Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The greatest wines are considered as the ones that talk to us, connect with that part of our being that elicits sensory and emotional responses, feelings of zeitgeist and great release. Throughout the course of a year I taste thousands in my glass, countless banal, innumerable competent, others correct and many exceptional. Then there are the rare and peerless capable of altering time and space, chosen ones that after listening we then speak directly to. The mind-blowing wines.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

This is what I might say to such a splendid creature. “I look upon the flash of your sheen, you a wine of scientific strategies. Your aromatics sum up for me my educational studies in science and lifelong memories. Your flavours remind me of experiments in vinous physics, your textures of exercises in galactic mechanics. Your structure recalls infinite chemical reactions and architectural engineering. Your energy, though carefully controlled, threatens to ignite and destroy my laboratory and yet binds my existential life together. You blow my mind.

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

Last year’s 20 for 20 was a much different list than ever before. Only 25 days of travel and while I did finally make a return to global discovery that number was even less in 2021. Two trips to Italy and one to B.C. in October and November. Once again just 25 days in total. A yearly schedule usually adds up to 100-plus but fortune also shines on the critics of WineAlign. Through quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing we still managed to taste through thousands of wines. I recorded well and above 4,000 tasting notes in 2021 so it would appear that palate discovery is still alive and well. For the first time ever there are three dessert wines on the list because well, stickies just don’t get enough love. And never before have I included a Canadian wine because I pen a separate list for local but a Thomas Bachelder chardonnay is wholly deserving of going global. These are Godello’s 21 mind-blowing wines of 2021.

Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG 2001, Lombardy

A blend of chardonnay and pinot nero matured on lees for 218 months and a further 31 months after disgorgement. Zero dosage, tirage in June 2002. Tasting from “the stolen bottle,” and one would swear there is some sweetness in this wine, offset by twenty year-old persistent and rising acidity. The state of grace and ability this 2001 finds itself sitting royally in is quite something to behold. Stands firm and can stride with most any 20 year-old sparkling wine. A simple fact tells us that Arturo Ziliani’s father Franco and Guido Berlucchi decided to create sparkling wines in Franciacorta. They are the pioneers. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2002

The year 2002 dubbed as “ode to nature” marked the first Krug “vintage of the millennium” and was presented after Krug 2003, just as Krug 1988 left the cellars after Krug 1989. A clement year, relatively dry to make for a homogeneous harvest. The blend is 39 per cent pinot noir, (40) chardonnay and (21) pinot meunier. Disgorgement would have been in the autumn of 2015 after having spent at least 13 years in Krug’s cellars. All this tells us that the vintage is one treated to great respect with the acumen to age seemingly forever. This bottle shows some advancement but mostly in toasted and spiced notes while acting so expertly oxidative, in total control of its own and also our senses. Smells of orange skin, zesty and by citrus spray, then pickled ginger and wild fennel. Tasted blind it feels just exactly 20 years old but it’s not hard to be tricked into imagining even older. I admit to guessing 1995 with thanks to a presentation of at once wildly exotic and then exceptional bubbles. Just a matter of being hoked up with celebration. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Kabola Malvazija Amfora 2017, Istria, Croatia

Kabola’s is malvazija istarska raised in traditional clay amphorae in combination with oak barrels. Kabola is found in Buje, not far from the coast and south of Trieste. While the combination of clay and wood seem to confuse or blur the game there is something wholly credible and intriguing about this wonderful aromatic mess. You can not only smell and sense but more deeply intuit the phenolic qualities inherent in here. Skins, pips and even a bit of herbaceous stem. Peach and orange tisane, exotic spice and high, high quality lees. Great winemaking here in the context of leaving your grapes to do the work but both timing and execution are spot on. Raises the varietal bar and shows what’s possible. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted April 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A wine in which the switch has been flicked at least five times, at least three past the family’s preference but let’s be frank. This is a fascinating Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine to taste. Oxidative in the most beautiful way, sapid and laden with 23 year-old tang. Very much a young adult of confidence and swagger borne out of phenolic fruit maturation. A long-hanging vintage, a note of botrytis, a late harvest sensation but truly salty, mineral and showing the biodiversity in clones and vineyards that one would expect a white blend of this ilk to display. Just a terrific example of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco in their arena of characterful array. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside “North Slope, Starry Skies” Chardonnay 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

New in the pantheon for Bachelder and Niagara wines as an entity is this from Grimsby Hillside, the new frontier, next level up and future for the industry. In fact the time is already upon these precocious vines and their fruit specially formulated for the most wound and cinched kind of chardonnay, so precipitously witnessed in Thomas Bachelder’s “North Slope, Starry Skies” 2019. The vineyard was planted to vitis labrusca and used for Kaddish wine through the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and just less than 20 years ago re-purposed to vinifera. Just two decades later winemakers like Thomas and Ilya Senchuk have discovered the magic of possibility and greatness of probability. Tasted this first in July with Thomas though it had just gone to bottle. Now the textural level of this GH-N triple-S has hitherto arrived at the immaculate, sweetly viscous, gleefully gelid and just right there at the apex of sensory enjoyment. Tight and delicious is a good combination. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

With Sofia Ponzini and Vico

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre-Phylloxera 2018, DOC Etna

Just another immediately memorable Piano dei Daini Etna Rosso Vico, Sofia Ponzini’s Cru-Vigna nerello mascalese (with 10 per cent nerello cappuccio) at 700m from the northern side of Mount Etna. Grown as alberello on a volcanic, sandy matrix with some stones from 100-plus-plus pre-phylloxera vines located in the town of Passopisciaro, Contrada Santo Spirito, parcels “Belvedere,” “Seimigliaia” and “Calata degli Angeli.” A tempest of steel and a feeling that runs with waves of acidity throughout, in many parallel and horizontal lines, at all levels. Spice cupboard, rich waves of red fruit, viscous wisdom, confidential and confident elegance, finishing at precision without recall. True value, scattered patterning, significant and relevant. A vintage of force, restraint and powerful lightness of being. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2021

Domaine De Bellene Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Aux Chaignots 2019, AOC Bourgogne

The limestone soil Climat of Chaignots lies in the northern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges, up the slope and edging in location but also feeling towards that of Vosne-Romanée. The affinity is much discussed, real and therefore puts the Premier Cru at the top of what is most desired out of Nuits-Saint-Georges. A tiny (0.14 hectare) plot and simply a coup for Nicolas Potel to be able to secure this fruit. Everything about the aromatic front speaks to the Bourgogne mind and Chaignots heart. Cola but from the root, a tuber underground rubbed, that and a cocoa nut crushed between fingers. An almost diesel waft but not gaseous, instead sapid, nut-based, a liqueur toasted and intoxicating. The fineness of structure is the sort of wiry winding by winch that could cut through limbs due to tension so taut. All that you know, love, don’t know and hope to experience is in this wine. Neither I nor Nicolas Potel will be around when it blows someone’s mind in 2074. Look forward to that day young Alphonse. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted May 2021

