Soaring Sangiovese, Sort-of Breaking News

I spent a chilly late-February week in Tuscany, sipping and spitting an enormous amount of first-rate Sangiovese. The occasions were the annual presentation of new releases at the Chianti Classico Collection in Florence and the Benvenuto Brunello in Montalcino. An odd week it was, with a swirl of news and rumor and a huge, highly varied battery of wines – some 430 in all – to be experienced. This post, I’ll focus on Chianti Classico and deal with Brunello in a later post. There’s no hurry: These wines are all new releases, and most of them won’t be arriving on these shores for some months yet.

In Florence, the featured wines were Chianti Classico of 2010 and 2009, plus riservas of 2009 and 2008 and a sprinkling of 2007s.

In both vintages, the regular bottlings – Chianti Classico DOCG, the normale – showed very well indeed, with excellent Sangiovese character. The ’09 seemed more structured and more fit for cellaring than the ’10, which impressed me less, even though readier and lighter, more suitable for present drinking.

Giovanni Manetti

However: Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi, a producer whose wines and opinions I take seriously, advised me that 2010 is a very forceful, concentrated vintage and that only the lightest wines of that vintage have been released – his, for instance, are still in barrel. In confirmation of that, only half as many 2010s were offered as 2009s – so there is still a lot of that vintage to be released, and it may be very different in character from these earliest bottlings. That should not deter anyone from enjoying the ones now entering the market: they are thoroughly drinkable, very characteristic middle-weight Chianti.

Here are the wines that impressed me most (alphabetical order):

• Badia a Coltibuono Riserva 2008

• Casaloste 2009

• Castell’in Villa 2008

• Castello di Bossi 2009

• Castello di Bossi Riserva 2007

• Castello di Fonterutoli, Castello Fonterutoli 2008

• Castello di Verrazzano Riserva 2008

• Chianti Geografico, Contessa di Radda 2009

• Concadoro 2009

• Dievole, La Vendemmia 2009

• Fattoria di Lamole, Castello delle Stinche 2008

• Fattoria La Ripa 2009

• Fontodi 2009

• Fontodi, Vigna del Sorbo Riserva 2008

• Isole e Olena 2009

• Lamole di Lamole 2009

• Melini, Granaio 2009

• Poggiopiano 2009

• Principe Corsini Fattoria Le Corti, Le Corti 2009

• Rocca delle Maciè, Sant’Alfonso 2009

• Tenuta di Lilliano 2009

• Villa Cafaggio 2009

• Villa Cafaggio Riserva 2008

You will note that there are very few riservas listed. That is because many of the riservas really put me off with heavy oak influences that were largely absent from the normale bottlings. For my palate, that is totally negative: I want to taste Sangiovese, not new-oak vanilla or toasted-oak espresso, and there was just too much of both of those in evidence among the riservas of all vintages. To me, that makes the regular bottles of Chianti Classico much better buys.

Don’t assume, by the way, that just because they aren’t riserva they don’t have staying power: Many of those ‘09s have 10 or 15 years of life ahead of them. I judge that on the basis of years of tasting these kinds of wines as new releases and at every stage of their subsequent development. After enough years of that experience, you begin to discern what balance of fruit and mineral, acid and tannin and alcohol, will mesh sufficiently to sustain the wines at a (sometimes increasingly) pleasurable level for (at least roughly) how many years. It isn’t an exact science by any means – more like what Nero Wolfe used to tell Archie Goodwin to use: “intelligence guided by experience” – but it works more often than not.

And now for something completely different.

The news and rumor in Florence was all about Antinori. Officially, Antinori announced that, after having seceded from the Consorzio 35 years ago, it was now rejoining. Consorzio officials and Chianti producers were excited about this, viewing it as a confirmation of their efforts and an augmentation of their prestige. It probably will function so for the general public (if the general public notices at all), but those of us who have been tracking Tuscan wine view it a bit more skeptically.

My sense is that Antinori’s leadership position in Tuscany generally and in Chianti Classico particularly has been eroding for the past two decades. The firm’s too-frequent changes of labels and appellations have caused market confusion: Can anyone guess what kind of wine the white-label Marchesi Antinori, once an iconic Chianti Classico Riserva, now is?

And Piero Antinori’s now-dated opinions – for instance, about the role of Cabernet sauvignon in Tuscan wine, and about blending other grapes into Rosso di Montalcino – have pushed the Antinori firm to the point where it needs the Consorzio more than the Consorzio needs it. Maybe I’m just cynical, but cynicism isn’t always wrong.

Finally: as a confirmation of Giovanni Manetti’s description of the 2010 vintage, it was semi-officially announced (officially rumored?) that Antinori’s 2010 Tignanello would consist of 100% Sangiovese – no Cabernet at all. Piero Antinori was said to have said that the 2010 Sangiovese was so good that there was no need for Cabernet. If true, this would represent a total about-face in Antinori’s thinking: If my memory serves, he once pronounced such a thing impossible.

3 Responses to “Soaring Sangiovese, Sort-of Breaking News”

  1. Michaela Rodeno Says:

    Piero Antinori is, as usual, ahead of the curve and unafraid of change. People who like to drink wine are tired of huge, dense, overoaked wines.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Michaela:

      I think Piero is well behind the curve. People have been turning away from big, overoaked wines for some years now. It seems to me that Antinori is simply playing catch-up.

  2. Charles Scicolone Says:

    At a tasting of Antinori wines last fall Renzo Cortarella said that since 2004 they were moving away from heavy oaked wines and moving toward fruit and less wood in their wines. Piero with this “good news” seems to complete the picture.

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