The region of Tuscany extends westward to the Tyrrhenian sea, northward to Liguria and Emilia-Romagna and is bordered by Lazio (south) and Umbria (east). Within Tuscany are three of Italy’s most important red D.O.C.G. wines: Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, all made from Tuscany’s most notable grape, Sangiovese.
The Chianti region is made up of an extensive hilly area located in the center of Tuscany, between the major cities of Florence and Siena, bordered on the east by the Chianti Mountains and to the west by the Elsa River. One of the most famous wine regions in Italy, the landscape of the Chianti is characterized by a continuous alternation between gentle rolling hills covered in vines and olive trees, and verdant valleys. Part of Chianti’s charms lies in its long and prestigious past. Within the Chianti region there are numerous ancient hamlets, churches and abbeys, castles and fortresses, farmhouses, and villas. Inhabited since ancient times by the Etruscans, the area was also controlled by the Romans prior to medieval times, when it was the scene of heavy fighting between the rival cities of Florence and Siena.
At the beginning of its history, the name Chianti was ascribed to a geographical district rather than a wine style. The Chianti Mountains referred to the area surrounding the towns of Castellina, Radda and Gaiole. This district was known as the League of Chianti, which was created as a political and military institution whose aim was to protect the Chianti territory on behalf of the Republic of Florence. The formula for contemporary-style Chianti is ascribed to the Baron Bettino Ricasoli, the second Prime Minister of Italy. In a letter dated 1872, the statesman dictated that Chianti should be a red blend dominated by Sangiovese (for its bouquet and vigor), with the addition of Canaiolo to soften the wine. The addition of the white Malvasia grape was suggested for wines intended for early consumption but was discouraged for Chianti destined for cellaring.
The Chianti appellations are organized as a with supposedly increasing levels of quality (and decreasing quantities of production). The three levels of the quality pyramid from the bottom to the top are: generic Chianti, Chianti DOCG (with the exception of Chianti Colli Senesi), and Chianti Classico DOCG. This quarter’s offering focuses on the Chianti Classico DOCG classification with an exceptional example of each of the three levels coming from historic and reputable estates.
The Chianti Classico wine production specifications were created in 1967, then modified and approved several times until the most recent and current version of 2014. There are now three tiers in the Chianti Classico DOCG denomination: Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. Chianti Classico wine can only be released for consumption from 1 October of the year following the harvest. Chianti Classico Riserva wine can be released for consumption only after undergoing at least 24 months of aging, at least 3 months of which is in bottle. The Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wine must be produced with grapes from a single vineyard or with a selection of the best grapes from vineyards owned by the wine producer can be released for consumption only after undergoing at least 30 months of aging of which bottle refinement for at least 3 months. When requesting eligibility for their wines, producers must always state the intended status, in other words, whether the wine is being considered for certification as Chianti Classico Annata, Riserva or Gran Selezione.
No matter what level of Chianti Classico, the wines must come from a specific geographical area. It was on September 24th in 1716, that the Grand Duke Cosimo III of Medici gave the announcement that he had decided to mark out the best area for the production of high-quality wine in Tuscany. With this announcement the area between Florence and Siena was defined as to be protected for the production of what much later was to become Chianti Classico wines. In 1932, the Italian government issued a ministerial decree to differentiate the Chianti made in the zone of origin, adding to it the suffix “Classico”. Since then Chianti Classico is the wine produced within the original (historical) “Chianti” zone. Today, Chianti as a wine region is a diverse conglomerate that consists of eight municipalities within two provinces: San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Barberino Val d'Elsa, and Greve in Chianti, are all located in the Province of Florence. The other municipalities of Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and Castelnuovo Berardenga rest in the province of Siena.
The savory notes of Chianti Classico make it an ideal wine for food pairings as it will easily complement a wide range of dishes. It is a delight with a simple dish such as plate of sliced prosciutto or a bowl of pasta al pomodoro. Some other wonderful pairings could include: vegetable lasagna layered with a zucchini pesto, rigatoni pasta served with slices of filet mignon, sage, red wine, porcini mushrooms and shallots in a light tomato sauce, Bistecca alla Fiorentina; steak drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and garnished with Parmesano Reggiano),>or Pici con Ragù di Cinghiale (the local, hand-rolled, thick flour and water pasta layered with a ragu of wild boar).