Angela Fronti, Istine

Istine Chianti Classico DOCG Vigna Istine 2019, Radda in Chianti, Tuscany

One must have to look at, walk this and stand in awe of of this vineyard, the steepness at 30-50 per cent grade with a terrace in the middle to break it up. Heavy in Alberese inclusive of massive yellow calcareous boulders and also Galestro. In fact the medium stones removed were transferred to create terraces for olive trees on the other side of the cantina (by Angela Fronti’s father no less). The vineyard faces north so the freshness is off the charts, while the ripeness is so matter of purposeful vintage fact. The label represents the position of the vines in coordinates, echoed in the machicolations of a Fronti sangiovese that drops all the Radda stones on unsuspecting palates through fruit openings between supporting acid corbels of a projecting tannic parapet. Vigna Istine is at the forefront of Chianti Classico’s battle to win over the world. Follow this example. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

“Molto parfumato,” binds an aromatic agreement between myself and Paolo de Marchi upon sniffing this ’11 found on Locanda Pietracupa’s wine list. “Cepparello needs time,” says Paolo, understatement of the obvious for the evening, year, decade and history with respect to sangiovese grown in the Chianti Classico territory. Also truth succinctly spoken, roses and violets exhaling and a 100 per cent varietal (or so it seems) profile of succulence and one to fully draw you in. Mint to conifers, multiplicity by complexity value, not to mention vigorous acidity sent straight to a mouth with a full compliment of wisdoms able to think about the situation. A linear Cepparello seeing its wide open window at the 10 year mark. And now a Paolo de Marchi story. “One side of the vine’s grapes were burnt and so I called up (Consorzio Direttore Giuseppe) Liberatore and asked are we changing the name of the appellation? Liberatore said what? To Chianti Amarone replied de Marchi, or sangiovese Port? Joking aside, a stringent selection and a five per cent inclusion of trebbiano did for this ’11 Cepparello what viognier might do for syrah. Not a Chianti Classico so perfectly kosher. A secret until now but all above board. Totally cool. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Filo di Seta is Filippo Chia’s intuitive “transavanguardia” sangiovese of place, over the ancient beach where he and his father Sandro once painted the Montalcino sea. Mostly early picked fruit, all in tonneaux, at first thinking “croccante” but that’s too simple a way to describe what texture and sensation is combed in this reserve wine. Bottled on the 29th of June so just arriving at the ready, to look at if not to consume. Here there is a fineness of liquid chalkiness, a “fluido” or “scorrevole” to drive the way this sangiovese plays and also sings, a Riserva to move with the wind and musical sway. Somewhat unknown, finely tannic and clearly what could and should be described as “mountain” Brunello. Coming in late is the spice, almost cinnamon and such. Hate to refer to any wine as the best from an estate but too bad. That this is, beyond the avant-garde such as it is. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

The longevity of this vintage is almost not to be believed. Has been in bottle for as many years as it would have matured in casks. The next year (2022) will se the re-release of this vintage (in 2021 that vintage was 1983) and the year 1985 is the one I entered university. A Biondi-Santi of resolved tannin but remarkably youthful. A wine that saw Grandi Botti more than before, seen in the gentlest of spice notes and the back to the future return of balsamic and pomegranate. Followed a winter of major snowfall, long and cold winter, a regular spring and uneventful summer. The acidity is just incredible, also youthful and so sweet, those lengthened tannins in liquid powdery-chalky form. The connection with 2016 may seem to be an uncanny one but so help me if the chain is not there. The bottle was opened one hour and forty five minutes earlier so grazie to Federico Radi and Biondi-Sandi for perfecting the timing. We can all learn so much from this wine, to be patient, calm, well-adjusted, confident and gracious. Style and temperament to live by. Should continue this way for at least 10 more years. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany

A cooler vintage, especially as compared to 1978 and truly a Piedmontese style because the cellar workers closed the tanks, went on strike and returned two months later. Resulted in some carbonic maceration and surely an increased amount of vim in freshness. That mixed with true porcini, fungi and fennochiona. The extended maceration makes this act 43 years forward like an older nebbiolo, rich and once demanding tannins now long since melted away, tar and roses still showing with earthly perfume. Fabulous mouthfeel, lingering and lively. Surely the mean steak astringency would have been in control during the first 10 to 15 years but the beast relents and gives way to charm. Patience breeds gentility and the story is now unfolding. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

With Stefano Cesari, Brigaldara

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016, Veneto

Stefano Cesari’s farm concerns itself with all things sustainable and while that may seem like a catch phrase, In Brigaldara’s case it most surely is not. The family supports its workers financially, culturally and in health. The young winemaking team is encouraged to study and stage abroad, to learn new oenological skills and languages. The other farm workers and their families are additionally supported by being given stake in the profits of the farm. How can this not reflect in the qualities of the wines, including this very special vintage 2016 Amarone. A magnificent wine and one you can easily drink beyond one glass. Not that it’s a light example but it speaks in soft tones, clearly and with a distinct, precise and honest weight, in vernacular and feeling. All things fruit lead to roads of sweet acidity and fine tannin. A rare Amarone of this ilk and one to savour. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted October 2021

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2012, Aconcagua Valley, Chile

Don Maximiano 2012 is a blend of 75 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (12) carmenère, (8) petit verdot and (5) malbec. No cabernet franc back in 2012 and aside from the obvious notions ushered in by age there is a distinct lack of herbal notes as a result. This is just in a great place nearly nine years forward from vintage, now settling, acids still in charge but tannins having done most of their melting and rendering. This wine is far from done, in fact the next level notions have just begun to have their say and from a vintage as great as this there should very well be nine years nigh before true earthiness, umami and truffle set in. Pour this blind at dinners with old world counterparts and watch with awe as to the results. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Château Pétrus 1993, Pomerol, AC Bordeaux

Never easy to live in the shadow of siblings clearly designated as mom and dad’s favourites but sometimes overlooked vintages left for dead show greatness later on in life. The 1993 Pétrus is definitely a late bloomer and from a year when only 200 cases were produced, where normally 4,000-plus is the standard. Softened to an almost Burgundian sense of calm but the richness and concentration multiplied by a Spring verdant freshness and sweetly herbal pesto can only indicate one thing and that is Right Bank Bordeaux. I tasted this blind and immediately thought of Pomerol and its close proximity at the eastern border with Saint-Émilion because of the “fromage à pâte molle” feeling gained, along with vestiges of once formidable black fruit supported by a push-pull posit tug of merlot-cabernet franc acidity. A good hunch indeed and a more than surprising set of excellent parameters come to this for a 1993 Bordeaux. All in all a really satisfying and come together wine to hush the naysayers and win in the end. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1990, AC Hermitage, Rhône

Jaboulet’s 1990 La Chapelle is a kind of an echo of the year in history, an Hermitage of impeccable harmony, much like balance restored in relative peace and prosperity. In 1990 the Soviet Union fell, ending the decades-long Cold War. Hard to find more shiny opaque purple in a 30 year-old syrah plus a splendid floral nose of stone roses, pencil shavings and graphite. The combinative effect of heft and freshness elicit pleasantries from a bad boy able to play soft ballads to mellow a crowd. La Chapelle is a communicative, entertaining and business-like syrah, a link between the northern Rhône and the taster, an internet Hermitage that changes the way we think and feel. Things will never be the same after tasting Jaboulet’s 1990 and for good reason. Has 10 years left without worry of decline. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2021

