These days of writing feature articles about a place within a commune inside a territory tells and potentially schools us about something highly profound. Riddles, mysteries and enigmas are now yielding to solutions, comprehension and understanding. The special nooks in Chianti Classico are tenderly referred to as frazioni, geographically defined pockets where vineyards and villages align for organized, like-minded production and same-belief system marketing. San Donato in Poggio is one such frazione, a hilltop village, hamlet and fraction united by the make-up of both constituents and terroir.
San Donato is found inside Barberino Tavarnelle, a new commune established on January 1, 2019 (reducing the total in Chianti Classico from nine to eight) by merging the municipalities of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. The joining of Barberino Tavarnelle is one of fourteen mergers of municipalities in Tuscany approved in recent years. On May 26, 2019 the citizens of Barberino Tavarnelle were called for the first time to the polls for the 2019 municipal elections. Mayor David Baroncelli was elected.
Going back in time the near-northerly and fully-westerly section of Chianti Classico saw Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa as border cousins sharing one particular mitigating and characterizing commonality; a ridge running from the southeast to the northwest affectionately housing the vineyards and paeselli of the people of San Donato in Poggio. SDP may not be household named to all but it’s surely the most prominent and prestigious of the angling, corrugated crests running through the entirety of the greater territory.
The Evolution of Chianti Classico
What was controversial only three or fours years ago is now part of everyday, commonplace discussion. While the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico has yet to take an official stance on frazioni, especially with regards to labelling or menzione geografica, the fact is they are open-minded and even encouraging towards promoting the associations in search of marketing for their collective soul. Several years ago it was Roberto Stucchi of (Gaiole’s) Badia a Coltibuono who spoke about the “The Evolution of Chianti Classico.” Stucchi wrote “this zone is too large and diverse to remain locked in the current DOCG regulations, which make no distinction between the extremely diverse expressions of Sangiovese in its original territory. The first natural level of evolution above the simple “Chianti Classico” appellation would be naming the commune [township] of origin of the grapes for wines that truly represent their territory. The next step would be to define the village appellations, the smaller zones that are distinctive and that would clearly define some of the top wines in the appellation. So we could have Panzano, Monti, Lamole, as possible zones as well as the many others that have a common geography and history. This type of classification wouldn’t eclipse the current definitions of Classico, Riserva, Gran Selezione.”
Without being able to categorize by geological commonality the defining of sub-zones is always somewhat arbitrary, conceived of subjective opinion and potentially discriminatory to fringe participants, either for reasons of location or ideology. Borders can’t be drawn underground and to try do so above is nearly impossible. The only way is seemingly by commune but in the case of San Donato in Poggio, the namesake village situated upon its prominent ridge allows for its constituents to double down on the prospect.
A great big hug
The San Donato in Poggio room is tied together by climate in a well-bounded area affected by the mistral wind coming off of the Tyrrhenian Sea wafting in from the northwest natural corridor of Monte Serra between Pisa and Lucca. Winters are warmer than the Chianti Classico interior average while summers are cooler and windier. Bud break comes early, seasons are stretched longer and later hang-time allows for top quality phenolics. While finesse and elegance are the two go-to descriptors, those of glycerin and high-toned grip should also be considered. San Donato’s are some of Chianti Classico’s sneakiest tannins, shrouded in the beauty of these wines in their youth. Potential and possibility for great longevity is a hallmark trait of SDP’s sangiovese. If you are looking for comfort or a hug in Chianti Classico, you’ve come to the right place.
Rocks in common
San Donato in Poggio’s lifted ridge is typical of the Ligurian sea’s platform push but here the cause and effect is two-fold. Flysch (an alternating sequence of sedimentary limestones, sandstones, and shales, the beds of which are thin, regular, and alternating) is this frazione‘s ace up the sleeve. That and the Galestro (schisty clay with friable white, grey, blue and charcoal rocks) typical of the greater territory are the soils with which all of these producers have in their vineyards to some varying degree. It may be argued that no other commune, village or valley shares such distinctly common terroir. Some compact limestone (like Alberese) exists as well but in some cases it is the Galestro clay and rock known as the Iolithium Unit that is found in large, hard and ghostly white Colombini that separates San Donato from the rest of the territory. Of great interest is to see how the sliding of the two platforms caused on the contact surface and the composition of blue clays prevents water loss in the deep layers. This creates natural availability of water, essential during drought vintages. Now you know where to look for 2017 Chianti Classico.
