As seen on WineAlign
For three weeks in May my professional life focused entirely on the brave new world of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. It began with a four day gambol through the heart of Toscana between two of the world’s great cities, Siena and Florence. It culminated with a Masterclass on Gran Selezione I guided for the Consorzio of Chianti Classico at Toronto’s Four Season’s Hotel.
The time in Italy brought me to eight estates plus a tasting of Gran Selezione at the former Convento di Santa Maria al Prato located in Radda in Chianti. It is here that the Consorzio has set up its new education and events centre to promote the wines of Chianti Classico. In Radda I tasted 12 selections with Consorzio president Sergio Zingarelli. The Masterclass in Toronto was organized as part of the region’s 300th anniversary celebration and the producers walked a crowd of 75 guests through eight Gran Selezione.
Critics comment and often complain that all Chianti Classico, Riserva and now Gran Selezione adhere to one style. They will say that because of minimum aging requirements that all wines are produced in the same way and towards the same end. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What Makes it Gran(d)
Gran Selezione must be composed of 80 to 100 per cent sangiovese and may contain up to 20 per cent red grapes (indigenous or international). It is produced from a single-vineyard or from a selection of the estate’s best grapes. The minimum aging requirement is 30 months, including three months in bottle before release. The manifesto portents a wine of new typology “at the summit of a denomination’s quality pyramid.”
“The use of the name ‘Chianti Classico Gran Selezione’ depends on issue of a suitability certificate based on chemical-physical tests conducted by authorized laboratories and approval of the wine’s organoleptic characteristics by special tasting committees as per Italian Ministerial Decree 16/12/2010 concerning batches of wine destined for bottling.” Some applications were granted retroactively for the 2009 vintage.
So, what is Gran Selezione? In the simplest terms, which means everything and yet nothing at all, it represents a Chianti Classico producer’s finest Riserva expression at the top of the quality pyramid. Yes, it is aged longer, for an additional six months beyond Chianti Classico Riserva. But Gran Selezione is not simply one thing; it comes as a matter of interpretation. Some producers, like Nicolò Pozzoli and Silvio Campatelli of Lornano see it as the same wine already made, from the same vintage, with a new label and of course, a new price. Yet others see it as an opportunity to make a Selezione as a vineyard-designate Riserva, or as cru or climat based. For some it means opportunity, freedom, revelation or, like Pietro and Valeria Losi of Querciavalle, the realization of a dream.
Some quotes from producers:
“It’s a matter of compromise between what is needed for the small producers and the need to express through crus for the larger ones.” – Stefano Capurso, Barone Ricasoli
“It is not a military position.” – Bernardo Bianchi, Colle Bereto
“It is the best block of the estate.” – Federico Cerelli, Castello di Gabbiano
“It is made in the vineyard, from the best vines and the best grapes.” – Massimiliano Biagi, Barone Ricasoli
“It is from a mico-territory within a territory, a micro climate and geology, a climat, combined by exposure and soil, together with the work of a man.” – Alessandro Palombo, Luiano
“It is the best selection of barrels. We taste the wine in the cellar and decide the wine that will be, to the end.”– Iacopo Morganti, Il Molino di Grace
“Gran Selezione begins in the vineyard, in the barrels is too late.” – Pietro Losi, Querciavalle
“I already make my top wine so I simply now call it Gran Selezione.” – Sergio Zingarelli, Rocca delle Macie
Perhaps you remain skeptical. You may be unclear as to the clarity of the category and perhaps you do not find whole or justifiable insight. I can say this. In Chianti Classico I asked all 10 producers I met with this question. “What is Gran Selezione.” All ten responded immediately, emphatically and with unequivocal determination. All 10 answers were intuitive and no two were exactly the same.