 

Reynvaan In The Hills Syrah 2017, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Reynvaan is a family production of Rhône-style wines from two vineyard properties in the Walla Walla Valley. “In The Rocks” is their first vineyard located in Milton-Freewater, Oregon and the second vineyard is called “In the Hills.” short for “Foothills in the Sun.” It is found at the base of the Blue Mountains on the Washington/Oregon border and is planted to syrah, viognier and a gaggle of cabernet sauvignon rows. As one of the highest elevation vineyards in Washington (at 1200ft) and in this syrah co-fermented with up to 10 per cent syrah you might get a rendering of a northern Rhône-ish picture. Sure enough the perfume is floral but more than anything a smoulder of pancetta and smoked meat. Reductive as well, different as such than any syrah, anywhere else on the planet but liquid peppery and tire on asphalt nonetheless. The credibility and accountability here is profound and while the sheer concentration and beauty of In the Rocks in captivating, this In the Hills is alternatively vivid, dramatic and powerfully restrained syrah. Which one is you? Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted January 2021

Sine Qua Non Syrah The Hated Hunter 2017, Santa Barbara County

The hated hunter is named after Austrian immigrant and Los Angeles restaurateur turned winemaker Manfred Krankl’s grandfather, depicted on the label in gear, with rifle and hound. The blend is led by 82.4 per cent syrah with (7.8) petite sirah, (5.2) mourvèdre, (2) grenache, (1.2) petit manseng and (1.4) viognier. Clocks in at 15.9 alcohol but in this regard hardly garners even one per cent of the discussion. All anyone can talk about is the infinite expanse of pretty, pretty floral capture and personally speaking it simply reeks of syrah. A game of meat juices and marbling, part smoked meat and part pancetta. The only question tasting blind is whether to imagine it as Hermitage or Central Coast California. Once the abv is disclosed the answer can only be the latter but a syrah of such reclusive exclusivity is hard to pin down. Derives from a group of prized vineyards; 32 per cent Eleven Confessions (Santa Rita Hills), (41) The Third Twin (Los Alamos), (25) Cumulus (Santa Barbara) and (2) Molly Aida (Tepusquet Canyon). Adds up to the most luxe, deluxe and ultra-fantastic instrumental of a syrah, no lyrics needed. Man, Manfred, take a bow. A hunting bow. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Fèlsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany

An absolutely lovely vintage for Fèlsina’s Vin Santo and for Chianti Classico Vin Santo as a rule because extract, temperament and adaptability are all in collective balance. All that you want, need and expect from this traditional and loyal dessert wine are present and accounted for. Dried and glazed fruit, low and slow developed nuttiness and a freedom of territory spoken through airiness and layering. The upside cake of life turns over to reveal a generational wine of clear standards, perfect layering and endless conversation. Nonna and Nonno would be proud. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted June 2021

Agriturismo Hibiscus Zhabib Passito 2020, C.Da Tramontana, Sicily

From the island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 70 kilometres (36 nautical miles) of the coast of Sicily’s capital Palermo and the work of Margherita Longo and Vito Barbera. The vineyards for this zibibbo (moscato d’Alessandria) are grown very close to the water on volcanic soil and Hibiscus is the only winery game in town. There are other farmers that contribute grapes to this tiny production; also grillo, cataratto, inzolia to go along with the zibibbo that makes this Passito. A place where tomato, grapes and peached co-exist, in the gardens and in the wine. This carries that uncanny sweet to savoury feeling in the most specific and ethereal dessert wine both mind can conjure and emotion shall receive. Of orange, grapefruit, peach and tomato. Balanced, harmonious, silky, woollen and with a super-tonal capacity to love. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted October 2021

Taylor Fladgate Very Old Tawny Port – Kingsman Edition, Douro, Portugal

A bottle of wine is rarely tied to a film, let alone a Douro Port but Taylor’s Very Old Tawny has been blended and bottled to coincide and be product placed in the second Kingsman film, in this case a prequel to the first, this time set in the 1920s. Head Winemaker David Guimaraens chose reserve Tawnys from 70-100 years of age, wines crafted and set aside by generational predecessors past, no stretch for the master blender because we are talking about a house with extensive stocks from which to reach back into. Guimaraens was looking for harmonic balance between concentration and elegance and just a whiff will tell you he and his team have achieved a crossing between a magical vortex and a vanishing point of complexity. Two manifest matters have developed; concentration of sweetness and in this case by association, a focus of acids as well. Together they inspissate and cling comfortably to the skeletal structure. It feels like you are nosing 100 unique aromas, with just seven of them being marzipan, red velvet hazelnut cake, candied ginger rose, rau răm, roasting banana leaf, calimyrna fig and grilled pineapple express. Step six feet away from the glass and the aromatics persist just as sharp as if the glass were in hand. As for a sip of this maraviglioso Tawny, warmth, comfort, delicadeza and forever length make just an ounce last forever. Timeless. Approximately 1000 bottles were produced and in Canada 100 will be made available next September. That is when theatre goers should likely make a return to the cinema to take in the Secret Service spy thriller and Tawny Port fantasy up on the silver screen. Drink 2021-2050.  Tasted February 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Canada is crazy about the Black Rooster

Gallo Nero

 

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.”

Godello and #gallonero ~ #chianticlassico

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.

Chianti Classico Collection 2020, Stazione Leopolda, Firenze

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.

Chianti Classico UGA

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.

Godello, Cecchini, Manetti

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?

Looking at frost damage, Frost burn on sangiovese buds, Baby sangiovese stunned by April frosts, Il Molino di Grace, Panzano (c) Iacopo Morganti

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!

godello

Gallo Nero

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Quality virtual time spent tasting with Querciabella

A few years back I made my first visit to Querciabella, in September 2017, to be exact. Their position in Ruffoli east of the Greve hamlet and the eponymous river is one of the most distinct and perhaps least travelled of Greve’s frazioni. With stunning views towards the Val di Greve, the Colle di Panzano and the amphitheatre of Lamole, Ruffoli carries its very own perspective, one that is unlike any other perch where the Classico are made in Chianti. Several weeks ago I caught up with Querciabella’s n groot winemaker Manfred Ing for a virtual session, replete with a ten-deep taste through of his (and their) lekker wines.

Ruffoli, Greve in Chiani

Related – A river runs through Greve

The Ruffoli hill may not qualify for Chianti Classico’s newly minted UGA (Ùnita Geografiche Aggiuntive), but make no mistake. Ruffoli is the definition of a communal sub-zone in requiem of introspective investigation for its distinct soils, elevation, singularities and peculiarities. It is, as I have said before, “the Chianti Classico poster child for seeing the vineyards through the trees.” Along with Jurji Fiore’s Poggio Scalette and Il Tagliato by Marco e Elena Kupfer there forms a special bond for Ruffoli’s combination of elevation, thick forests and conglomerate soils that have been excavated from beneath those heavy woods. If Querciabella’s decisive resource and secret weapon are vineyard holdings in two other Classico communes, those being Radda and Gaiole, Ruffoli remains the epicentre and the wines can be imagined as residing at the rooftop and pinnacle of Chianti Classico.

