Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione plan
by Michael Godel
I spent some time in Chianti Classico at the beginning of May. I had been to Toscana before, in 1986, 1989 and in 1995. With twenty years having passed, so much had changed and in some ways, nothing at all. What I learned this time around can’t be found in a book, online or in scattered, random tastings here in Toronto. I found people, I found place and I found progression. The wines of Chianti Classico have embarked upon an ascension into their contemporary golden age.
On September 24, 1716 the Black Rooster was born. A notice was given by the Grand Duke Cosimo III de ‘Medici who decided to demarcate the territories dedicated to the production of high quality wines to protect and to safeguard this special place, found in the hills and valleys between Siena and Florence. Three hundred years later the Gallo Nero, quintessential symbol synonymous with the Chianti Classico DOCG, is celebrating its birth.
All who serve to ride shotgun as sentinels to the profound history and quality of Chianti Classico are very sensitive and protective of the term, so the use of the full name “Chianti Classico” is essential. In Tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts, as well as press releases, articles and conversation, the omission of “Classico” is akin to liking it to that other lesser wine that shall not be named, and could result in being taken outside and subjected to some dark arts. The two names, as a matter of fact, represent two DOCG with distinct and separate production territories, histories and consortia.
Chi-anti Classi-co. Two very important words. Classic Chianti. Classical Chianti. Take away the demonstrative qualifier and what do you have. You have Chianti. With no disrespect to some very honest, simple and pleasurable Chianti produced outside of the boundaries that define Chianti Classico, the difference between the two is night and day. When you travel through the verdant, rolling hills, in and out of wine estates and villages of the region, you can’t help but feel the sense of tranquillo. Calm. You are also hyper aware of the singularity, diversity and quality of the produce. This is Chianti Classico. You do not get lazy and say I am in Chianti or I have travelled through Chianti. Per favore, Chianti Classico. In fact, the moment you leave Chianti Classico and pass through the terra cotta villages just south of Firenze the landscape changes immediately. It’s just not the same.
Image, perception and finalmente, reality, these are the truths all who feel the soul of Chianti Classico are in search of today. Today and moving forward, explaining to the world that Chianti Classico is not what you thought or think it to be. In my three full days of exploring the region I visited 10 wine estates, and no two were the same. Each have vines growing on different soils, each vinify with varying techniques and all 10 treat l’élevage of their wines with surprisingly divergent approaches. Critics comment and often complain that all Chianti Classico, Riserva and now Gran Selezione adhere to one style. They will say that because of minimum aging requirements that all wines are produced in the same way and towards the same end. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What Makes it Gran(d)
Gran Selezione must be composed of 80 to 100 per cent sangiovese and may contain up to 20 percent red grapes (indigenous or international). It is produced from a single-vineyard or from a selection of the estate’s best grapes. The minimum aging requirement is 30 months, including three months in bottle before release. The manifesto portents a wine of new typology “at the summit of a denomination’s quality pyramid.”
“The use of the name ‘Chianti Classico Gran Selezione’ depends on issue of a suitability certificate based on chemical-physical tests conducted by authorized laboratories and approval of the wine’s organoleptic characteristics by special tasting committees as per Italian Ministerial Decree 16/12/2010 concerning batches of wine destined for bottling.” Some applications were granted retroactively for the 2009 vintage.
So, what is Gran Selezione? In the simplest terms, it represents a Chianti Classico producer’s finest Riserva expression at the top of the quality pyramid. Yes, it is aged longer, for an additional six months beyond Chianti Classico Riserva. But Gran Selezione is not simply one thing; it comes as a matter of interpretation. Some producers, like Nicolò Pozzoli and Silvio Campatelli of Lornano see others releasing the same wine already made, from the same vintage, with a new label and of course, a new price. Yet others see it as an opportunity to make a Selezione as a vineyard-designate Riserva, or as cru or climat based. For some it means opportunity, freedom, revelation or, like Pietro and Valeria Losi of Querciavalle, the realization of a dream.
Some quotes from producers:
“It’s a matter of compromise between what is needed for the small producers and the need to express through crus for the larger ones.” – Stefano Capurso, Barone Ricasoli
“It is not a military position.” – Bernardo Bianchi, Colle Bereto
“It is the best block of the estate.” – Federico Cerelli, Castello di Gabbiano
“It is made in the vineyard, from the best vines and the best grapes.” – Massimiliano Biagi, Barone Ricasoli
“It is from a mico-territory within a territory, a micro climate and geology, a climat, combined by exposure and soil, together with the work of a man.” – Alessandro Palumbo, Luiano.
“It is the best selection of barrels. We taste the wine in the cellar and decide the wine that will be, to the end.”“– Iacopo Morganti, Il Molino di Grace.
