Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Culturally, the world owes much to Tuscany. It was in Tuscany, between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when the mediaeval era came to a close and the Renaissance began, leaving an indelible mark on the civilization in Europe. In Florence great works of civic and religious architecture, sculpture and paintings of extraordinary artistic value bear witness to the creative genius of such artists as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, under the patronage of the Medici, the ruling family of Florence. In 1569, under the Medici, Tuscany was made a Grand Duchy by Pope Pius V.
Vine growing and wine making have been an integral part of Tuscan civilization for at least three millennia, since the Etruscans first settled in the territory. Wines labeled Chianti Classico and adorned with the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) logo, come from a small delineated sub-section of the broader Chianti region and is limited to the following regions; San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tavernelle Val di Pesa, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Poggibonsi, Greve in Chinati, Radda in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, and Castelnuovo Baradenga.
During my visit to the Chianti Classico region, courtesy of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, one of the winemakers said “Everyone in Italy makes wine, and the best wine is the one THEY make”. So, taking that statement into consideration, I visited a number of wineries to actually taste the wines and decide for myself if all the hoopla about the Chianti Classico wines is warranted.
My first stop was the Castello d’ Albola, in Radda, at the center of the historic Chianti Classico region. Amongst the wines I tasted the best was, in my opinion, their 2007 Chianti Classico. This wine is 95% Sangiovese - blended from 7 different Sangiovese clones - and 5% Canaiolo Nero. Somewhat austere in its youth, the wine softened with age, becoming velvety and developing a prolonged and appealing aromatic finish, with well-developed round tannins. I believe that this is what Chianti should taste; floral aromas - violets, plums and a hint of vanilla - and dark cherry and black currants (cassis) flavors; to me they say… Sangiovese.
Fontodi’s Chianti Classico and the Chianti Classico Reserva were two excellent wines also made from Sangiovese blends, the Chianti Classico from a number of Sangiovese clones grown in various plots within the property, the Reserva (90% Sangiovese Grosso, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) from the Vigna del Sorbo vineyard that has 40+ year old vines. The 1997 Chianti Classico Reserva was smooth, floral on the nose with violets, dark fruit and pencil shavings predominating and an earthy palate, full of dark forest fruit; it was a truly excellent old wine that had time to mellow in the cellar. The 2008 Fontodi organic/biodynamic 8-hectare Conca d’Oro vineyard produces a wine with a smoky nose with mushrooms and licorice, and a perfectly balanced finish.
Visiting the medieval Castello di Starda village was a fascinating experience, not only for the wines I tasted that included an outstanding Vin Santo, but also because of the wonderful lunch served at the village’s Osteria di Starda, a restaurant that was the site of an ancient olive press. The village is being slowly restored to maintain its authentic rural old-country feel and is becoming a Gastrotourism center with 14 rental apartments, guided tours of the wine cellar, wine tastings, cooking lessons on regional foods etc. And talking about keeping traditions alive, the Fattoria is one of the very few producers that still bottle Chianti in straw-covered fiasco bottles.
From Fèlsina, a winery in Castelnuove Beradenga, near Siena, another outstanding producer, I tasted the Fontaloro Chianti Classico plus a couple IGTs. In 1132 the buildings were used as a hospitality center for pilgrims on the way to Rome; they were served bread, olive oil and wine and given a space to spend the night. Currently about 500,000 bottles of assorted wines are produced under the supervision of Franco Bernabei, the well known consulting Italian oenologist.
What I really loved from Fèlsina was the 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva and the 2008 Fontaloro. I especially liked the Riserva, from 60+ year old vines. Its color is intense ruby red; with floral aromas of woodlands, black pepper, and a surprising minerality. The palate is fruity with rounded tannins and good balance. This is a meat-eater’s wine; on a warm summer evening fire up the charcoal grill, throw on a nice T-bone and enjoy!
So, yes! All the applause about the Chianti Classico wines is well deserved. Beautiful nose, dense palate, longevity in the cellar. What more can a wine lover ask for?
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