Querciabella was founded in 1974 by Giuseppe (Pepito) Castiglioni. His son Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, investor and entrepreneur, converted the estate to organic viticulture in 1988, making Querciabella one of the first wineries in Italy to employ this practice. In 2000 Sebastiano introduced a 100 per cent plant‑based approach to biodynamics that forbids the use of animal products in both the vineyards and in the cellars. The Chianti Classico estate that means “beautiful oak” has always been one that lives for today while always imagining and thinking about tomorrow. The wines arguably act as the most Bourguignons of any in the territory whilst always and unequivocally speaking for the land that gives them life.

In April of this year I asked Ing to assess the damage caused by uncharacteristic mid-Spring frosts. His response: “Unfortunately the cold weather that swiped through Tuscany on the April 6th and 7th caused us some frost damage, having hit especially those vineyards which were ahead in their development. Our team lead by Dales is still assessing the damage and it’s early to say how the affected vineyards will recuperate. We will know better in the coming weeks as the vines develop. In Chianti Classico, where our vineyard holdings are spread in different locations and altitude, isolated pockets of lower lying vineyards were affected, especially those around and below our cellar in Ruffoli. At a first glance, it appears that the frost bite hit some of the early budding Chardonnay and the young Sangiovese vines that were first out the blocks. Most of the higher altitude vineyards buds haven’t fully burst yet, so we are fortunate and remain hopeful. In Maremma, temperatures dipped to record lows in some areas, especially in the early hours of April 8th. The Sangiovese vines had an early start this year so were particularly exposed. Vines are an extraordinary plants which are known for bouncing back. At this stage we can only wait and see. It’s already clear, though, that we are among many other producers concerned about losing some crop to frost damage.”

It remains to be seen how pandemic and travel will play out over these next several weeks but I have every intention of climbing the Ruffoli hill this coming September (or anytime such an endeavour is possible) to see Manfred and team for a walk in the vineyards and a sit-down to taste more from their most excellent portfolio; Vineyard Operations Manager & Master Beekeeper Catiuscia Minori, Agronomist Chiara Capecci, Agronomist & Technical Director Dales D’Alessandro, Direct Sales & Visits Coordinator Daniela Krystyna Cappuccio, Head of Marketing and Communications Emilia Marinig, Global Sales Director Giorgio Fragiacomo, Winemaker Guido De Santi, Winemaking Director Luca Currado, Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti, CEO & Domestic Sales Director Roberto Lasorte, Marketing Assistant Manager Valentina Bertoli and of course Owner and Honorary Chairman Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni. In the meantime here are the 10 wines we tasted and discussed back on May 31, 2021.

Felt quite real to be talking Ruffoli, Greve, Maremma, Gaiole and Radda with Tuscany’s groot South African winemaker @bottleofgrapes ~ A virtual session with @querciabella maintains the ties that bind with @chianticlassico

Querciabella Mongrana 2019, Marermma Toscana DOC (13653, $23.95)

From 31 hectares south of Grosseto, divided into two re-planted parcels purchased in 1998-1999 near to Alberese, a village and frazione of the commune. Wines are crushed and fermented in Maremma and then transferred to Greve just before or just after malo takes place. The style comes from cement and stainless steel, of fruit purity kept intact and a coastal influence developing some muscle. Picked ahead of Chianti Classico with harvest always beginning two to two and a half weeks ahead of Greve. So much Tuscan coastal bushy and dusty herbology, of fennel and rosemary primarily. Managed by Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti and team who are responsible for this 50-25-25, sangiovese led blend with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Drink this by the glass everywhere you go, matching the pasta shape on the bottle, if you are so inclined, wherever possible. Mongrana goes as does L, Maquis shrubland ingrained into an easy drinking, fun, juicy and exuberant blend. Will never mess with any course, nor wine that comes before or after. Has been labelled DOC Maremma since 2017. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (728816, $45.95)

Remains 100 per cent sangiovese, as it has been since 2012, as a three-commune collection; Ruffoli in Greve (40 per cent), on the Volpaia side and across the valley to Radda (20) and San Polo in Rosso from Gaiole (20), across the ravine from Ama. The totality of the Gaiole fruit is raised on Alberese, the Radda in schisty Galestro and Ruffoli, well Ruffoli is really about elevation. A no extremities vintage following a very cold winter and no climate spikes save for the early August heat. The Querciabella richness is foiled but also optimized by a three-part mineral harmony that does not so much cut but adds three district notes to the wine. The epiphany may or not begin with this 2018 but the textural perception has undergone a transformational alteration, now in defence against the drying effect of sangiovese’s tannin. The winemaking team has moved forward from the experimental stage into a full-on working contract with Piedmontese cappello sommerso, keeping the cap submerged for extended periods (up to 45 days). The high elevation fruit is particularly promising, forging true connectivity with the process. You get it completely, intuit the polish and this Annata just melts straight into inherit structure, again with thanks for a portion that has settled early. The wheel is constantly turning for Querciabella’s wines. Stupendo. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 ($79.95)

Riserva, like most Riservas in Chianti Classico is usually more serious, often blended with cabernet sauvignon and/or merlot, subjected to more wood. Since 2011 Querciabella’s has been 100 per cent sangiovese but still a three commune (Greve, Radda and Gaiole) cuvée, a vibrant varietal wine, lush as it needs to be and what stands apart is its simple purity. The picking decisions are made throughout the season, not just at harvest and certain blocks are given the attention of dramatic foreshadowing. Riserva by Querciabella is a wine of evolution, including monthly tastings along the way (with 20 per cent new wood involved). Riserva is a factor of a trajectory, of sangiovese that is always rising, gaining character, fortitude and fruit in vessel that winemaker Manfred Ing knows in his heart is meant for Riserva. The tannins tell the story, croccante is how he describes or the flavour and texture he looks for, in my mind like crunchy and caramelized almonds and dried wild strawberries of a concentrated yet developing sweetness. A wine to age, surely, though not quite like ’16, but do sleep on this because the efficacy, youthful binding and wound intensity show the promise of great ability. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Turpino 2017, IGT Toscana ($59.95)

First commercial vintage was 2010 when at the time it was 50-50 Maremma and Greve. Since 2015 it identifies as 100 per cent Tuscan coast with more barrel exercise and power than Mongrana, now a cuvée of approximately 12,000 bottles. “Turpino,” as in a character from Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni’s favourite poem, like his son Orlando (and also for the names Mongrana and Palafreno). Frost was a major problem in 2017, followed by heat, no rain and vines that just went crazy. Small pickings were done in the first week of September and then the rain came. The vines dropped in alcohol potential by a degree but the vines were tired and so the fruit could not hang in there like it could (better so) in Ruffoli. A blend of 40 per cent each cabernet franc and syrah with (20) merlot. Spiciness but not in a traditionally Tuscan syrah (Cortona) way and so the franc is to thank for the pique, sharpness and pointed directive of this ripe wine agitative of pricks and sway. In the end this is truly Tuscan coast, carrying the dried and bushy herbs but with an extended olive branch, muscular arm and structured savour. Only 10,000 bottles were made of this succulent, strange bedfellows (for Tuscany) red wine. House wine, Querciabella style. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Camartina 2016, IGT Toscana