“Gran Selezione begins in the vineyard, in the barrels is too late.” – Pietro Losi, Querciavalle.
“I already make my top wine so I simply now call it Gran Selezione.” – Sergio Zingarelli, Rocca delle Macie.
Perhaps you remain skeptical. You may be unclear as to the clarity of the category and perhaps you do not find whole or justifiable insight. In Chianti Classico I asked all 10 producers I met this question: “What is Gran Selezione.” All ten responded immediately, emphatically and with unequivocal determination. All 10 answers were intuitive and no two were exactly the same.
Chianti Classico is not a small wine region by any means. It is home to upwards of 70,000 hectares (177,500 acres), of which a mere 10 per cent are planted to vines. Remarkably, impossibly even, no matter where you are, you can always travel from one estate to another in what seems like 30 minutes or less, using one of multiple routes. On my last day the Consorzio’s Silvia Fiorentini and I left Il Molino di Grace in Panzano and drove southeast to Radda in Chianti. We then travelled from Radda northwest to the Consorzio’s offices in Tavernelle Val di Pesa. Then Christine Lechner drove me north to Castello di Gabbiano in Mercatale Val di Pesa but I swear we passed by Panzano and Greve on route. Chianti Classico has more exposures and angles than any wine region I have been to. It would take many years to understand where you are in relation to where you’ve been and where you are going. The wines share an identical set of diverse parameters. Singularite, diversite, qualite.
A Look to the Past
More time has been spent making dry red wine in Chianti Classico than in Piemonte’s Barolo or Barbaresco, where it was essentially Recioto until the mid 18th century. Thus, more time has been spent understanding the hills and differing terrains of the region than Piemonte for this purpose. Antinori and Brolio are families that have lived and gained an understanding in the region for centuries. Brunello has figured it out. It can certainly be done in Chianti Classico.
She may be hiding behind the scenes, but you need to know who Christine Lechner is. Christine is events coordinator for the Consorzio, and along with Silvia Fiorentini, is responsible for bringing Chianti Classico to the world. It is Giuseppe Liberatore, director of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, who directs the troops to showcase the excellence of the region’s wines.
Critics will say that Chianti Classico is living in the past. With three hundred years of beautiful and profound history, from Grand Duke Cosimo Tre de’ Medici to incumbent Consorzio President Sergio Zingarelli, you are damn right they are living in the past. Gran Selezione wines exist in a realm far beyond just a shared fleeting moment with 21 carefully selected Chianti Classico Riservas. If I could name a wine region anywhere in the world with a commensurate kinship of family, lineage, conoscenza, storia and the contiguous passing forward of tradizione I would. But I can’t.
A Look to the Future
Gran Selezione can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on producer. I do not stand alone in my need to ask many questions. Where does one truly understand the region and not just the producer? What ways can the consortium pursue to cherish their name, by not sharing it with many different versions of similar products. Can one of the producers explain the decision to raise the alcohol level requirement of the Gran Selezione? Or is it just a matter of fact, something that happens as part of the winemaking process.
How important is 100 per cent sangiovese to the GS discussion and when other varieties are blended in, does it matter if endemic ones are used, like colorinio and canaiolo, or international ones, like merlot and cabernet sauvignon? What about the decision to grandfather in some approved applications for older vintages to be labeled as Gran Selezione? How has the category progressed from the first vintage to the present one. And has the approach or the style already changed?
Is there any consideration to add subzones to the Gran Selezione label? Either in its simplest form, Siena or Florence, or more parochially, Radda, Gaiole, Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Poggibonsi, Greve, Barbaerino or San Casciano.
The Unione Viticoltori di Panzano is a recent development in the Chianti Classico region. Like Chianti Classico, they have their own logo that can be printed on labels that indicate the origin of place. The producers under one village have one common idea: to produce organic and/or biodynamic wine in and around the village just south of Greve. All of the vineyards are from 300-500 meters above sea level and represent the microclimate within the area. Whatever you think about organic, the common goal is something to appreciate.
These are all valid and important discussions going forward but the truth and the fact of the matter is simple. Barolo received DOC status in 1966, and Brunello in 1980. Gran Selezione is a very recent development and growing pains will be a necessary part of its development. Patience and perseverance will see to reward. I would be shocked if Gran Selezione is not the most sought-after red wine to come out of Italy by the year 2025. You heard me. Not just sangiovese. The most important red wine from Italy.
I tasted 21 Gran Selezione in Chianti Classico between May 11 and May 15. Click through to see my notes on WineAlign.
While in Italy, why not re-discover Prosecco with John Szabo’s recent article here.