Associazione Viticoltori di San Donato in Poggio
The association of thirteen producers began their collective journey on January 24, 2018. Their total land holdings add up to just under 2000 hectares, 20 per cent of which are planted to vineyards. “A time of change and exchanging ideas,” explains association secretary and Podere La Cappella’s Natascia Rossini. “Here there is a longer growing season and we tend to harvest late” and yet two years ago just a couple degrees cooler in temperatures meant that the frazione avoided damaging frost, with help from the winds blowing in 60-70 kms away from the coast. While it is difficult to find a commonality within a sub-zone, you can agree that the climate here is consistent throughout.
The manifesto translates as such. “Passion for our lands and its fruits, a unique territory and culture in the world, a common treasure: wine. We are a group of winemakers, from a small but prodigious Chianti Classico area gathered between the municipalities of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Barberino Val d’Elsa, who want to protect (or preserve) and make their secular agricultural, historical and cultural tradition known highlighting their wine excellence, as well as the characteristics that distinguish them, emphasizing the importance of climatic and geological aspects.”
The thirteen members currently ensconced in the all for one directive are Badia a Passignano, Casa Emma, Casa Sola, Castello delle Paneretta, Castello di Monsanto, Fattoria La Ripa, Fattoria Montecchio, Fattoria Quercia al Poggio, Fattoria Spadaio e Piecorto, Isole e Olena, Le Filigare, Podere La Cappella and Poggio al Sole. The following are 21 examples from the association’s 13 members (plus three likely soon to join) tasted in September 2019 with Alberto Albisetti at Castello delle Paneretta and with Paolo de Marchi at Isole e Olena.
Presented by Stefano Carpaneto. From Barberino Tavarnelle and well entrenched in the association of vintners in San Donato in Poggio. Surprisingly high toned but also immensely structured in a 100 per cent sangiovese Gran Selezione. You can really feel both the calcari inlaid and braided through the Galestro clay by a richness albeit under the influence of the highest tone. Gains flesh, bone and energy as it goes. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted September 2019
From Paolo Paffi off of 25 hectares at 450m in production of 95,000 bottles. San Donato sangiovese with five per cent each canaiolo and malvasia nera, 70 per cent raised in tonneaux and 30 in Inox tank. What’s good for goose is great for sangiovese and so 60 are employed in the vineyard, helping to release the compaction in the clayey Galestro soil. Classic in every expected respect, in the specific savour, motivating intensity, high tonality, deeply good and plenty cherry fruit. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted September 2019
A 120 hectare property owned and operated by a Genovese family, third generation now. The Gambaro Family has been in Barberino Tavarnelle since 1960; Giuseppe, Claudia and their children, Matteo and Anna. Some canaiolo, cabernet sauvignon and colorino augment the sangiovese, for one year in barrel. A sapid and savoury sangiovese snack of red fruit deepening to dark and sullen. Deep toned wine. Really deep. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted September 2019
Presented by Alberto Albisetti, owner of the Castello della Paneretta. A mix of fruits fresh and dried mark the basket of this San Donato sangiovese, with 10 per cent canaiolo and (five) colorino off of 23 hectares of vines. Dry and duty, red ropey, some liquorice and a real estate cuvée blended from vines across the estate. True blue stylistic from large 5000L French barrels. Old school in some ways, classic, like old Rioja. Perfect for the style. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted September 2019
Showing in the only way Castello di Monsanto can, with forest scents, of cypress and all the brush you can shake into the fine liquid of a sangiovese off of these San Donato hills. Mainly Galestro schisty soils bringing the essential balance, along with some volcanic tufo. It all adds up to a posit tug between freshness and structure. Experience tells us that the possibility exists for 2016 to go long like 1968. Perhaps. Last tasted September 2019
Annata of 90 per cent sangiovese with both canaiolo and colorino, traditional, loyal and streaked by the Galestro qualified off this ridge extended out of San Donato in Poggio. Juicy, fresh and forward, expressive of the vintage, not so muscular. Sangiovese like going home and crawling into the bed you slept in as a child. Drink 2018-2030. Tasted September 2018
Il Poggio from the San Donato in Poggio Galestro and Flysch has barely even climbed the hill of its first stage. Not even sure it has left the stable and surely has no current aspirations of making it to the fortress. The seventh year should show the first signs of initial ascent and transitions into secondary life. Formidable structure and presence are in surround of fruit from one of Chianti Classico’s most distinguished cru. Last tasted September 2019
The cooler, cloudy vintage has been taking its time to emerge and 2018 is now live, in the present and in the flesh, ready for its time. This is confirmed by the grand artist known as Riserva from perhaps the most iconic hill in all of Chianti Classico. Still bright, effusive and not fully ready to let its tannin melt away. The sangiovese component is in the 90-95 per cent range, again with canaiolo and colorino coming around to complete the whole. The tension persists and the tannic structure in this “Selezione” is much tighter than the Annata or the first, non terroir specified Riserva. Still hard to believe how grippy this is. A soon to come epiphany with the 1968 helps to explain Il Poggio’s phenomenon. As a racer Monsanto’s Riserva 2013 is Marco Pantani, greatest climber of a generation, with so much grandiosity, potential and possibility, straight to the top of Il Poggio. Drink 2020-2030. Tasted September 2018