Castello di Ama is located about 12 miles northeast of Siena in the hills of Gaiole, in the heart of Chianti Classico. For several centuries, the borgo (tiny hamlet) of Amma, set about 1640 feet above sea level, was renowned for its farming and winemaking practices, which were overseen by a group of prominent families. Ama was owned by the Firidolfi family during the Holy Roman Empire. In the early 1700s new dwellings were built using the same stones in the exact same spot where the castle (demolished during previous wars) had originally stood. These villas included the homes belonging to the Pianigiani , Ricucci, and Montigiani families – “the most prominent families in Chianti,” wrote Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Habsburg-Lorraine in his 18th-century Report on the government of Tuscany.
The modern era of Castello di Ama began about 50 years ago. In the 1970s, spurred by the beauty of Ama, four families formed a partnership and purchased the property. Tomaso Carini along with his three friends GianVittorio Cavanna, Pietro Tradico and Lionello Sebasti, began the arduous task of returning Ama to its past glory with the goal of producing world-class wines. In 1982, they hired Marco Pallanti to manage the property. Marco, who is a Tuscan born and bred and honed his craft partly on home ground, and partly in France, was an up-and-coming young agronomist.
At 25 years of age, Marco was working in a laboratory in Siena for the Consortium of Chianti Classico, when he first heard that “Fattoria di Ama” was searching for an oenologist. Once hired, Marco launched a ten-year research project with the guidance of outside consultant, Patrick Léon of Bordeaux (who served at the time as the director of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild) to determine the site’s viticultural characteristics. Under his direction the vineyard was divided into individual homogeneous blocks based upon soils and exposure. The goal was to identify the various micro-terroirs ensuring even ripening and optimum quality for each variety. In 1988, the reins of the estate were assumed by Lorenza Sebasti. Lorenza is the second generation of one of the winery’s founding families, and she and Marco were married in the 1990s.
Castello di Ama’s 2017 Chianti Classico is composed of 96% Sangiovese and 4% Merlot. The wine is almost entirely made with the new clones of Sangiovese developed through Marco’s research and the most modern techniques of quality viticulture. These vineyards are planted and organically grown with a density of 5,200 vines per hectare in their four estate vineyards: Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo, and Montebuoni. The vines average 15 years and are grown on hills with north-east/south-east exposures on clay and calcareous soils. The result is excellent quality with reduced quantity. For Castello di Ama’s 2017 Chianti Classico, harvest was done by hand in 10-12-kg crates on August 21st and ended on October 2nd. Each varietal was fermented separately in stainless-steel tanks using only ambient yeasts. Manual pump-overs were done for 25 days before the wine was racked and underwent malolactic fermentation. The final blended was then assembled and transferred to used, thin-grained oak barriques and aged for about 12 months. The finished wine has an enormously expressive bouquet with a great deal of aromatic freshness and energy. Succulent red cherry, plum, rose petal, mint and sweet spices coexist with warm tones of tilled earth and dark fruit. The wine’s fresh acidity keeps it balanced and lends just enough tension. While enjoyable now, this wine should continue to improve over the next few years.
Volpaia is a terra murata, a “walled village” that sits on a hilltop just north of the town of Radda in the heart of the Chianti Classico region. Records of Volpaia date back to 1172, and in 1250, Volpaia was a founding member of the Lega del Chianti. The winery’s logo features the coat of arms from the illustrious della Volpaia family, who lived in the village and took its name from the town itself. Lorenzo della Volpaia (1446-1512), an architect, goldsmith, mathematician and clockmaker, founded a Florentine dynasty of clockmakers and scientific-instrument makers that included his sons, Camillo, Benvenuto and Eufrosino, and nephew Girolamo.
Raffaello Stianti, one of Italy’s preeminent printers and bookbinders, purchased a portion of the Volpaia estate in 1966, and continued to purchase land in Volpaia as it became available. When his daughter Giovannella married Carlo Mascheroni in 1972, Raffaello gave his Volpaia estate to the young couple as a wedding gift! By the mid-1970s, Carlo and Giovannella decided to commit their energies toward modernizing the winery and producing world-class wines, but without altering the external structure of the 11th-century village. Achieving their desired level of quality has been a decades-long process, and one that continues. Nearly every five years the family has updated the cellars with the most modern vinification technologies. Today, the Stianti Mascheroni family owns roughly two-thirds of the village. There are 370 hectares (914 acres) of land, including 46 hectares (114 acres) of vineyards, nearly 16 hectares (40 acres) of olive trees, as well as the walled village, villas and forests.The nearly 46 hectares (114 acres) of vineyards owned by Castello di Volpaia are at 450 to 600 meters (1,300 to 2,130 feet) above sea level, making Volpaia one of the highest wineries in the Chianti region. All the vineyards are on south-facing slopes, just down the hill from the village of Volpaia, and are fully exposed. The earth at Volpaia is comprised mainly of light soil consisting largely of sandstone, a sedimentary rock from the Pliocene epoch (the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 1.806 million years before present.) There are 16 different estate vineyards surrounding Volpaia. They are primarily planted to Sangiovese, although there is some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Trebbiano, Malvasia del Chianti, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc planted in specific sites suitable to each variety. In the last 35 years, Volpaia has replanted about 80 percent of its vineyards on the slopes leading up to the village, increasing plant density, selecting different clones of Sangiovese suitable for the different soil, and implementing new training systems and pruning techniques to keenly focus on quality production, to lower the vines, and to reduce the yield per hectare. Volpaia is also committed to organic farming practices and its vineyards have been certified organic since the 2004 vintage.