Chianti Classico is not a small wine region by any means. It is home to upwards of 70,000 hectares (177,500 acres), of which a mere 10 per cent are planted to vines. Remarkably, impossibly even, no matter where you are, you can always travel from one estate to another in what seems like 30 minutes or less, using one of multiple routes. On my last day the Consorzio’s Silvia Fiorentini and I left Il Molino di Grace in Panzano and drove southeast to Radda in Chianti. We then travelled from Radda northwest to the Consorzio’s offices in Tavernelle Val di Pesa. Then Christine Lechner drove me north to Castello di Gabbiano in Mercatale Val di Pesa but I swear we passed by Panzano and Greve on route. Chianti Classico has more exposures and angles than any wine region I have been to. It would take many years to understand where you are in relation to where you’ve been and where you are going. The wines share an identical set of diverse parameters. Singularite, diversite, qualite.
A Look to the Past
More time has been spent making dry red wine in Chianti Classico than in Piemonte’s Barolo or Barbaresco, where it was essentially Recioto until the mid 18th century. Thus, more time has been spent understanding the hills and differing terrains of the region than Piedmonte for this purpose. Antinori and Brolio are families that have lived and gained an understanding in the region for centuries. Brunello has figured it out. It can certainly be done in Chianti Classico.
She may be hiding behind the scenes but you all need to know who Christine Lechner is. Christine is events coordinator for the Consorzio and along with Silvia Fiorentini is responsible for bringing Chianti Classico to the world. Silvia’s work with the Consorzio is threaded everywhere throughout the world. It is Giuseppe Liberatore, director of the Chianti Classico Consorzio who directs the troops to showcase the excellence of the region’s wines.
Critics will say that Chianti Classico is living in the past. With three hundred years of beautiful and profound history, from Grand Duke Cosimo Tre de’ Medici to incumbent Consorzio President Sergio Zingarelli, you are damn right they are living in the past. Gran Selezione wines exists in a realm far beyond just a shared fleeting moment with 21 carefully selected Chianti Classico Riservas. If I could name a wine region anywhere in the world with a commensurate kinship of family, lineage, conoscenza, storia and the contiguous passing forward of tradizione I would. But I can’t.
A Look To the Future
Gran Selezione can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on producer. I do not stand alone in my need to ask many questions. Where does one truly understand the region and not just the producer? What ways can the consortium pursue to cherish their name, by not sharing it with many different versions of similar products. Can one of the producers explain the decision to raise the alcohol level requirement of the Gran Selezione? Or is it just a matter of fact, something that happens as part of the winemaking process.
How important is 100 per cent sangiovese to the GS discussion and when other varieties are blended in, does it matter if endemic ones are used, like colorinio and canaiolo, or international ones, like merlot and cabernet sauvignon? What about the decision to grandfather in some approved applications for older vintages to be labeled as Gran Selezione? How has the category progressed from the first vintage to the present one. And has the approach or the style already changed?
Is there any consideration to add subzones to the Gran Selezione label? Either in its simplest form, Siena or Florence, or more parochially, Radda, Gaiole, Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Poggibonsi, Greve, Barbaerino or San Casciano.
The Unione Viticoltori di Panzano is a recent development in the Chianti Classico region. Like Chianti Classico, they have their own logo that can be printed on labels that indicate the origin of place. The producers under one village have one common idea. To produce organic and/or biodynamic wine in and around the village just south of Greve. All of the vineyards are from 300-500 meters above sea level and represent the microclimate within the area. Whatever you think about organic, the common goal is something to appreciate.
These are all valid and important discussions going forward but the truth and the fact of the matter is simple. Barolo received DOC status in 1966, and Brunello in 1980. Brunello in 1980. Gran Selezione is a very recent development and growing pains will be a necessary part of its development. Patience and perseverance will see to reward. I would be shocked if Gran Selezione is not the most sought after red wine to come out of Italy by the year 2025. You heard me. Not just sangiovese. The most important red wine from Italy.
I tasted 21 Gran Selezione in Chianti Classico between May 11 and May 15. Here are my notes.
