I’ve just finished a week in Tuscany as a guest of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico (www.chianticlassico.com) and Balzac Communications (www.balzac.com) to cover a series of festivals in the hill country of this often misunderstood region. As my friend Rick Bakas, a fellow traveler on this trip (www.rickbakas.com, TW/G+ bakasmedia) says, Chianti Classico can best be described as the donut hole in Chianti, an exclusive area in the middle of a lesser region that represents wine with slightly different laws, perhaps a bit higher alcohol, and often more oak influence (for more information on the specific rules check out Rick’s excellent blog at http://rickbakas.com/5-days-in-tuscany-the-misadventures-of-the-chianti-classico-kid).
Calling Classico anything else (including plain old Chianti) is not only missing the point of microregional wine; it is also inaccurate. And there is so much diversity here, even though most of the wines are composed almost entirely of Sangiovese, that I will be splitting this tale into three eventual segments.
I arrived in Florence a day early so that I could have dinner with my old friend Giovanni Nencini, Vice President and General Manager for Cantine Leonardo da Vinci, at Ristorante Il Gusci. While time with Giovanni is always well-spent, on this night the restaurant’s owner stole the show with a white wine that wasn’t even from Italy. The Burja Bela Vipavska Dolina from Slovenia showed a golden hue that led to aromas of green herb and olive and flavors of apricot and cantaloupe. Very intense and really fun but not imported into the U.S.
As for Giovanni’s wines, the Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2010, also not a U.S. import, brought cherry-red color to black licorice, milk chocolate, black raspberry and mocha. Solid and a tremendous value if you can find it. His Brunello di Montalcino 2008, dusty red and nosing smoky red cherry, tasted of dark chocolate, cola and black pepper on a long, deep, harmonious finish.
The next day, Thursday, heralded the official start of the press trip after an overnight in the AC Hotel Firenze, near the train station on Via Luciano Bausi (www.hotelacfirenze.com). Several of my fellow bloggers didn’t arrive until that afternoon, so I didn’t actually meet any of them (other than Rick, of course) until we gathered in the lobby before heading out to explore Florence and then have dinner at Gustavino Restaurant. I knew right away it would be a fun crew because as we walked we all instinctively took turns cracking wise, a trend that continued throughout our journey. In addition to Rick there was Monique Soltani (www.wineoh.tv, FB/TW wineohtv), Ian White (www.7×7.com, TW 7×7), and Ron Holden (cornichon.org, Tw ronaldholden, FB ronald.holden1). Also joining us that evening were Silvia Fiorentini and Christine Lechner from the Consorzio.
We shared cheese and salume (all except Monique, a vegetarian) and with our mains we sampled several bottles of Chianti Classico. Poderi il Palazzino’s Argenina 2008 particularly impressed, with its blueish-red color, rosemary and cranberry nose, and smoky, blue plum interior.
One of the things I most liked about this press trip was that we never had to get up too early or endure a “death march” of too many wineries on any given day. Our first Friday stop, at a very civilized 10:00 AM, showed off Antinori’s MACCC (www.antinori.it). This ancient, noble Tuscan family’s new $100,000,000 cellar and administrative center is so audacious that I’m still digesting its size, cost, and pure, abject beauty. The MACCC has many chapters still to write but is already a fitting tribute to Marchese Piero Antinori and his family’s legacy.
I could go on, but Antinori will appear again in the last part of this series so enough here. During the actual tasting two bottles separated themselves. The Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2009 tinted blood-red. Sweet red cherry and black pepper veered into cinnamon, orange peel and rose petal on a multi-layered finish. A Riserva from Badia a Passignano (vintage 2008, which are often more structured and traditional than typically warm, seductive 2009s) appeared dusty and red, with an aroma of wild strawberry and hints of sweet red raspberry, malt, and black current on the tongue.
That afternoon we visited Castello di Fonterutoli (www.mazzei.it), another iconic house. Again two bottles were distinguished by their merits. The Chianti Classico di Castello 2010 was an inky, black-purple surprise where cedar, red currant, cola, citrus zest, and lavender all took turns on the stage. The Siepe IGT 2008, a creamy ruby concoction, was redolent of pickling spice and radish. Red cherry and dark chocolate dominated a round, ripe frame.
After checking into the Hotel Belvedere di San Leonino (www.hotelsanleonino.com) in Castellina in Chianti, we headed back out to Radda (specifically the Santa Maria in Prato Convent/Academy, an erstwhile future home for the Consorzio;s educational efforts). There we became part of the show, participants in the “Lady Food & Mr. Wine” competition where seven female chefs on a cooking show combine their dishes with tastes of Chianti Classico.
This time I noticed three bottles in particular. The Cellole Chianti Classico DOCG 2004 (much older than most wines consumed on the trip) was quite pink in tone, with a nose of minty candy and rose water and tastes of cherry liqueur and black pepper. Castello di Volpaia’s Chianti Classico DOCG 2010 hued more in the ruby zone, with chewy red raspberry, milk chocolate, mandarin orange, and mocha components at both start and finish. Finally, the Bibbiano Chianti Classico Montornello DOCG 2009 showed red and brown. Dark chocolate, smoke, blackberry and cola rounded out an impressive package.
Part Two will start with Saturday’s events, including my participation in the seminar, “Sangiovese or Sangiovese?” in which the terroirs, grapes and wines of Montalcino and Radda in Chianti were compared in a raucous blind tasting by our group as well as residents of the town Radda.
Also coming up is an Austrian press trip that starts today (Thursday) with a pre-tour dinner in Vienna alongside the director of Wein Burgenland, Christian Zechmeister. While I’m on the road I will mostly employ Twitter (@WineOnTheRoad) and a WOTR Facebook fan page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wine-On-The-Road/230432927008331). As always, if you have any questions, comments, or if you just want to chat, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Twitter, Facebook, and my cell (+1 303 522-6738) once I return to the states in early July.
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Burja Bela Vipavska Dolina 2010 (Fodnanos, Slovenia) $N/A
Cantine Leonardo da Vinci Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2010 (Tuscany, Italy) $N/A
Cantine Leonardo da Vinci Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2008 (Tuscany, Italy) $52
Poderi il Palazzino Argenina DOCG 2008 (Tuscany, Italy) $20
Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2009 (Tuscany, Italy) $30
Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2008 (Tuscany, Italy) $44
Fonterutoli Chianti Classico DOCG 2010 (Tuscany, Italy) $29
Fonterutoli Siepe IGT 2008 (Tuscany, Italy) $96
Cellole Chianti Classico DOCG 2004 (Tuscany, Italy) $43
Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico DOCG 2010 (Tuscany, Italy) $19
Bibbiano Chianti Classico Montornello DOCG 2009 (Tuscany, Italy) $19