Sangiovese sales continue to increase because Canadians know quality, diversity and excellence when they taste it
As seen in Chianti Classico Magazine, September 2021
As the year 2018 came to a close my article “Chianti Classico’s Canadian dream” was published in Chianti Classico Magazine. The sub-text was “embracing the most noble of Italy’s Sangiovese,” a notion near and dear to a Canadian heart, not only that of my own, but one that speaks to tens of thousands of others in this great country. Il sogno Canadese del Chianti Classico abbraccia il più nobile dei Sangiovese Italiani, truth spoken on behalf of a nation with a solid foundation of education and a collective palate that understands greatness, not as fashion or trend but for the purity and honesty of real wine. We are friends, partners and more than many people realize, we are soul mates, or more specifically, wine mates.
The year 2016 was when my current relationship with the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, Sangiovese and the Black Rooster began. But the connection goes back much further than that. In 1987 I was a student at the University of Siena. I returned in 1990 and 1995 for month long visits. Since May of 2016 I have visited eleven more times and tasted more than 2,000 different wines. Most recent trips in October and November of this year brought me to 20 more estates to show what’s new and refreshed in the region. This article for the Consorzio’s Magazine appeared in both English and Italian because as my Classico editor and translator Caterina Mori so painfully disclosed, “it would have been easier to transfer Whitman into Italian.” My sincere apologies to Caterina but while I tried to keep this prose as simple as possible, the words flowed as they always do. As it is said, “don’t shoot the messenger.”
Canada is still crazy about the Black Rooster after all these years
Il Canada è ancora pazzo del Gallo Nero dopo tutti questi anni
How can the relationship between Canada and Chianti Classico be expressed in terms we can all understand? Shall we say they go together like Finocchiona and Tuscan bread, Bistecca Fiorentina and white beans, Burrata and tomatoes? Canadians adore the stony-mineral, red cherry and earthy-savoury-sapidity of Sangiovese, especially when it comes from vines grown in the calcareous limestone, sandstone and marl soils of the territory delineated in 1716 between the cities of Siena and Florence. Alberese, Macigno, Pietraforte and yes also the Galestro-strewn terroir in Chianti Classico’s eight communes are considered the finest Italian landscapes to please a Sangiovese-loving Canadian palate.
The shared history between Chianti Classico producers and their northerly North American resident easily dates back more than five decades and without interruption. In fact Canadians have continued to purchase, enjoy, appreciate and educate themselves on their favourite Tuscan wines. As the upstairs neighbour to the United States, Canada is home to a most polite and respectful community of 38 million residents, as multiculturally diverse as any nation on earth and while surely not without problems, the country has always found a way to keep calm and carry on. Drinking Chianti Classico has surely helped in that regard.
In the summer of 2020 the partners at WineAlign joined virtual hands with the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and the producers to orchestrate a different kind of sensory experience. They created an opportunity for the region’s wines to be delivered directly to the consumer’s doorstep. Three unique Chianti Classico mixed cases, each a masterclass in a box. The project was a huge success. More than 250 cases (each of 12 bottles) were sold which amounted to $108,000 (Canadian dollars) of gross sales. In other words 3,000 bottles of all three appellative levels were consumed or added to collectors’ cellars in Ontario. Or perhaps it may be looked at as potentially 10,000 or more Canadians having had a chance to taste a new bottle of Chianti Classico. The plan hatched showed off marketing and sales at its finest.
The WineAlign “Passport” cases were a culmination of years of learning, tasting and hard work. They were the first of their kind for WineAlign and the 18 wines chosen were foremost a decision made collectively after the critics each sat down to taste through dozens of examples. The wines were also an extension of what new facets and nuances about Chianti Classico’s Sangiovese had been learned through several series of continuing education going back over many years.
More than this, Canadians have been following the ebbs, flows, vintages, frosts, stories and Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico developments with watchful eyes and great anticipation over these past eighteen months. As one of two Chianti Classico ambasciatori (along with Vancouver and Decanter Magazine’s Michaela Morris) I have worked diligently to do my part by writing about and delivering Zoom seminars/webinars to hundreds of media, sommeliers and restaurant staff in the province of Ontario and also in Québec. In 2020 and 2021 there have been 15 delivered with hundreds of attendees present online for the presentations. Dozens of Annata, Riserva and Gran Selezione were tasted together, the territory’s eight communes were considered and the multifarious soils, zones, sub-zones (zonazioni e frazioni) were discussed. More recent developments with respect to sub-dividing the region will surely be the topic for the next round of masterclasses and there is great confidence here in Ontario for many of these sessions to involve in-person learning.
The webinars were historic events as part of a partnership between Canadians and Chianti Classico. We’ve all been friends and colleagues for a long time and tasted wines together on numerous occasions. But, in the state of the world in which we have found ourselves today we had to adapt to ensure that Canadians continue to engage, drink and pour these wines. We were so thankful that so many joined and took part in this effort. We are able to do so with thanks to Consorzio Vino del Chianti Classico President Giovanni Manetti, Director Carlotta Gori, the tireless staff at the Consorzio, producers and importing agents in Canada.