From Luiano’s premier cru vineyard on white stones from an ancient natural spring that tumbled into a lake. The 85 per cent sangiovese plus (15) merlot are kept separate form the rest of the production. Here berries fold into mineral with wood-delineated spice (truffle, tumeric, saffron, etc.). An amazingly silky wine with that cartology of spice all over its map. The cru is one hectare that executes into 3000-4000 bottles per year. The nomenclature here is not a serious one, the “A” and and the “P” in representation of a signature by Alessandro and his father Antonio that also looks like an “8” and a “1.” It was Alessandro’s grandfather who built Luiano in 1959 and Antonio began working with him 1981. When you dream to make wine, you remember 1981 and when Alessandro was three years old in 1981, he said to his grandfather at lunch, “Ottontuna!” This is an extraordinary Gran Selezione, from a micro-territory within a territory, of a micro-climate and geology, a climat within Luiano. A terroir that combines exposure and soil, together with the work of a man, Antonio, planted in 1999. The merlot was added in 2001. The wine needed to be open for quite some time, to envisage the mineral florals and gain consciousness under the auspices of the spices. Drink 2018-2026. Tasted May 2016
Gran Selezione for Chianti Classico is a matter of interpretation, in this case a selection of the finest few barriques of both sangiovese and merlot. Lornano’s spent 30 months in all new barrels, resulting in the smooth operator that is this Gran Selezione, seductive and inviting within the context of its truth behind a veil of terribilita. This infancy is merely a window into 15 years of what may be, only a split second screen shot of the grand picture. To believe in anything but time would be short-sighted and disrespectful to what this sangiovese is capable of developing towards. Truth from vineyards built on stratified sands, shales, stony alluvials and limestone. History dating back to 1904. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted May 2016
Lornano’s interpretation of Gran Selezione for Chianti Classico is a selection of the finest few barriques of both sangiovese and merlot. Thirty months in new barrels takes sangiovese through a fluid and rippleless ride, from the same élevage of 2011, though here showing its tannic teeth with more than just one less year by age. The cherries and the leather are both more extreme but this is a fleeting moment of assessment, from a sangiovese of acute youth, but the tannins are sweet. It is this crux that shows there is genetic lineage to scroll back through Chianti Classico and CC Riserva. More perfume in 2012, of violets and roses, even in the presence of human aromatic intervention. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2016
Single-varietal, single-vineyard, sangiovese-vigna nerento Gran Selezione. From the vantage point of Villa Trasqua’s terrace you can look out and see the demarcation of this special plot, a cru that seems to throw a special light even at dusk and this Gran Selezione offers a changing luminescence as it warms and evolves in the glass. Nerento is a success from the early category days and not all producers were able to find commitment and distinction this early. At six years of age post vintage it drinks as it should, idiomatically fresh and precise in the unequivocal Castellina in Chianti way. Here is post modern Chianti Classico’s preferred exit because Nerento is an example that puts full trust in the grand theory and the ideology of the Selezione. Keep this in the glass for hours and contemplate; the vineyard, the perfectly cooked filet of beef and the quiet Chianti Classico night. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted May 2016
Every great wine dissolves a genre or creates a new one and in the context of Gran Selezione, Pietro Losi and Giorgio Baldi’s Millenium 2010 concludes the latter. In a category where so much changes and yet nothing at all, the choice to pick individual plants, specific vines and particular bunches of grapes as destined for a vision of greatness defines the ideal that wine is indeed made in the vineyard. This Chianti Classico Riserva sees 36 months in 10hL barrels and it is a wine that has essentially been made since since 1997. It went to market again in 1999 and then it was 2000 that prescribed the Millenium, followed by 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Subsequent top quality vintages are 2011, 2012 and 2015. The selected vines and particular bunches produce on average and approximately 4800 bottles. Take note of the most perfume and yet not the most savour, forest or truffle but there are hints, with some fennochio and the most grip to lead a sangiovese (with five per cent each canaiolo and malvasia nera) structure. The finest tannic grain runs through, lifted by tang meets sour over tart so round and specific to Gran Selezione. This wine is a highly accomplished specimen and a portal in ode to a great grandfather who started his day with wine and cheese, for energy. He imbibed for everyday consumption, just as water would nourish as it should be with this wine for food and contemplation. A wine with a finish minutes long. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2016
