Tag Archives: Canaiolo

Chianti classico finds its soul

The thirty miles between Florence and Siena takes you through one of the most famous landscapes in the world of wine.  But while the landscape has enduring appeal – gently undulating hills, now smart renovated farms, vineyards, cypresses, woodlands, more vineyards, medieval towns and castles – the wine is little understood.

Line drawing from Hugh Johnson, Tuscany and its wines

This is because the second half of the last century saw this famous name go down all sorts of blind alleys.  It is an undoubtedly an historic wine but one that has only recently begun to settled down with a clear identity. The debate has focused on:

  • the zone:  the classic area was given its first designation by Cosima III de’ Medici back in 1716 but in the 1930s the name of Chianti was bestowed on a vast area of central Tuscany between Pisa and Arezzo and well south of Siena.  It was not until 1996 that the Classico zone was redefined as the historic area between the two historic Tuscan cities.  But how many consumers know the difference between Chianti Classico and Chianti?
  • mass market or quality wine? The 1970s and 80s saw subsidised expansion of  land under vine at the lowest cost and with no regard for quality and the result.  The result was a lot of IMG_5366mediocre wine.  By contrast the Chianti 2000 project undertook research into clones of Sangiovese and has enabled Chianti Classico to head in the quality direction. It was spurred on of course by the fame and fortune that was being made by those creating the Super Tuscans, wines made from French grape varieties especially on the Tuscan coast.
  • the blend: at least since the later nineteenth century this has been Sangiovese plus secondary additions of other grapes to soften the wine.  Up to 20% of the other local grape varieties (usually Canaiolo, Malvasia nera, Colorino) gives you one result; 20% of Merlot, Cabernet or Syrah a completely different one.  So should Classico be a defined Tuscan style or a international red with a Tuscan twist?
  • oak ageing: should the wines be aged in small French barriques, older or newer, or in traditional, larger Slavonian oak barrels?  Or in other words should the fruit have a suave aroma of vanilla and tobacco or the more neutral if perceptible notes of balsamic, cloves and leather?

These questions were given a pretty clear answer in a blind tasting of Chianti Classico wines from the very good 2006 vintage, mostly sourced from the Wine Society.  The selection may of course simply reflect the preferences of their buyers but it showed that Classico does now have a clear identity:

  • pale to mid ruby red
  • distinctive aromas of sour cherry, fresh and dried fruit plus a moderate veneer of oak ageing
  • an absolute maximum of 10% of non-IMG_5388Tuscan grapes.  More than that and the wines may be good but they won’t be Chianti Classico in style, whatever it says on the label
  • good fruit on the palate (but certainly not fruit led) with moderate to high acidity and tannins. The wine at this quality level is  no longer either thin or tough as it was in the past, but it is no pushover either – it is quite rightly a wine of medium intensity, complex, lively and refreshing.
  • an excellent wine to accompany food including fatty/salty food such as prosciutto or tomato based sauces; good persistence.

Chianti Classico seems to have found its proper and distinctive place in a world awash with big, fruit led, wines – and long may it continue in this style.

The wines

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Monteraponi 2006, £14

90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 12 months 70% in 23hl casks of Allier oak and 30% second passage barriques.  Pale ruby, medium intensity aromas, nice pretty palate of cherry leading in the raspberry and strawberry direction, lowish acidity, subtle.  Good plus.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Chianti Classico 2006, made by Cecchi from the Villa Cerna estate, £7.50 Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes, but the proportions not declared.  Mid ruby, not a fruity nose but spices, eg cloves, good fruit on the palate which faded in intensity quite quickly but then persisted at a lower level, good plus.  Worthwhile introduction to the style and held its own with wines up to nearly twice the price

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Villa Calcincaia 2006, £11.25

80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Merlot, 18 months in Slavonian oak.  Initially muted nose which then opened up, quite perfumed, slightly intenser than average of this field, greater acidity, powerful, quite long if not very complex finish.  The relatively substantial amount of Merlot does not dominate the wine.

IMG_5364Brolio 2006, £13 The website unhelpfully says: Sangiovese with small addition of other grapes, but probably with some French grapes in the mix because of a deeper colour with a continuing purple tinge. Very good fruit but not a clear Sangiovese profile (?Merlot), good persistence.  Very good if heading towards an international style.

Fonterutoli 2006, £16. 90% Sangiovese; 5% Malvasia Nera and Colorino; 5% Merlot.  Purply red, denser colour; rich, clove nose; velvety dense fruit, more obvious tannins, very good if slightly international in style

Villa di Vetrice, Chianti Rufina Riserva 2006, £8.50: 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo.  Not Classico of course but from the Rufina area directly East of Florence.  The most traditional wine in this tasting. Quite a dense ruby, rich and demanding, Sangiovese very dominant, more tannic than acidic, very good plus if very traditional

An older wine for comparison’s sake, with thanks to David Thomas of Caviste:  Castello dei Rampolla, Chianti Classico riserva 1998, generally viewed as a decent but not outstanding year in Tuscany. No grape variety breakdown available.  Colour very similar to the 2006s, lively pale to mid ruby red, no signs of ageing; complex nose, cloves, some red fruit, leather, fading fruit on the palate but still quite drying tannins.  Drink up.

