Aerial view of Castello di Volpaia
Chianti Classico is such a famous wine, yet few associate the wine with greatness. This probably has a lot to do with its image as an everyday red wine – one that is loved around the world, yet not a wine that is celebrated with more renowned Italian reds such as Barolo, Amarone or Brunello di Montalcino.
Perhaps if more estates in the Chianti Classico zone produced wines of the quality of Castello di Volpaia, the wine’s impact might be more felt by wine lovers and wine writers, as this is a first-rate company that is clearly one of the leaders in the area.
The driving force behind Volpaia is owner Giovanella Stianti, who is one of the most decisive and assured people I have ever met. Along with her son Nicolo, she directs operations at this estate with a sure hand, always looking to offer the finest quality to the modern consumer, all the while respecting the tradition of this land.
For years, Stianti (along with a few other local producers) fought to be able to produce a Chianti Classico with 100% Sangiovese. Of course, Chianti Classico has historically been a blended wine, even after the white grapes (Trebbiano, Malvasia) that used to be included in the cuvées were eliminated. But Stianti wanted the regulations on the book allowing for a 100% Sangiovese for Chianti Classico and a few years ago that was approved. Today, her Black Label Chianti Classico Riserva (one of the most complex and elegant of this type, in my opinion) is 100% Sangiovese and offers lovely varietal purity with fresh red cherry and strawberry notes backed by lively acidity and subtle wood notes.
She also produces another Chianti Classico Riserva known as Coltassala, a single vineyard wine aged in barrique. A blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Mammolo (a traditional grape in this area), this wine is riper and a bit more modern in its approach, yet is still quite elegant, thanks to the steady winemaking hand of Riccardo Cotarella, who Giovanella hired a few years ago.
These two wines have a fine track record and both can drink well anywhere from 5-12 years after the vintage. There is also a regular bottling of Chianti Classico that is a fine value as well as a Super Tuscan known as Balificio, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Finally there is a first-rate Vin Santo that has the caramel, honey and butterscotch flavors you find in a classic rendition of this wine; the 2003 is the current release and it is a beauty. The emphasis here – as in all the wines of Volpaia – is on elegance. Drink this wine – as a vino di meditazione – over the next 7-10 years.
Located in Radda in Chianti in the east central reaches of the Chianti Classico zone, Castello di Volpaia has become a leader in his area. Too often, Chianti Classico is still a moderate wine, one that drinks well tonight, but lacks structure for aging. Either that or producers will make them like jam, trying to win an international audience. Giovanella and her family go about their job in the proper way by producing wines of balance, structure and elegance. As I wrote earlier in this piece, this is the path to quality and it is a journey carried out beautifully at Castello di Volpaia.
One final note: This is one of the best-equipped wineries in all of Chianti Classico for visitors. There is a small trattoria in the square opposite the winery and there are many tasting possibilities in the winery itself. This includes not only the wonderful wines of the estate, but also extra virgin olive oil, honey and vinegars.