Though not in the association Le Masse is unequivocally a San Donato in Poggio institution, under the auspices of brother and sister Robin and Lea Mugnaini, owners and winemakers. Theirs out of Barberino in Val d’Elsa vineyards is a child of natural fermentation, has been organic 10 years and two as biodynamic. No sulphur, no pumps, all manual, a mano. This 2016 is the last year of barrel use, of those in their fourth year. The solo/varietal Annata is 100 per cent sangiovese of high energy, intensity and impressively developed structure, linear and so driven. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2019
Presented by winemaker Nicholas Caramelli, La Ripa farms 12 hectares in Chianti Classico divided into two valleys, one marked by Alberese, the other alluvial deposits. Ten clones of sangiovese adding up to 90 per cent of the Annata, with other native varieties. Quite high-toned and graced by liquorice inflected red fruit, a touch leathery and dry. Only stays in tonneaux for six months. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted September 2019
Presented by Riccardo Nuti, of 95 per cent sangiovese with alicante in big (33hL) barrels for aging. The vineyard source happens to be the most recently planted, with a combination of Galestro and Flysch (rhythmic alternations of sandstone and fine-grained layers that contain siltstones, silty shales, and clayey shales) to the south of San Donato. Last tasted September 2019
Quite reductive and wound with a tightness that moves the adage one step up the rung, the one that says sangiovese needs time. For ’16 it’s a matter more pressing and a story yet to be told. It’s tart but so very layered and there’s a feeling of Galestro here, with a darker chalky texture and mouthfeel. Perhaps not the same weight as 2015 but more power and structure by a mile. It’s about preference of style and vintage variation. You may have to drink 15s while this waits two or three years before seeing the glory unfold. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted February 2019
Alberto Fabbri is also not yet a member of the San Donato in Poggio association and his work from vineyards in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa is exquisite. A combination of reduction and cured meat, pancetta, from Galestro soils at 300m with five per cent canaiolo. Even finer touch from the most excellent 2016. Drink 2020-2024. Tasted September 2019
Isole E Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($34.95, 704346)
Was finally bottled in July, to be released in February. “I like 2016, it’s a very different vintage.” As usual there is 15 per cent canaiolo mixed in. Why Canaiolo? “Because it’s from here. And it’s a late ripening variety like sangiovese, and also not heavy and jammy like merlot.” Canaiolo is like sangiovese in that it must be selected and used in very particular ways. Paolo’s is actually a darker depth of fruit from 2016 while the spice is so much more sophisticated. There is so much wisdom now, more than even before and a calm, settling depth about this wine. Last tasted November 2018, February and September 2019
Chianti Classico 2016 is composed of 80 per cent sangiovese, (15) canaiolo and (5) syrah, which since the 1980s has always held a spot, in fact it may have been as much as 10 two plus decades ago. Paolo de Marchi explains.”Syrah in my opinion, was really about thinking, about blending in an earlier ripening variety.” It also added colour, not for quality necessarily, but for pleasure. “If I were a consultant I don’t think I would recommend to plant it anymore.” But Paolo loves it, its bright acidity and lower pH, and loves the warmth. You can feel the liquid peppery hug from the combination of canaiolo and syrah in the constitution of this CC and now a new texture evolved from a traditional one, clearly passed on through generations. It is spoken in the clarity of this 2016, but it has taken decades to arrive here. Finessed, soft tannins and an effulgent acidity wrap fruit chewy and yet very crisp. Singular again and alone but quicker to please, at least for now. Perhaps it too will shut down in 2019. Perhaps not. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted February 2018
Poured from magnum. Should we expect an Isole e Olena ’13 to be the least unusual in the appellation? Yes. While higher in acid and lift it’s more a representation of the land and the soils, but also the style. In a way a classic vintage because grapes hung into October. Quite youthful, an uprising of energy, a pump up, not over. Quite seamless and full of Paolo de Marchi pride. Spice and strength, fortitude and extension. Last tasted September 2019
Quite the syrupy aromatic liqueur fills the glass for the ripe and nearly floral brooding Chianti Classico from I e O out of the gregarious 2013 vintage. The stylistic makes me think Riserva but that just says so much about the quality and layering of the fruit. More than ample tart and variegated acidity up the equanimity and longevity factor so the house’s ability with Chianti Classico of less time in barrel is once again confirmed. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted February 2017