The first vintage for Camartina was 1981, originally mostly sangiovese, then in and around 2001-2003 turning towards becoming mostly cabernet sauvignon. Now at 70 per cent with (30) sangiovese since that 2003. With the most spectacular vintage in pocket the possibility and even more so the probability from 2016 is endless. A Vino da Tavola concept that has evolved to make for the most mature, wise and complex IGT from Ruffoli hillsides, but this vintage shows a special energy, liveliness and vim from acidity that gives the wine, regardless of grape varieties, so much youth and life. Another one of nature’s and Greve’s mysterious constants. So Querciabella, of pinpointed DNA. vibrancy and length. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Palafreno 2016, IGT Toscana ($214.95)

Since 2004 has always been 100 per cent merlot, before that being a 50-50 sangiovese and merlot joint. Has to be an ideal vintage for Sebastiano and Manfred to bottle this idealistic wine because it has to, must smell like Tuscany and Ruffoli. Places home to poetic settings which suggest inner meaning and invisible connections. With that essence of 2016, of high priority acidity, sapidity and vibrancy in mind, this drinks so well and truth is shows how merlot has been domesticated upon the Ruffoli hill. The vines average 20 years of age, with some vines nearly at 30, planted in 1995 and/or 1996. Sweet, verdant and grippy tannins with a little bit of grit are surely involved. This will show off some swarthy secondary character and essenza di tartufo in 10 years time. Only 3,000 bottles are made. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 1998 (728816, Price at release: $31.95)

Twenty plus years later and not by any means over the hill. Drinking with captured and preserved youth from a vintage that was passed over for being one to not give any sort of great attention or consideration. Fermented in 225L (some new wood) barrels, some big tanks, picked later than most Chianti Classico of the time and would not have been pure sangiovese. You can feel the botrytis induced blood orange and saffron from a vintage with pioggia, pioggio, pioggia, a.k.a. so much rain. Also liquorice, bokser pod and a smell of wet tar. Really textural Classico, holding firm and strong, with a few years of interest and more complexity developing potential left to seek out. Charm begets pleasure which leads to unadulterated enjoyment. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Batàr 2018, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

A joint between pinot blanc and chardonnay, whole bunch pressed, with furthered finer attention to detail, picked early in the morning and a decreased amount of new oak over the last 10 years. Now at about 20 per cent and less bâtonnage as well, keeping the strings tight and the backbone straight in the wine. “We don’t need to worry about getting richness in our wines,” tells Manfred Ing, and yes, the creaminess is automatic. There’s more bite to Batàr now, along with focus and precision, with an intention to allow for five (minimum) years ahead for energy to develop, flesh to increase and textural richness to become something naturally orchestrated over time. Batàr is a wine that defies flamboyance, deflates extroversion and muffles the most exultant cry. It knows what it is and what’s up. Terrific vintage for this singular, dual-focused and one goal achieved Querciabella bianco. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Batàr 2017, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

The effect of 2017 on white grapes meant a 40 per cent reduction in quantity and chardonnay surely suffered. Certainly true at 350m (south-facing) but also at 600m (on sandstone soils) where it thrives. The pinot bianco faces north so it did well in the season. The flinty reduction comes from the high elevation vineyard and you really notice it more in 2017, but also a fruit sweetness, like biting into a perfectly ripe apple, and also a peach. You still need to exercise patience with this wine because what it really shows you is how this particular cuvée will morph, oscillate and change, for sure and at least in its first five years. Definitely buttery, rich and creamy but let’s not sit on those laurels for too long because herbs, sapidity and a new kind of vim and vigour are just around the corner. A concentrated effort and one with many tricks up its Ruffoli sleeve. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted May 2021

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Chianti Classico goes to eleven

New Chianti Classico UGA (Ùnita Geografiche Aggiuntive) Map

In a press release issued one week ago today the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico made a significant and potentially profound announcement: The Chianti Classico UGA project is now under way. The Assembly of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium has 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.”

These last several years have seen the rise of Associazione Viticoltori or Vignaioli in zonazione, places of interest where microclimates and shared geologies bring land and producers together. Up until 2019 there were nine communes and then eight, but their significance was measured in geographic terms. Going forward there will be eleven zones with the ability to label using a menzione (mention) as the geographic marker that is aggiunta (​added) to the primary appellation. Back in 2018 I asked these two questions. “Will 2019 usher in a new era of Chianti Classico bottles noted by villages and crus on the labels? Will the Gran Selezione category seek 100 per cent sangiovese status?” 

Related – Chianti Classico’s Canadian dream

So yes, more than anything else this new sub-dividing of the territory will allow producers to list their sub-zone of origin on the front label of their Chianti Classico wines. In addition to the UGA, going forward the new regulations for the Gran Selezione category at the top of the Chianti Classico pyramid will be (a minimum) 90 per cent sangiovese with support by only native grapes. Current rules for Chianti Classico in all three appellative levels; Vintage (Annata), Riserva and Gran Selezione draw on the same ampelographic base: 80-100 per cent sangiovese and up to a maximum of 20 per cent of authorized native and/or international red grapes. According to the Consorzio “the exclusive use of native local grape varieties has been approved as complementary to sangiovese, since they are more expressive and representative of the production zone and of traditional Chianti wine-growing.”

Chianti Classico Topographical Map

Related – Chianti Classico: Nine communes deep

When asked when the new regulations will come into effect, the Consorzio’s Silvia 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.” 

Ùnita Geograpiche Agguintive has been many years in the making for a territory with many significant sub-zones, micro-places with uniquely diverse soils and of particular micro-climates. They are the frazioni, collective growing sites often associated with and carrying the same name as a specific village, while other UGAs may refer to the commune in which they are located. The new Chianti Classico map covers 11 total UGAs; Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio and Vagliali. The latter is the former western “butterfly wing” of the large Castelnuovo Berardenga commune; Lamole, Montefioralle and Panzano are each a uniquely situated frazione within Greve; San Donato in Poggio is a frazione and village within the commune of Barberino Tavarnelle, formerly the two communes (before 2019) of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. In the new UGA it will also include the area of Poggibonsi.