Barone Ricasoli Castello Di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (942607, $59.95, WineAlign)
A Chianti Classcio first borne in 1997 with the plan to create a maximum quality blend as an expression of the estate’s diverse terroir. A meticulous selection is combed from the estate’s vineyards, spread over 230 hectares of land. Though early on the fruit may have emerged out of good but not yet exceptional vineyards, nearly 20 years later the sangiovese (90 per cent) with cabernet Sauvignon and merlot (or perhaps petit verdot) adheres to grand vin excellence. The wood regimen is 18 months in tonneau followed by 18 in bottle. Perhaps you will not find a more accomplished, perfectly judged, matter of factly expressed Gran Selezione. Sangiovese in equality of spicing with fruit, acidity and tannin, perfectly integrated toast, wood impact and textural drive. Stefano Capurso admits this about the transition from Chianti Classico to Gran Selezione.”It’s a matter of compromise between what is needed for the small producers and the need to express through crus for the large ones.” Drink 2018-2025. Tasted May 2016
Colledilà is the Ricasoli Chianti Classico “other side of the hill” cru developed and realized from 15 years of estate terroir sangiovese research. This vintage was cropped at less than six tonnes per hectare so no need for green harvest, out of limestone vineyards with southeast and southwest aspects on seven blocks. Only 15,000 bottles were produced from only the best grapes selected (the rest go into the Brolio GS). This 100 per cent sangiovese is the soil king agronomist Massimiliano Biagi’s favourite and it sees 18-20 months in 2nd fill tonneaux. Biagi is the custodian of the fractured mineral, the white rock, catalyst to this off-roading sangiovese of built in natural, shock absorbing structure. Notes of balsamic, baking spice, vanilla and lavender are antithetical to the Brolio GS. The Colledilà’s first vintage was 2007 and the seventh breadth is here remarkable, the acumen inherent, the result timeless. You should never give up on sangiovese and when I tasted this again upon return after the Casalferro I then came to realize and respect its power. But it is never overpowering. It whiffs the most perfume, in the end, in reverse. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted May 2016
Il Molino Di Grace Il Margone Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (435115, $39.95, WineAlign)
What is Il Margone? “This is the best selection. We taste the wine in the cellar and decide the wine that will be, to the end,” explains Iacopo Morganti, director of Il Molino di Grace. The name must also refer to the particular construction of the vineyard at Montefili, on Panzano’s west side, of its altitude, slope and the Galèstro within. Il Margone is a kind of wine for the (Molino) windmill, where the water goes over the stone and it is a wine that was always the Gran Selezione, before and after, on the vine and in the barrels. Now it can be called what is has been whereas before it was the second Riserva but the more important one, the best one. It now spends 18 months in barriques, 50 per cent new and 18,000 bottles are made. It runs deeper still, far through the Galèstro and into the pietra forte, for the cementing of strong sangiovese (not just religious buildings). From the hot vintage of 2011 and with the alcohol to prove it (14.5 per cent), there is an inherent sense of yeasty culture, a sheep’s milk pecorino that runs through the warmth. It functions as a cooling centre, then compression, layered spice and tannin. That late attack co-conspires with acidity to freeze the mouthfeel and seek years of patient desire. Really energetic Sangiovese, iron-fisted and demanding but with so much seeping cherry fruit. Wait four years minimum. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted May 2016
