Did you know there is more Chianti Classico in the U.S. than there is in Italy? America is such an important market for Chianti Classico, they came here first to unveil their newest, highest designation of quality: GRAN SELEZIONE.
On the ground level of the quality pyramid, there is "regular" Chianti, like the old-school straw-wrapped bottles. Then there is Chianti Classico, and next highest is Riserva, both of which must adhere to rising levels of regulations. This past January, the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico (the oldest Consorzio—group of wine producers—in Italy) enacted the new Gran Selezione category at the top of the quality pyramid. This designation is self-regulated, which caused me to raise an eyebrow, but the standards are similar to other regions' high levels—in this case: more aging time, regulated grape varietals (minimum of 80% Sangiovese, 100% is allowed, with international varieties acceptable in the blend,) and 13% minimum alcohol.
Italians are extremely proud of their winemaking history. But, as was expressed in the introductory speeches at the U.S. Premiere recently in New York, the proliferation of quality wine around the globe and the growth in "new" winemaking areas mean that regions even with a storied history like Chianti Classico have to keep up.
As I moved around the room tasting the freshly minted Gran Seleziones, I wasn't initially overwhelmed by the obviousness of the apparent elevated quality. Some wines suffered perhaps from their new power, needing more time in bottle to smooth out the edges. Others showed incredible promise on the nose, but fell short of expectation in the mouth. But some were very intriguing and highly satisfying wines.
2010 Castelli del Grevepesa Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Lamole (100% Sangiovese) had nice cherries and florals on the nose but was a bit acidic in the mouth, with a nice note of earth. ~$35. Their 2010 Grevepesa Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Castello di Bibbione—from a single estate—fared better, with a pleasant brightness, and softer finish of berries and a green stemminess. ~$35.
The 2009 Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Badia a Passignano (100% Sangiovese) was very good, with a nose of earth, spice, and coffee, and a zingy mouthfeel with red fruits on the palate. ~$50.
I quite enjoyed the 2009 Casaloste Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Don Vincenzo (100% Sangiovese); great nose of cocoa powder, violets, and dried earth, with an excellent but not overbearing tannic structure. ~$45.
Maybe a "more typical" expression of CC was the 2011 Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigneto Querciolina - Sassello (100% Sangiovese) with its nose of earth and rose petals and savory notes in the mouth. Needs time. ~$60.
A favorite was the 2010 Castello Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigna La Prima (100% Sangiovese) with an intoxicating aromatic nose full of purple flowers. Nice fruit expression, tea leaves, long finish, well-balanced, very structured, excellent character. ~$48.
I also was a fan of the 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo. (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.) Lovely perfumey nose of ripe cherry-berry fruit, smooth and velvety, bright fruit in the mouth, light but well-structured. ~$77
I'd give more time to the 2010 Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Il Margone (100% Sangiovese)—it had an herby, merde-y nose, and it was very tannic—hopefully it will open up in the future. ~$45.
Another favorite was the 2010 Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Castello Fonterutoli (92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia and Colorino.) With its cherries and tea leaves on the nose, it was pleasant and smooth yet still well-structured. Pretty quaffable; I'd say the best value of the day. ~$30.
The 2010 Ruffino Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Riserva Ducale Oro (80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) was a real powerhouse, surely boosted by that Cabernet in the blend. Lots of dried tea leaves, tart cherry, and tons of structure. ~$33.
I loved the nose of the 2009 Fèlsina Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Colonia.
It showed dusty earth, florals, and blackberry. It was a little closed
on the palate, with tea and herb notes, but showed potential; I wrote, "give it
I was intrigued by the 2010 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Colledilà (100% Sangiovese) with its prominent note of grape soda. Maybe an unusual descriptor, but apt! And it was balanced by rich lilac florals and light, fresh red fruit. ~$60.
The Ricasoli 2010 Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Castello di Brolio (80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) teemed with earth and minerals—another to hold on to for a while as the flavors develop. ~$45
The best way to describe the 2011 Tenuta San Vincenti Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) was "tricky," as the Merlot in the blend added softness and round fruits, but seemed to mask the inherent Sangiovese character. It was merde-y and earthy, deeply fruity, with bright acidity, and while it was not textbook Chianti Classico, I enjoyed it. ~$23.
Another interesting blend was the 2010 San Felice Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Il Grigio da San Felice (80% Sangiovese, 7% Abrusco, 5% [the nearly extinct] Pugnitello, 4% Malvasia Nera, 2% Ciligiolo, 2% Mazzese.) Barnyard, sweet earth, berry salad—lots of fruit, chewy and interesting, big and bold, smooth finish. Although the indigenous grapes again seemed to mute the traditional character of Sangiovese, I was continuously drawn back to this wine. ~$40.
Perhaps my ultimate wine of the day was the 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Il Puro - Vigneto Casanova
(100% Sangiovese). I wrote, "love love love the nose," with its opulent
red and purple fruit. "Something very flirty here," a note of blueberry
(unusual for Sangiovese,) bit of herbs, bit of earth, good acid,
lots of structure, "yummmmmmy." ~$130
At the end of the day, I was left with some questions and not a lot of answers. Was this new designation merely an opportunity to justify incredibly high prices in some cases? I mean, really—is anyone actually going to pay over a hundred bucks for a bottle of Chianti? (I did not know price points at the time of the tasting, so I was disappointed to discover that my favorite wine was one of the most expensive, because I doubt I will ever get to try it again.)
Perhaps more importantly, is the quality level of Gran Selezione that much higher than mere "Riserva?" Wineaux, I honestly can't say. But at the end of the day, I suppose what matters most is that these producers are stretching out their techniques and styles in pursuit of even greater wines. And there are excellent offerings in the $30-50 range, making Gran Selezione wines accessible to consumers. Perhaps you should seek out some Gran Selezione Chianti Classico and see for yourself!