Sangiovese, Panzano in Chianti

Related – Grande, Chianti Classico

Just eight years after the Gran Selezione were first introduced in 2013 this development begins a new chapter and movement forward. Gran Selezione is now produced by 154 wineries for a total of 182 labels and represents about 6 per cent of the entire production of Chianti Classico. While it has always been the idea and wish of Consorzio President Giovanni Manetti to establish the Gran Selezione as 100 per cent sangiovese, this first step “compromise” effects the move towards that probability. The change eliminates the usage of international grapes like merlot and cabernet sauvignon from the GS, something many producers had already begun to do. In conjunction with the UGA breakdown it also sets up greater potential for having the top wines become those drawn form a single-vineyard, or at the very least wines produced with specific grapes identified by an additional geographical denomination on the label. While for now the new UGA designations only apply to the Gran Selezione category, ultimately speaking this will help the consumer drill down and further understand the notion of terroir (or acclimazione sottosuolo and genius loci) in Chianti Classico’s top tier wines. Just one step but it sets the region up for a long term plan where all of its DOCG wines will carry the promise of additional geographical notations on their labels.

Singolarità, qualità, diversità. Gallo Nero

Related – Chianti Classico is the future

“The decisions are based on such criteria as oenological recognizability, historical authenticity, renown and significance in terms of volumes produced. The intent of the UGA to represent the excellence of the territory, thus competing, in a more incisive way, with the greatest wines in the world.”

The watchword is to continue along the path of enhancing the distinctive characteristics of Chianti Classico,” notes the Consorzio. “A path that, in recent years, has brought the Black Rooster appellation ever higher in the international rankings of quality wines, increasing its fame, prestige and popularity on tables all over the world. The project, made possible by a concentrated effort by the Board of Directors over a number of years, responds to the need, arising from within the membership itself, for an increasingly far-reaching enhancement of the characteristics that distinguish the Black Rooster appellation and make it unique.”

Gallo Nero Lounge, Chianti Classico Collection 2020

National and European regulations do in fact allow DOP wines to refer to additional geographical units, identified within the production area of the denomination. “One of the objectives of the proposed amendment is to strengthen communication of the wine-territory combination, increase quality in terms of identity and territoriality, allow consumers to know where the grapes come from and, last but not least, stimulate demand by differentiating supply. The introduction of the name of the village on the label will serve to intercept and satisfy the interest of consumers who, in increasing numbers, wish to deepen their knowledge of the relationship between Gallo Nero wines and their territory of origin.”

Chianti Classico Consorzio President Giovanni Manetti

Related – The most important red wine from Italy

“The phrase the territory makes the difference has always been one of our favourite mottos,” says Giovanni Manetti, President of the Consortium. “Chianti Classico is a truly unique territory, two-thirds of which is covered by woodland and only one-tenth of which is devoted to wine-growing. More than 50 per cent of this now follows the dictates of organic farming (52.5 per cent of the area under vine). As I have often said in my three years as President, wine reflects the territory like a negative photographic image, and this is why it is so important to preserve its environmental context and landscape, and be able to tell the consumer about it, in all its various facets, also through the label.”

Good to go!

godello

Chianti Classico UGA

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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When frost strikes, Chianti Classico responds

Assessing bud damage to Sangiovese, Villa Le Corti, San Casciano (c) Duccio Corsini

Difficult times call for desperate measures and if these last 14 months have taught Italians anything, taking nothing for granted is surely at the top of the list. If you are a grape grower, or any agriculturalist for that matter then the one thing you almost come to expect and dread more than anything is the arrival of a Spring frost, after bud-break. That worst nightmare has come to parts of Chianti Classico (along with Montalcino, Emilia-Romagna, Piemonte and Bourgogne) in the week following Easter. The worst hit area may be Maremma and the Tuscan coast. The reports coming out of the Gallo Nero territory are not what we would have wanted to hear from and for our friends in the Tuscan provinces of Firenze and Siena.

Fires in the vineyard, Villa Le Corti, San Casciano (c) Duccio Corsini

Fires in the vineyard, Villa Le Corti, San Casciano (c) Duccio Corsini

Chianti Classico is a proud and noble territory with just slightly only 10 per cent of its hectarage registered to vineyard space. The last three vintages were all relatively stress free, especially those of 2018 and 2019, whereas in 2020 the vegetative life cycle began during a global pandemic and yet farmers had nothing but time to tend to their vineyards during lockdown. 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.

Temperatures dipped to overnight lows of minus six degrees celsius, dangerous and potentially fatal to the youngest sangiovese vines, especially in low-lying areas where frost settles on lower slopes and valley floors. It really is too early to fully assess the extent of the damage but the range, based on comments heard thus far, is anywhere from near zero in the highest reaches and oldest vineyards to anywhere between 50 and 100 in other areas. I have spent a good part of Friday evening until now talking with producers and here are their stories. There is much concern but always hope, pragmatism and a collected, positive outlook. The comments and images are still coming in so I will update the story as it goes.

*** Editor’s note: Comments from 35 producers are now posted, including new images

The frost in 2017 was much worse than this

Giovanni Manetti, Fontodi

Fontodi, Panzano, April 9th, 2021 (c) Giovanni Manetti

Giovanni Manetti, Fontodi: “We had a couple of days very cold, April 6th and 7th but the damages are limited to the young vines. The majority of the buds of the other vines were still closed and were not hurt by the frost. In the rest of the CC territory there were some damages in the warmer areas and zero in the cooler ones like Radda and Lamole. The frost in 2017 was much more worse than this. It is very hard to say how much quantity has been lost in CC but I think not too much.”

Duccio Corsini, Villa Le Corti, San Casciano: “San Casciano has the habit of being in (bud-break) advance. Minus two celsius came the morning of the 7th (5:00 to 7:00 am) and we made it with no damage. Minus five came from 4.30 to 6.30 am on the 8th. We kept the prunings in piles for this event. At 4:45 am Le Corti was on fire were possible. To this we added the use of the spraying machines vents to move air and create circulation. I hope the experiment (very artisanal) helped to reduce damage. So far the damage goes from 10 to 40 per cent on sangiovese in the best expositions. Nothing on merlot (that is still sleeping). Fico vineyard (solo sangiovese) is safe. Marsiliana on the coast is a different story. All merlot was burned from minus seven on the morning of the 8th. Total loss on 6 hectares. We are collecting info from San Casciano producers and news so far is not good on sangiovese.”

Villa Calcinaia
(c) Conte Sebastiano Capponi

The damage is still difficult to evaluate since many buds hadn’t broken yet

Sebastiano Capponi, Villa Calcinaia

Sebastiano Capponi, Villa Calcinaia, Greve: “Unfortunately Jack Frost has visited us again this year, three times in the last quinquennium, and the damage is still difficult to evaluate since many buds hadn’t broken yet. I think it would be less than 2017 but we certainly could have done without it. The worst night was Wednesday because it had just rained a little and that spiked the humidity beyond 90 per cent. In fact in the areas of Montefioralle where it hadn’t rained the damage was less intense. The varietal more heavily hit was the sangiovese as canaiolo, mammolo, montepulciano and merlot buds break usually later. Funnily enough the sangiovese buds, like in Vigna Bastignano, that already the leaves out were less damaged than the swollen ones. An igloo effect saved them? I wonder… Vines will adapt but in order to accelerate the process though I will start selecting biotypes of Sangiovese with late bud-break from our collection for the new plantings.”

It’s going to be a slim harvest!  Climate disruption…again!