A single-vineyard Gran Selezione, as per the house interpretation of the category, from “la vigna del Convento” situated on the slope beneath il convento di Radda in Chianti. So very concentrated, modern, plush but unshaken, of no compression. Noses all the flowers and herbs of Radda in this glass; lavender, rosemary and many varieties of sage. “This is not a military position,” notes Bernardo Bianchi. The block is always in the sun over fully-occupied Galestro soil, 490m above sea level. All together making for a new Riserva of restrained power and elegance. Wow. Such mouthfeel and structure many Gran Selezione would kill for. The single monastery vineyard is very special at 20 years-old and has just entered its prime. Finishes with more mineral in what seems like Amaro bitters, but it’s mineral, all mineral and nothing but mineral. And it’s just a baby, at this time in bottle five months. This is a very, very grown up wine. It solicits the requiem to be stashed away for future re-connection. Drink 2020-2031. Tasted May 2016
Castello Di Gabbiano Gran Selezione Bellezza Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (652438, $39.95, WineAlign)
Tasted with winemaker Federico Cerelli alongside the new era ushering 2012, a wine with six months further resolve, which is really just a moment in life. Looking at this 2013 it clings to that ’12’s ideal, still firm and in need of down time, stirring still, wasting some time. Here a gear switch, alteration and adjustment. A reduction of new oak, an increase of the mineral cogitation specific to the Albarese soil, with tannins great like in 2012 but finer, more elegant. This is more classic in the sangiovese thought because what also is allowed is the level of dry extract, “over 30 for sure” notes Cerelli. This Bellezza is pure sangiovese, the best Bellezza in years, classic to remind of many years ago but a very modern wine. It is the Gabbiano predicament and the predilection to announce what Gran Selezione means so in a word, bravo. You could actually drink this now and then over 25 years. “What is Bellezza? This is the best block of the estate” is the answer as told by Federico. Great tannins, simply great tannins. Drink 2019-2032. Tasted May 2016
Fom San Casciano in Val di Pesa, a cooperative-produced Gran Selezione from vineyards all around the area. Quite barrel-influenced adding extracted layers around steroidal cherries, with aromas recalling shoe leather and polish. A rich and broad mouthfeel of elasticity like a stick of chewing gum with alkalescent flavours of lavender and vanilla. A highly oaked, cakey, middle of the road GS. Dusty as if surely some merlot would be the filler in here but it’s 100 per cent sangiovese. Well made coop Chianti Classico. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted May 2016 @ @
The big, heavy bottle, echoed in the wine’s tones, from wood and with extract. Very Igt in temper, with international varieties in here for sure, seemingly designed with cabernet sauvignon but perhaps also merlot (it’s actually the opposite). The intent here is a full expression of fruit, wood, acidity and tannin. A beast that requires years to integrate and settle. There is liquorice and fennel pollen in the later stages. It’s very chewy and certainly all in. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted May 2016 @ @
The plot specific, 100 per cent sangiovese Vigna del Sorbo is from organic vineyards in Panzano, now in its third year for re-branding the single-vineyard Riserva. Remarkably aromatic and in hyper reality of its unique and very own red fruit, high-toned, full bodied and certainly elevated of alcohol. A sangiovese of massive tannins and acidity but the fruit is equal to the task. This leans more to the modern wave of extraction and sun-drenching than any other Gran Selezione I have tasted recently, like 100 per cent grenache of say Chateau Rayas. A Chianti Classico tall, big, muscular and strong, of ample tannins, proportionate acidity, body, structure, all in and all together. A bit more elegance than Châteauneuf-du-Pape but along very similar lines. Also a product of the 2012 vintage. Drink 2018-2036. Tasted May 2016 @ #fontodi
Casaloste Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Don Vincenzo 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy
From Gionanni Battista D’orsi, also from Panzano so organic. The vintner hails from Naples (note the tiny Vesuvius on the label), this is the first to show real acetone but it’s beneath the threshold. There is also wood in droves, woods and thickets with dark blackberry fruit to extreme ripe red plum. This needs years to settle down and play nice. It’s a very formidable GS, not so surprising considering the vintage as it is imagined. A bit less grit, girth and astringency will travel though future vintages although with Casaloste it’s certainly a stylistic choice. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2016 @
Castello D’Albola Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Solatio 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent)
