magnificent site, which features one of Tuscany’s most splendid castelli. While this is labeled simply as a Chianti Classico, it could be designated as a Chianti Classico Riserva. But Ricasoli does not use that term; indeed, this is the finest wine of his estate each year and wants the consumer to know the wine simply as Castello di Brolio, much like Lafite or Latour and other top chateaux in Bordeaux. A blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot matured for 18 months in tonneaux and barriques. Offering excellent concentration and perfectly tuned acidity and beautifully integrated oak to go along with the sumptuous red cherry and black currant fruit, this is an accomplished Chianti Classico – one of great breeding and class! This 2008 version- from a very underrated vintage in Chianti Classico – is one of the best; it will be at its peak in10-12 years and may drink well for several years after that. At $50, this stands up to the finest of all Tuscan reds.
This is a partial list of my selections for the best Italian red wines of 2011. In my next post, I will focus on Brunello di Montalcino along with several choices from Campania, Sicily and Puglia.