Roberto Stucchi-Prinetti, Badia a Coltibuono

Roberto Stucchi-Prinetti, Badia a Coltibuono, Gaiole: “The frost hit badly, temperatures dipped to minus four and even minus six degrees celsius in the lower parts; unfortunately the buds had an early start so they were all ready to go.  The damage is probably over 50 per cent but we will assess it better next week. It’s going to be a slim harvest!  Climate disruption…again! Sad.”

Young Sangiovese buds, fires in the vineyard, Villa Le Corti, San Casciano
(c) Duccio Corsini

Federica Mascheroni, Volpaia, Radda: “This frost was really what we weren’t looking for! Luckily in Volpaia the damages are not very much, the altitude has helped us. Unfortunately, unexpectedly we had a very strong and unpredictable frost. We will see in the next few days, but I think we had several damage 😦 “

Susanna Grassi, I Fabbri, Lamole: “We are OK, but as you said in Tuscany, as in many other places, we had frost during two nights. We will see in a couple of days the true damage.”

After the frost, Villa Le Corti, San Casciano (c) Duccio Corsini

Vicky Schmitt-Vitali, Le Fonti, Panzano: “Le Fonti is positioned quite open to the winds so most vineyards fared OK with the frost. Only one small patch protected by trees and bamboo at the bottom of the valley got freeze burned. The other side of the valley got hit worse so we have to be grateful with all. Not that 2021 is much better so far than 2020… a mess worldwide. Heard that Montalcino got hit badly and some areas in Emilia-Romagna and Piemonte. France of course was all over the news. Really when it rains it pours. Iacopo had said that Molino di Grace got hit quite badly as well. Lucarelli (small village underneath Molino) is always very cold and our tractor driver lives there and said that his house was minus six the past few nights. All fruit trees burned but his vines had not been out yet so he was lucky.”

Nature is amazing because it might react in surprising ways

Francesco Ricasoli, Barone Ricasoli

Francesco Ricasoli, Barone Ricasoli, Gaiole: “We have been hit by the frost but the real entity of the damage will be clear in five to seven days. I estimate 30 or 40 hectares hit by frost but the per cent of loss is not clear yet. Nature is amazing because it might react in surprising ways.”

Healthy sangiovese bud, Geggiano, Castelnuovo Berardenga, first days of April, 2021 (c) Andrea Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

Michael Schmelzer, Monte Bernardi, Panzano: “We too had a couple of sub-zero nights and certainly had some loss due to frost damage. We were fortunate in that not many of our vines had their first leaves exposed yet so we are hoping the damage is very limited.”

Andrea Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli, Geggiano, Castelnuovo Berardenga: “We spray the vines with salts of Zeolite but they help only up to minus one celsius. And so we have had a loss of about 30 per cent.”

Sangiovese bud after the frost, Losi Querciavalle, Castelnuovo Berardenga, April 8, 2021 (c) Valeria Losi

Valeria Losi, Losi Querciavalle, Castelnuovo Berardenga: “It depends on the position of the vineyards: We have had some loss but that should be around 20-25 per cent. I heard friends with a different position that lost 50 per cent. And producers from the Tuscan coast even higher.”

Angela Fronti, Istine, Radda: “It’s not good, but better than in other areas of production. The budding was not 100 per cent complete so I hope for production. It’s terrible, you can do nothing, only waiting. We have to see. I hope the damage is less than what we can see now.”

Frost damage to sangiovese buds, Losi Querciavalle, Castelnuovo Berardenga, April 8, 2021 (c) Valeria Losi

Victoria Matta, Castello di Vicchiomaggio, Greve: “We have been affected in some vineyards, the ones with vegetation further ahead. Unfortunately the unexpected hot temperatures of two to three weeks ago have permitted the vines to grown faster than usual so the cold temperature of days ago affected these. The real problem was the unusual heat of mid-March. We will be ready for next year with anti-frost candles. That is the climate change, unfortunately.”

Tommaso Marocchesi Marzi, Bibbiano, Castellina: “We have a rough and quick assessment of a minus 30-40 per cent of the production. The lower slopes have been largely hit and the areas around 280-300m of altitude were safer.”

Frost effect on sangiovese buds, Fattoria Pomona, Castellina (c) Monica Raspi

Dario Faccin, Carobbio, Panzano: “Unfortunately the frost hit hard but fortunately some vineyards were still standing. I hope the weather can be mild from now on.”

Federico Cerelli, Gabbiano, San Casciano: “The frost was just what we didn’t want right now…but anyway for the wineries I’m working with in Chianti Classico:

– Gabbiano : In the night between Wednesday and Thursday there was another sharp drop in temperature. The temperature dropped to minus five in the area where the sangiovese had already germinated. Unfortunately the treatment worked well enough on Wednesday morning, but on Thursday morning the temperature was too low. Merlot, cabernet and syrah were not damaged. It is still too early to make an estimate for sangiovese. We pruned long this year and we need to understand how many grapes will make in the second buds.

– Radda in Chianti (Poggio di Guardia): Thanks to high altitude (700m) the vines were completely stopped so no damage.

– Greve in Chianti (vineyards around Greve village): All the new vineyards are affected, regarding the old one some damage but at this stage is not early to estimate the damages, as we can not forecast what the impact on fertility will be.

– Vagliagli area : All the lower vineyards are affected but again too early to forecast the real damage in quantity of grapes lost. The higher vineyard we don’t have damages.

Damage by Nottua, parasitic bugs that eat the young buds, Fattoria Pomona, Castellina in Chianti (c) Monica Raspi

Francesca Semplici, Fattoria Montecchio, San Donato in Poggio: “Unfortunately we had burned vines for two cold nights. We lost a part of our production also this year, like last year but for iced rain :-(“

Beatrice Ancillotti, Castello di Monterinaldi, Radda: “Fortunately, here in Radda in Chianti we are a little behind with budding. We had some problems on the lower vineyards, those closest to the river. Monday I will go back to check (because the damage shows a few days later). I’ll let you know if the situation is worse.”

Lighting vineyard fires by night, Bindi Sergardi, Castelnuovo Berardenga (c) Alessandra Casini Bindi Sergardi

Giacomo Nardi, Nardi Viticoltori, Castellina: “Since we are on the lower slope of Castellina in Chianti, the vegetative phase was not yet advanced, luckily the damage was not so great. I would estimate the damage at five to 10 per cent, but I will be able to understand better in the coming weeks.”

Crossing fingers looks it’s becoming the most popular sport discipline all over the world in these last two years

Alessandro Palombo, Luiano

Filippo Cresti, Carpineta Fontalpino, Castelnouvo Berardenga: “The cold has hit different areas. It did not have a uniform incidence. Personally we had parcels affected by 10 to 25 per cent, some vineyards near to zero damage. We were lucky, other areas much less than us. Some varieties of sangiovese in Carpineta were further back and this protected them. From now we are waiting only the sun and the good season.”

