I have talked about the origins of the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines in a previous article, but there is always more to learn. I was invited to attend a recent Masterclass on Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines and I would like to share some of that knowledge with you, as well as give you my tasting notes on my favourite wines from the class.
Again, the Chianti Classico region first was defined in 1716, occupying an area of 70,000 ha between Siena and Florence in Tuscany. The original Chianti Classico recipe was created in 1872 by Barone Ricasoli. At the time Canaiolo was the dominant grown grape, but the Barone championed the Sangiovese grape as a grape that gave a wine vigour and bouquet and said Canaiolo can be added in small quantities to soften Sangiovese. In 2006 white grapes were disallowed from being added to the blend. In the past it was added as there was significant amounts of white grapes available for wine production.
In Chianti Classico, there are around 510 estates, and 96% of the estates are part of the Consorzio. In 1924 the Chianti Classico Consorzio was formed, and even with the regions hundreds of years of winemaking, the work in the vineyards is still evolving.
The new information we learned about was how to better understand the wines produced by the communes that make up the region, with their elevation, soil type and direction of slopes. The higher vs lower elevations can affect temperature, which can, of course, affect the ripeness and the acidity of the grapes.
For Gran Selezione there is a choice for the blend. The winemaker can make their wine with 100% Sangiovese. As I mentioned in a previous article the grapes that can be blended with Sangiovese can include the indigenous grapes Canaiolo, Colorino, Mammolo, Malvasia Nera, Pugnitello, or Foglia Tonda, and/or the international grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, or Petit Verdot.
Starting in 2013, the Chianti Classico Consorzio updated their DOCG wine quality pyramid, adding the “Gran Selezione“. To qualify for “Gran Selezione”, a Chianti Classico must be produced exclusively with grapes from single vineyards or selected from an estate’s best-suited vineyards. The wines need to be at least 13% vol alcohol, be aged at least 30 months, including 3 months of bottle ageing, have at least 4.5 g/l of acidity, and flavour characteristics defined as “Fruit-forward, spicy, enveloping where elegance, structure, fineness and balanced tannins and acidity beget wines of great substance and ageing potential.” (from Passport to Chianti Classico.pdf, www.chianticlassico.com).
Of the 510 estates, there are approx. 350 producing wineries, and from these, there are approximately 121 wineries are producing Gran Selezione. And the number of Gran Selezione wines are growing every year. Some wineries are producing more than one Gran Selezione. Before 2013 some of a winery’s wines may have been in the Riserva category, but of a higher quality, so these wines were reclassified as Gran Selezione. There are then also some wineries creating new Gran Selezione wines from scratch.
Communes of Chianti Classico
Soils of Chianti Classico
As I mentioned in my previous article the major soil types in Chianti Classico cover:
- Alberese: Marl (Clayey Limestone)
- Galestro: Schistous Clay
- Macigno Toscano: Sandstone
- Argilla: Clay
With these soil types offering different characteristics to the wines. If you view the Commune map and the soil map, you will see that the soil map boundaries do not follow the Commune map boundaries.
Alberese gives balanced expressive wines with limestone minerality.
Galestro retains water more and keep the vines cool in the summer and gives denser fuller structured wines.
Macigno Toscano, being sandstone, is quick draining giving paler fragrant wines.
Argilla gives power, smoothness and fullness to the wines.
Most vineyards are located in 200-500m asl in Chianti Classico. A few vineyards are pushing up to 600m asl. With climate change the higher altitude vineyards allow the wineries to get individual flavours from the grapes compared to lower hotter regions where grapes can get overripe and the flavours muddled.
As you can see, Chianti Classico is a very complex region.
An interactive Google map of the Chianti Classico region (Sorry no boundaries of the communes).
In the 1980s, one of the most famous research projects Chianti Classico 2000, when vineyards had lesser quality Sangiovese clones. The researchers identified clones, rootstock, and the density of vineyards to determine what would produce better quality wine for the region. They identified clones that produce lower yielding grapes, looser bunches, and that ripen earlier as it is a finicky grape to ripen where the sugar and phenolics are ripe at the same time. There are not lots of old vines in Chianti Classico as they were replanted with clones that produce better quality vines. The researchers are now looking at better clones of other indigenous varieties.
We were told to taste the first wine that is 100% Sangiovese, and note the aromas and flavours, then when we try the blends, to determine what aromas and flavours the added grapes contribute to the wine. It was quite interesting. Our first wine to taste was by Castello di Albola. All these wines have BC wine agents, so please seek out the wines on your own, or on a restaurant wine list.
My Wine Notes and Reviews
Castello di Albola Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Santa Caterina 2015 – from the Radda commune in Chianti it is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. The vineyard is at 550m asl. It has one of the highest altitude vineyards. The vineyard is planted in galestro soil. This was our first wine to taste and to mentally compare against the other wines. The wine spent 15 months in French oak barriques, barrels and tonneaux (1/3 for each). 18 months of bottle ageing. The wine is medium plus intensity translucent garnet. Cedar, red fruit and sweet spices on the nose. Very pleasant aromas. The wine is dry, medium body with a lighter mouthfeel. Flavours of red cherries, raspberries and red apples, and possibly some salty minerality. Medium intensity, supple tannins and bright acidity. Lingering tart red fruit on the finish.
Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Riserva di Fizzano 2015 – from the Castellina commune in Chianti, the wine is made with 93% Sangiovese grapes and 7% Colorino. The vineyard is between 250-300m asl. After fermentation, the wine matures for at least 2 years in 35 hl French oak barrels with a small proportion aged in 225 l barriques. This is a historical brand from the estate and viewed as their Grand Cru. It was first produced in 1990 as a Riserva. Until 2010 the blend was 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cab Sauv and 10% Merlot. When Gran Selezione started, this wine was moved into the Gran Selezione category and they changed the blend to 95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot. The wine was changed one more time; Merlot was dropped and the blend changed to 93% Sangiovese and 7% Colorino.
This wine has a deep translucent garnet colour. A lighter intensity nose, with a hint of capsicum and very light intensity dark fruit aroma. The wine is full bodied, smooth, round and mouth-filling. Fine tannins and good acidity. Ripe, sweet dark fruit and light oak on the palate. Drying tannins on the finish. –
Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione 2015 – from the Castellina commune made with a blend of 92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia Nera and Colorino grapes. 220-550m asl vineyard. The wines spend 20 months maturation in small French oak barrels.
Fonterutoli is a tiny village and the Mazzei family owned this village since the 1400s! 25 generations of the family have run the winery. They view the wine as a mosaic of their terroir. They select grapes from portions of their 5 major vineyards spread across Chianti Classico. They divide their 5 major vineyards into 120 different vineyards and the family managed each vineyard as if it was a completely different vineyard. Trying to do what needs to be done in each vineyard parcel. These 5 different major vineyards are at different elevations and have different soils to give their wines diversity. They keep these wines from these vineyards separated through vinification. They have approximately 3000 different barrels and 3000 different wines that they have to decide how to blend to give a specific personality. Their Gran Selezione is made by blending the best wines from across the estate. The blend can change every year depending on which of the 120 vineyards produced the best wine.
The wine has a lighter translucent garnet colour. A light, fresh fruit nose; red fruits and a hint of cedar. Medium body and acidity, dry and round with a light mouthfeel. Very flavourful showing bright tart red fruits, and Old World oak. Fine tannins. Some pepperiness on the finish.
Fontodi Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2015 – a single vineyard, Vigna del Sorbo, with 50+ year old vines, located in the southern end of Greve. 450m asl vineyard with mixed soil of galestro and alberese. The higher elevation gives them hot days and cool evenings. This organic wine spent 24 months in bottle ageing. It is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. The first vintage was 1985 as Riserva until the change to Gran Selezione. This wine is almost opaque garnet in colour. It has a very light, red fruit and Old World oak nose. It is fuller bodied, soft, with a round, thick mouthfeel. Quite fruity with red fruit flavours. Some Old World oak and possibly sweet vanilla flavours as well. Drying tannins on the finish.
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione 2013 – from the Barberino Tavarnelle commune near Florence. 350 – 490m asl vineyard. This wine is made with 90% Sangiovese, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Syrah, and 1% Petit Verdot. All estate grapes. I believe the Sangiovese, Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot are fermented separately in open top tank vats with 3-4 weeks of maceration, with delestage (means shedding in French) and punch down. The Syrah undergoes a short pre-fermentation cold soak in stainless steel with 10 days maceration and then pressed into barrels with some residual sugar and allowed to ferment dry very slowly. The wine spends 2 years in barriques and 6 months in large casks after blending.
In 2006 the family created their first, what is now, Gran Selezione wine. He wanted to use his best wines, including international varieties. Every year the blend is not the same. They try to find the best expression of Chianti Classico along with using international varieties each year. They are close to the sea breezes in the west keeping the area cool. Each year Sangiovese percentage increases and in 2013 it is at 90%. The winemaker really thinks that Syrah adds some complementary aromas and flavours to the wines at all Chianti Classico levels. The grapes for Gran Selezione are always picked from the highest vineyards on the alberese soil.
This wine is opaque garnet in the glass. Medium intensity nose showing ripe red fruit and cedar aromas. It is fuller bodied, dry and round with thicker mouthfeel, medium acidity and some minerality. It has a mix of ripe rich red and black fruit flavours, plus Old World oak. Quite fruity. Medium grippy tannins on the finish. I could classify this as a New World Style red blend.
Dievole Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigna di Sessina 2015 – from the Castelnuovo Berardenga commune. 220m asl vineyard in sandy soil, Macigno Toscano. This wine is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes and spends 17 months in 41 hl untoasted French oak barrels. The wine is fermented in concrete egg. It is medium translucent garnet in colour. It has a very light red fruit and dusty nose. It is dry, medium body with a lighter mouthfeel. Medium acidity. Raspberries, red fruits, floral and a touch of Old World oak on the palate. Medium length with some grippy tannins on the finish. Polished. Nice texture. Light delightful. –
Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigneto San Marcellino 2013 – from the Monti region (Gaiole commune), San Marcellino vineyard. 400 – 520m asl. Made with 93% Sangiovese and 7% Pugnitello grapes. We were told that the Pugnitello provides structure, colour, and smoothness to the blend. The wines spent 24 months in barriques (54%) and tonneaux (46%) of Allier oak (20% new wood, 10% 3 years, and 70% 4 years old). 24 months at least of bottle ageing. An organic wine, with the vineyard being certified in 2010. The wine is about 99% opaque black garnet in colour. It has a ripe, sweet deep black fruit and raisiny aromas. The wine is fuller bodied with medium plus acidity. Thicker mouthfeel, and either very fruity or off-dry. Very flavourful showing ripe sweet black fruits, and touches of floral violet and oak. Medium fine tannic finish.