From Radda in Chianti and owned by Zonin, this is typically lighter in body for the area. Composed of 100 per cent sangiovese, very much in red fruit and old-school Brunello-ish liqueur. Cherries macerating and gaining acidity in its pool, flavour is a ringer for Japanese omeboshi plum, and then fruit leather/roll-up made with strawberry. Liquid chalky and lactic. Great intensity. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted May 2016
Premiata Fattoria di Castelvecchi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Madonnino della Pieve” 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy
From Radda in Chianti, rich red to darkening fruit and some acetic dealings,. There is more than just a simple breadth of likeability in the layering and variegation of the red fruits in here. Plenty of herbiage and more tonality on the second half of the ride. Somewhat old school and very taut, tight, vigorous and vital. Classic, traditional, ripe and attentive sangiovese. This will live quite long, somewhere in the vicinity of 15-20 years. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2016 #Castelvecchi @
Rocca Delle Macìe Gran Selezione Chianti Classico Riserva Di Fizzano Single Vineyard 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (699454, $32.95, WineAlign)
From Castellina in Chianti, another singular, unique and specifically to itself Gran Selezione, with dark red fruit and tones set above though there is nothing remotely acetic about the play. Purity from the Fizzano vineyard is apparent with much mineral (seems to be albarese) throughout. The mid-palate here is full and this strikes as both elegant and traditional. Great length, longer than many or even most. A very accomplished yet classico Classico. Re-branded and worth every bit of that advantage. Perfect transfer from single-vineyard Sangiovese (95 per cent) plus (5) merlot, to SV-GS. Even if you notice the wood in the mid-palate and through the structure, you do not finish with it. There are 26,000 bottles made for a wine first produced in 1986. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted May 2016 @ @
Mazzei Castello Di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $75.00, WineAlign)
From Castellina in Chianti by the Mazzei family, fashioned from 92 per cent sangiovese. There is so much wisdom in here, out of grace and for elegance with wood rounding out all the angles. Very much a particular and painstakingly precise selective Gran Selezione, from wide and far. Though curious to note that within the pantheon of the genre the Fonterutoli is almost middle of the road in style. This comes as a result of where is lies in the range occupied by the multifarious interpretations. This 2012 is demonstratively integrated with a high level of acidity spurring and embracing generational connectivity. Drink 2018-2030. Tasted May 2016 @ @
Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Millenium 2009, Docg Tuscany, Italy
From Gaiole in Chianti and one of the first to jump headfirst into the new category. Showing a bit of age, from a very warm vintage, this has the humid funk (and is consistent with the 2007 tasted earlier in the week). Rich, a bit caky, chalky and yet the acidity winds its way around with room-tying, rug-hooking ability. Older in schooling and traditionally-styled to be sure. Drink 2016-2019 Tasted May 2016
From Gaiole, with 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon, this is modish-modern, high-toned, rich and spicy, very wood apparent Gran Selezione. A bit splintered and flinty this early in toddler years but the mineral and high altitude vineyard impart is and will become gainfully employed as a major plus. Long finish. Strikes like a very modern Brunello in style and increasingly international with time in the glass. In some respects it may as well be Igt. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted May 2016 @ @
Supported by nine per cent pugnitello to accentuate hue, aroma and structure, this is organic sangiovese from Gaiole. Produced using the finest grapes from the San Marcellino vineyard that surrounds the namesake Church in Monti in Chianti. Saw 27 months in medium-toast Allier forest French barriques and tonneaux plus an additional 18 months in bottle before release. Yet another rich and high-toned example (pushing 15 per cent alcohol), with lots of liquorice and corporeal feel on the nose. A child of modern and rich styling with good animale tension, as well as ferric and hematic accents to the dark fruit. Very Tuscan Igt mixed with Classico ideals to speak for Gran Selezione through the voice of traditional varieties. Only 7,400 (plus 300 magnum) bottles were produced. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2016 #RoccadiMontegrossi
Good to go!