Vineyard fires smoulder at dawn, Bindi Sergardi, Castelnuovo Berardenga (c) Alessandra Casini Bindi Sergardi

Luca Polga, Podere Campriano, Greve: “For us and many of Montefioralle’s winemakers this has been two difficult days. In some areas temperatures reached minus seven degrees celsius. Here it’s too early to understand the damages, fortunately we were a little bit late, so many gems were still closed and we really really hope were not burned. In a few days we will know.”

Alessandro Palombo, Luiano, San Casciano: “It’s been like a punch in the nose. Vines have been affected and the spirit of the troops was too! Early April frost usually happens and this hit a lot of early blossoming buds. It generally lowers the yields but still leaves the vineyard productive. This year’s drop in temperature was different, it went down to levels that may affect the buds that were still closed or lightly open. In this second case the impact will be severe. We’ll see it in a couple of weeks. We keep our fingers crossed… crossing fingers looks it’s becoming the most popular sport discipline all over the world in these last two years.” 😒

Sangiovese buds braving the frosts, Bindi Sergardi, Castelnuovo Berardenga (c) Alessandra Casini Bindi Sergardi

Alyson Morgan, Podere Capaccia, Radda: “Here at Capaccia we are pretty safe since the vineyards are all over 350 meters. But we did have damage on vines that we planted last year to replace some missing vines….those young vines bud out early and are more susceptible. There was significant damage in the warmer, more exposed regions like Castelnuovo Berardenga. I have a friend that probably lost 50 per cent of the sangiovese. Their temps went down to minus seven Celsius!! In Radda the temps were low in the valleys and in the colder areas (example Caparsa), but those areas are further behind in the development so there was nothing to damage. If we can get through April without any more frost, the season will be fine. We are FINALLY getting some rain today, it has been so dry for so long. So all in all, a positive assessment from the frost.”

Monica Raspi, Fattoria Pomona, Castellina: “We had some trouble in different parts, the new vineyard was in advance and many buds are burnt. I would like to bend those plants next year, but I think that will be impossible. The others vineyards more or less are OK. Most of buds are still closed, and I think they were protected.For many producers it is a disaster. E poi c’è la Nottua. Che si mangia le gemme…and then there is the Nottua (parasite). That eat the gems.”

Post frost sangiovese, Il Molino di Grace, Panzano (c) Iacopo Morganti

Chiara Leonini, Fèlsina, Castelnuovo Berardenga: “Yes, temperatures went below zero for two nights, Thursday and Friday last week. In Fèlsina vineyards the budding was just at the beginning, a bit more forward in the Pagliarese area. We had a few small problems at Fèlsina, something more at Pagliarese, where we expect a loss of about 20 per cent. it could have been much worse if the temperatures hadn’t risen. Everything is under control now, it is raining today and it is a good things, with 15 degrees.”

The recent late frost wave has caught Radda unprepared but luckily still half asleep, like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in the forest.

Roberto Bianchi, Val delle Corti

Roberto Bianchi, Val delle Corti, Radda: “As you well know, Radda has always been a ‘late bloomer’ in all senses : in the past 2.700 years all neighbouring areas in Chianti have developed better and faster than Radda, economically, culturally and …. in terms of vegetation in the vineyards. Climate change – along with a new awareness and some more holistic knowledge – have radically upset the situation. Former handicaps have become the keys to balance and quality, where correctly managed. All this to tell you, caro mio, that the recent late frost wave has caught Radda unprepared but luckily still half asleep, like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in the forest. Buds were still closed in most of the areas here and random minor damages are recorded in some low-located, creek-close vineyards and/or unexpectedly also in hedge vineyards. Some evident damages are reported there, where vegetation was ahead, especially in young vineyards (one to three years). All together Radda terroir reports not dramatic damages, affecting maybe overall around 10 per cent of total vineyard surface. Far away from what has been reported to be a scaring situation in the areas around San Casciano, West Castellina, West Panzano, South Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga, traditionally a couple of weeks ahead of Radda by vegetation. Sadly, many friends in Montalcino and in the Maremma have reported devastating damages in their areas, affecting sometimes 80 per cent of the vintage production. The same in Langa. One fears that the 2021 overall production in Tuscany and Piedmont could possibly drop this year by 50 per cent !!!! All we hope now is that spring takes it ways steadily. Good rain has been coming down for the past 48 hours and this was really needed.”

Young sangiovese buds at Rocca delle Macìe, April 2021 (c) Sergio Zingarelli

Natascia Rossini, Podere La Cappella, San Donato in Poggio: “Not easy to assess now the damage from cold temperatures… maybe in a few weeks we will have more clear details. It seems the low parts of vineyard (150m) are the ones more damaged. Bruno says that probably we lost 10-15 per cent of production.”

A very important frost but not more than 2017 and 2020

Sergio Zingarelli, Rocca delle Macìe

Sergio Zingarelli, Rocca delle Macìe, Castellina: “Such an intense period…We had two nights, the 6th & 7th, with very low temperatures mostly concentrated in the early morning hours between 5 and 8 am. The biggest damage has been to the vines in the lower vineyards (under approx. 280m) where there was more humidity. Other damage is seen in the “higher” vineyards to the younger vines that were growing faster. A very important frost but not more than 2017 and 2020. As you know we have four different estates in Castellina in Chianti with different soils, exposures, altitudes … and the most affected are Sant’Alfonso (lower altitude, mostly clay soil) and the lowest side of Fizzano. Le Macìe, keeping our fingers crossed, have not been affected. We’ve just had two great and very useful days of rain which is sure to give new starting energy to the vines for next days…”

Sangiovese buds burnt by frost, Rocca delle Macìe, April 2021 (c) Sergio Zingarelli

Laura Bianchi, Castello di Monsanto, San Donato in Poggio: “We had last week two dangerous nights with minus one to two degrees celsius. For sure there has been some damages above all in the sides of the vineyards located in less ventilated areas. The varietal with more damage is chardonnay. We now need to see the situation in the next weeks, also a light frost can reduce the strength of the buds and this will effect the flowering. For sure less production in 2021 but hopefully a great one.”

Paolo de Marchi, Isole e Olena, San Donato in Poggio: “Yes, temperatures have been low and we did get damages. Not able to quantify how bad though…but three mornings in a line, and it seems it’s not over yet. What can we do? This is our business, and we have never to forget the big scenario. We are lucky to work mostly with red wines for aging, so we carry a good stock and are able to average the disaster. Much worse for our friends colleagues producing only whites…”

Leonardo Bellaccini, San Felice, Castelnuovo Berardenga: “We have lost 30 per cent of sangiovese at San Felice. We expect another small crop wishing for an outstanding quality.”

Rocca delle Macìe, April 2021 (c) Sergio Zingarelli

What else can I say to our friends in Chianti Classico but best of luck with this latest challenge and exasperating need to wage such a battle, but I know them well enough to say that resilience is what they are all about. The same holds true for sangiovese vineyards. Grandi abbracci e spero presto si possa nuovamente viaggiare e ci si possa rivedere per un buon bicchiere di vino.

Good to go,

Godello

Assessing bud damage to Sangiovese, Villa Le Corti, San Casciano (c) Duccio Corsini

Twitter: @mgodello

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