Over the past four and a half years I have written about, extrapolated upon, waxed rhapsodic over and flat-out smothered Chianti Classico with hundred’s of thousands of words, reviews and tasting notes. The last time I visited Stazione Leopolda for the Chianti Classico Collection was February of 2020 just weeks ahead of the global pandemic. In my report that followed (Grande, Chianti Classico) there were reviews of 175 Chianti Classico DOCG from the previous three vintages (2018, 2017 and 2016), tasting notes that confirmed the territory’s ability to consistently achieve another level of quality. I also wrote that “all of us have to wait and see when the next visit can be possible, to again take in the hills and landscapes where Italy’s most important grape variety is grown.” That next visit is imminent, in the works, once again possible and I simply can’t wait to re-connect with the producers, the land and to again taste new vintages through the three levels of the DOCG pyramid, from eight communes and 11 UGAs.
When the great and progressive news broke back in June it was met here in Canada with excitement and a collective exclamation of bravissimo! The announcement that the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico was moving ahead with the Chianti Classico UGA project felt like a most significant and profound step forward. The significance was not lost on wine professionals in Canada in hearing that the Assembly of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium confirmed that the Gallo Nero‘s (Black Rooster) Additional Geographical Units (Ùnita Geografiche Aggiuntive or UGA) plan has been approved by a very large majority. “A project to modify the production regulations of the historic appellation, which includes two important innovations. In order to show the name of the village on the label.” When teaching seminars it seemed like every session yielded this question: “When will Chianti Classico labels begin to show where in the territory is this wine actually from?”
When I asked Consorzio Marketing Communications Manager Silvia Fiorentini when the new regulations would come into effect, Fiorentini had this to say. “We expect to be able to use the UGAs on the label next year, hopefully, but we cannot say yet which will be the first new vintage to carry the UGA names on the bottle. 2020 and 2019 could carry the UGA names if a winery can demonstrate the origin of the wine through the cellar register. The 90 per cent Sangiovese and the prohibition of using international varieties will become compulsory only from the fifth year after the approval of the new production by the qualified authorities (as in the ministry of agriculture). This is meant for the few estates that cannot comply with the new ampelographic base and need to replant vineyards.” And so this information is being passed onto the sommeliers, wine importers and Canadian media. At this stage in October of 2021 it does not seem so far off that the effects of the new UGA rules will begin to show on the shelves of Canadian wine stores.
Further news was cheerfully received regarding Giovanni Manetti, proprietor of Fontodi and his unanimous re-election to continue to lead the Vino Chianti Classico Consortium for another three-year term. Yes these will be filled full of challenges for the Chairman of the oldest wine-producers’ Consortium in Italy but Manetti will have great assistance alongside Vice-Chairmen Colpizzi and Zingarelli.
Visiting Italy has been impossible and while there is great excitement now that travel is once again possible, keeping abreast of what has been happening in Toscana has remained a great priority. In August of 2020 I published Four questions to Chianti Classico in which I posed timely questions to 17 Chianti Classico producers about their appellative wines, how and why they do what they do, plus asked for their reflections on the state of Italy’s battle with Covid-19 and projections for the 2020 harvest. I wanted to know What recent vintage would you say marked the turning point for your winemaking, to bring your wines into a place and style that speaks of your particular vineyards, their location and terroir in Chianti Classico? What or why is the reason? What mistakes have you made and how have you learned from them so that you can make better wines and the wines you need to make from your property? What defines your reasoning in how you produce Riserva and other then aging time, what truly differentiates it from your Annata? How are things going in Chianti Classico, both from the perspective of the vintage and from the pandemic?
In April of 2021 my article When frost strikes, Chianti Classico responds was published. It was noted how “in 2021 the Sangiovese vines came to life early, following a decent and mostly proper winter though one that ended in haste, turning over to warm March temperatures. And now, even if the potential for disaster has struck, hope and resilience prevails.” In that post 35 producers shared their story about the frost and what it might mean for production and quality in the current vintage. The reality is being played out at exactly this time as Chianti Classico producers conclude the 2021 harvest. A report will be published at godello.ca in the coming weeks.
Quality content is what each and every bottle of Chianti Classico harbours but does not parade and Sangiovese loves a good parade. The makers are a proud people and their noble wines always high in quality, but there is no strutting like a peacock. Producers and bottles are those of action and work ethic, each and every one standing tall for themselves. Canadians know this and there is great confidence when purchasing, no matter the estate and at which level these wines may be perched up on the pyramid. Now more than ever the future has arrived and its name is Chianti Classico, most important red wine from Italy. Soon the labels that grace these slender bottles with the Black Rooster signature image upon the front of the neck (where it needs to be) will begin to offer a deeper understanding of sub-zone, genius loci and acclimazione sottosuolo. This is where Chianti Classico will inject some highly specific Italian extract into the Canadian vein and as always, we will be an accepting, loyal, ready and willing partner. Ci vediamo a presto.
Good to go!