In 2013 the Consorzio approved new regulations for the Chianti Classico denomination (and approved by EC in February 2014), introducing the new uppermost quality category of gran selezione – terroir-based and the equivalent to grand cru. So the 3 quality levels of Chianti Classico became:
- Chianti Classico (Annata) – the entry-level with minima of alcohol 12% abv and 12 months ageing.
- Chianti Classico Riserva – the intermediate level with minima of 12.5% abv and 24 months unspecified vessel ageing, but including 3 in bottle.
- Chianti Classico Gran Selezione – the top-level with minima of 13% abv and 30 months unspecified vessel ageing, but including 3 in bottle. Produced from single vineyards or a property’s best grapes, and subject to a panel tasting.
At all 3 levels a producer must make a deliberate choice and declare in advance, to which level grapes are to be directed. This event showed 37 gran selezione producers, many with a single offering, the pinnacle of their production, with most at less than 10k bottles annual production. It was clearly evident that deft use of just big old oak or in combination with high quality new oak, French is common, is being used very carefully as a maturation tool rather than to introduce overt oakiness. Similarly deft use of international varieties and other indigenous varieties, permitted since 2007 as up to 20% of the blend, adds more dimensions of interest, yet do not dominate, based on 80% minimum sangiovese. These wines show what one has suspected via some of the more pricey classicos in the past, in that there is some remarkable quality in the appellation at the higher level, and the wines at this showing confirm a huge step up in quality from riserva, to name a few:
- Marchesi Antinori, Badia a Passignano 2009 – varietal sangiovese, fermented in stainless steel, with ageing in oak and 12 months in bottle. Medium (+) garnet, 14% abv, showing an almost Penfold’s Grange-like profile and intensity, with rich tertiary notes of sweet tobacco, rich warm prunes, dark chocolate … a long long length.
- Barone Ricasoli, Castello di Brolio 2011 – 80% sangiovese, 10% c.sauvignon, 5% merlot and 5% petit verdot. Beautifully integrated and nuanced blackcurrant notes from the cabernet complement the sangiovese palette, smooth and elegant, with a long length
- Vignole Crespine 2009 – 90% sangiovese and 10% c.sauvignon. A slightly high-toned nose with a pronounced intensity, rich black fruit flavours, medium (+) tannins, with characteristic bitterness on the aftertaste of a long length.
- Isole e Olena 2006 – 80% sangiovese, 12% c.franc, 8% syrah. Two years in 225 litre 30% new barrels, then 2 years in cask, then 3 years bottle ageing. Medium (+) ruby, medium (+) intensity on the nose, showing blackberry and currant, sweet tobacco and chocolate … a long long length.
Some wines demonstrated interest in using indigenous varieties, including abrusco, ciliegiolo, colorino, malvasia nera, mazzese, pugnitello, either in place of or to augment international varieties such as the cabernets, merlot, petit verdot and syrah. Wines at gran selezione level are in low volumes, well mostly, anything between 3k and 100k bottles, and pricey, £45 plus, a good riserva will set you back £30+. But the gran selezione quality demonstrates that they are value for money, look out for them, they are well worth a try.
But … I am not convinced, as with the introduction of Classic and Selection in Germany, that words such as selezione are recognised as anything reliable by most consumers. It sounds like reserve personelle, vieilles vignes and other unregulated terms. Better, I think, to have added a chianti classico gran reserva level, to sit above Chianti classico riserva, and entry-level chianti classico (annata) as used with Spanish Rioja for example; and then tighten up Riserva regulations by way of single vineyard bottlings from within village level denominations – the top ones of Castellina, Radda and Greve for example. In this way consumers could have a much clearer perception of the denomination.
An issue that may be important for aficionados, is that gran selezione wines can be produced either from a single vineyard, or from a selection of the estate’s best grapes – what does the second option mean if an estate has holdings all over the Chianto Classico DOCG region? Blending across a wide area that’s what, but anything wrong with that? Well, it does not make sense, as pan-Classico region blending permitted for Riservas, was regarded as a defect … and another was giving an annata quality wine a bit of extra ageing gaining to take it to Riserva level, but several GS offerings are simply Riservas with that bit of extra ageing …
And whilst minimum ageing is 30 months (6 more than a riserva), how this achieved appears unregulated. At the London tasting 6 examples ranged in oak ageing of 1-4 years, and bottle ageing 8-36 months; with the longest in Isole e Olena 2006, with 4 years in wood and 3 in bottle. Time will tell … as with iconic DO labelled wines from Ribera del Duero and Super-Tuscans IGTs, price will do the quality signalling, so in the end does it really matter what is on the label …well a bit more clarity might have helped.
- Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: top-tier or just another layer. Stephen Brook, in Decanter, May 2014.