Favourites

The clear favourite of the tasting group was the Monteraponi with its subtle ripe fruit.  Then came Brolio.  My choice was the traditional wine from Vetrice in Rufina – but that’s just a matter of which style you prefer.

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A weekend in Italy: Capezzana

As the saying goes, if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain will have to come to Mohammed.  The past weekend not only offered not only the ending of the English domestic football season with the show piece of the FA Cup final, but also a Tuscan wine tasting in Hungerford, Berkshire and Decanter’s Great Italian Fine Wine Encounter in Marylebone in central London.   Apparently the Chelsea team were staying at the Landmark Hotel for the final, venue of the tasting, but we saw no sign of them expect for a large police presence. 

The evening tasting at the wine merchant Caviste’s new Hungerford branch was a great opportunity to learn about Tuscany’s smallest fine wine area, Carmignano. What it lacks in size (only 14 producers), it makes up for in history, location and interest.   10 miles NW from Florence, the area is marked by the presence of the Tuscan nobility and especially their hunting villas and lodges. While the Medici are critical to the history of wine in the area, recent research has found documentary evidence of wine making in 804, a remarkably early date.  The Etruscan presence in the area makes it highly like that wine making was going on centuries before the Christian period. 

What really marks Carmignano out in wine terms is the custom of growing at least some Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Tuscany’s Sangiovese.  This has become commonplace in Tuscany since the success of the so-called Super Tuscans in the 1970s and 1980s, often to the detriment of the lighter, more characteristic, local grape.  However, in this area the Cabernet was introduced by the Medici in the 1700s from Bordeaux – aristocrats were talking to each other and wanting to be like each other back then, just as the Super Tuscan classic, Sassicaia was the result of an aristocrat wanting to ‘grow his own’ Bordeaux after the second world war. 

I approached these wines with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  They have a great history but I rarely like the Sangiovese ‘plus French grape variety’ wines.  You have to agree that Sangiovese is normally not a big, bold wine, but if you want big and bold there is no shortage of them either from Italy or from other countries.  The recent increase of allowed ‘other grapes’ in Chianti Classico is a case in point – there comes a critical tipping point, certainly above 15%, at which the more imposing French varieties drown out the particular charm of fresh, acidic, sour cherry Sangiovese. 

But I have to say that Carmignano has got this more or less right.  The quality appellation  (DOCG) calls for at least 50% Sangiovese, 10-20% of Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc, up to 20% Canaiolo IMG_0158nero (another local grape) plus other minor varieties.  Leading this tasting, Beatrice Contini Bonacossi explained that her family wines at the largest of the Carmignano estates, Capezzana, have stuck to the rule of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon (the twentieth century ones from Ch. Lafite no less) and 10% Canaiolo, or an 80/20 split between the two main varieties in the top wine. 

We start by tasting a good rosé, Vin Ruspo 2009 with a sweet, juicy nose, rounded with good fruit in the mouth, quite weighty and very food friendly.  Particularly good is the wine made for everyday drinking, Barco Reale 2007, named by Beatrice’s father after the noble hunting enclosure.  Here the Cabernet contributes to a wine of mid ruby colour, darker than if it were just Sangiovese, but still clearly Tuscan in style.  A good nose of violets, plum and cherry is followed by dense plummy fruit, a little bitterness and typical, if by Tuscan standards, mild acidity.  Beatrice says this her everyday bottle and you really could not complain about that! 

The premium wine is Villa di Capezzana, in this case, 2006.  The wine, 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, is aged in tonneaux for 12-15 months, a compromise between the larger traditional barrel and the smaller French barriques.  Only 30% are new each year, so the new oak aromas are not pronounced. It is a more powerful wine, which comes at you out of the glass, with aromas of darker red fruits and some toast and perhaps even a chocolate note.  It has superb acidity and dense fruit, but the wine, even at this young age, is balanced and drinkable.  It has a long, long life ahead of it; from this great vintage it would be outstanding in 10 years time and long after that.  

The penultimate wine is a proper modern Super Tuscan, ‘pebbles of the stream’ or Ghiaie della Furba, 2006, now 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah, aged in small French barriques.  It has great fruit, from blackcurrant to plum, and an intriguing bitter, tannic finish, very Italian, the land battling back against the non-Tuscan grapes. 

After a light supper, we taste another great treasure of the estate, its Vin Santo, 2003. It is made in the traditional manner by drying of the grapes on racks for months before making wine and then long slow fermentation and maturation in very small barrels (caratelli) of a range of woods for five years.    The anticipation/anxiety must be something when you finally open those barrels with their much diminished content – is it going to be the nectar of the gods or is it going to be five years leading to nothing?  This example was definitely the former, on the drier side, one of the subtlest I have ever tasted with very grown up chestnut, raison and even herby dimensions.  Very refined, it coats the mouth and lasts and lasts and lasts. 

Capezzana have fairly recently introduced a top quality Trebbiano – not a combination of words you can often use in Tuscany!  The old war horse, the peasant’s favourite for its productivity, rarely produces anything more than a basic white accompaniment to food.  I am looking forward to tasting it, hopefully at the estate. 

This was a great introduction to Carmignano, to Capezzana, and a fine start to the Italian weekend.

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