Poured from magnum. A beautiful vintage, certainly apposite to the challenge of wet, stretched then long 2013. A vintage with fine tannins that developed early enough and without much compromise to elongated structure. A top notch sangiovese vintage from which a great Cepparello was extracted. Wow factor winding and circling, dramatic and savoury with all the bushes and herbs magnified as they will be. Magnum perhaps but if nine years has only beget this, well then surely nine plus nine more will soothsay forward towards the secondary and tertiary numbers. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted September 2019
Presented by Alessandro Cassetti Burchi, proprietor of the smallest producer in the San Donato in Poggio association. Vineyards at 450m and from a winemaker who strikes an uncanny resemblance to American rock legend Tom Petty. With five per cent each colorino and canaiolo raised only in old barriques. Quite rich and savoury, of maritime pine, comfortable, old school, long developed with help from extended, even late harvests. So charming. This sangiovese belongs amongst the wildflowers, by a house in the woods, where “I ain’t got a neighbour for nine or ten miles, back in the tall pines.” Drink 2019-2023. Tasted September 2019
Presented by Ivan Batignani, from the family with a presence in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Immensely and incredibly rich in acidity and tannins over some pretty solid and heady fruit. Big Slavonian oak. Big aging, big vessels, big wine, all in balance. A 100 per cent sangiovese that still needs time. Last tasted September 2019
The combination of Poggibonsi and Barberino val d’Elsa is Ormanni’s trump card, a straddling of commune borders that creates the ideal estate Annata in perfect alignment. It’s really layered and sumptuous, old school at heart but clear, pure and honest, always looking straight ahead. There’s no rusticity but there is this red fruit beauty that reminds of days of yore. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted February 2019
Dugentanni, as in two hundred years, a reference to contiguous ownership by the Brini Batacchi family. The oldest vineyards in western Barberino Val d’Elsa supply the fruit for Ormanni’s top level sangiovese and one held back with traditional territory patience before its release to market. More loyal to the past then many, with a crisp clarity and the kind of Gran Selezione that wafts with nonno’s pipe tobacco flavour. Tells a story of tradition with unclouded vision and empathy for both family and place. Really smart Classico and ready to be enjoyed. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2019
Presented by Michaela Rossi. Located on the hill in front of Paneretta, of 100 hectares with only 15 planted. Maximum altitude is 300m with 360 degrees of exposition. Organic practices since ’97 and officially certified since 2009. Clay and Galestro terroir with sangiovese, ciliegiolo, canaiolo, malvasia nera and colorino. This Annata is 80 sangiovese with the rest in 20 parts. One year in concrete after spending a year in wood. Terrific energy and balance, a wildly vibrant and driven Annata with great presence and intuition. Structure too. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2019
From Vittorio and Michaela Rossi and their best fruit from an amphitheatre of a hillside vineyard as rich in clay of any found in San Donato is Poggio. Pockets of Galestro and limestone take on some responsibility for the grip ins and structural outs of this glycerin beauty of a sangiovese but rich fruit is the catalyst and the star. That said there is a sculpted or architectural notation mixed with the excellence that this frazione in this commune (Barberino Tavarnelle) is able to provide and prove from a vintage of mixed feelings. The feelings are obvious from 2013 and for Quercia al Poggio, of sumptuousness and delight. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted September 2019
Always something completely other. From vines six to seven years old. A blend of sangiovese (90) and 10 merlot. The elixir that the others in San Donato are not, a gentle syrup, a sweetly endowed savour and a texture silky fine. Last tasted September 2019
Only San Donato in Poggio delves into this kind of specific calcaire, the Colombino in lieu of most other’s Galestro. The coolest of notes are broken down and fragmented in mimic of the soil and run like a river of savoury stone through stratified fruit. There is a perception of sweetness, imagined as perfectly ripe, low-lying fruit in early summer. But the sweetness is just a dream because with such a level of mineral, not salty but sapid, it is impression that supersedes expression. The young vines are growing up before our noses and eyes, lending impeccable balance in the here and now, with appreciable development laid out ahead. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2018
Presented by Project Manager Valentino Davaz. “Hill at the sun,” and the most northerly winery in the association of San Donato in Poggio, near to the abbey of Badia a Passignano. Organic and at good elevation, at 420m with five per cent each canaiolo and also merlot, in one quarter barriques for one year. One of the more wooded wines in the lot, lush, rich and silky smooth. Needs time to submit and gently glide into that sunset over the hill. Drink 2020–2024. Tasted September 2019
Presented by Sonia Gianni. Bonomonte is situated in front of the Paneretta hill in Barberino and their Annata’s sangiovese is blended with five per pent each canaiolo and colorino. A production that has been in play since 1982, the 2016 goes for the entirety of the vintage, a bit pressed with some overripe fruit and drying tannins. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted September 2019
Good to go!