Volpaia’s 2017 Riserva is 100% Sangiovese. The grapes for the Riserva come from eight of their vineyards: Casavecchia, Casetto, Castellino, Campo a Prato, Pratolino, Santa Caterina, Santa Maria Novella, Vignavecchia with vines averaging 20-50 years old. All the vineyards have light soil consisting of sandstone except Castellino and Santa Maria Novella, which are composed of clay. They are situated on slopes between 400-600 meters (1,300-1,970 feet), and have south, southeast, and southwest exposure. For the Riserva, each vineyard was hand-picked twice to allow those clusters that had not yet achieved perfect ripeness more time to do so. The grapes were carried in boxes that never exceed 15 to 20 kilograms (33 to 44 pounds) each to make it easier to select which grapes would go into the Riserva. At the winery, the grapes were sorted and destemmed, then delicately pressed and the must was immediately transferred to temperature-controlled, specialized stainless-steel vats. Once enough color and flavor had been extracted, the juice was separated from the must by gravity. Malolactic fermentation and aging occurred in either 30-hectoliter (800-gallon) Slovenian or French oak casks and in 225-liter (60-gallon) French oak barrels for 24 months. Many factors contribute to the Castello di Volpaia style — high altitude, sandy soil, mixed hardwood and riparian forests, climate, southerly exposure of the vineyards and more. Volpaia Sangioveses are soft, round and fresh — the winery strives to avoid overripe characteristics in all of its wines and doesn’t mask the quality of the fruit with too much new oak. The 2017 Riserva offers rich black cherries, herbs and floral notes on the nose. On the palate, it is rich and stylish offering a complex mix of rich black cherries, berries and plums, laced with spice, herbs and a hint of earthiness. The wine balances its juicy layers of dark fruit with vibrant acidity and soft tannins. Enjoyable with the first sip, it really blossoms in the glass
Located between the towns of Castellina and Radda in Chianti, the Querceto di Castellina Estate dates as far back as the sixteenth century. The Di Battista Family purchased Querceto di Castellina, an elegant country villa, in 1945. It was a country estate, a place to escape the heat of the city, and though they did make wine, what they or the tenant farmers didn't drink personally was sold in bulk. The farmers abandoned the land in the 1970’s, and the vineyards were rented out. In 1981, Jacopo di Battista's father, who was an architect, restructured the villa, while they rented the vineyards to Ruffino. The estate extends for more than 125 acres. The total extension of the vineyards covers 27 acres, at between 1,400 and 1,500ft above sea level, all registered with the Chianti Classico DOCG designation. The terrain is of a medium marl-calcareous mix with ancient shell fragments. The spacing systems vary from a density between 4.800 and 6.666 plants per hectare. All the vines are cultivated using the “cordone speronato” system. An ideal growing season together with excellent exposure to a gradual maturation and significant temperature changes, enables their wines to have important acidity that results in longevity. Sangiovese covers about 80% of the planted area, Merlot makes up the other more substantial part, and lastly Viognier and Roussanne. Since 2008, Querceto di Castellina has applied organic techniques for managing the vineyards and olive groves, with the aim of protecting and preserving the land’s original health, a choice dictated by the desire to produce wines of high quality without chemical treatment or changing the surrounding environment. From January 2012, they have been certified organic. “A great wine is made in the vineyard” is a phrase used often and one Jacopo Di Battista whole-heartedly believes to be true. Due to this belief, Castellina restructured their winery and chose to keep their six existing parcels of vines separate. They are: Belvedere, Il Poggio, Campocorto, Campolungo, La Fonte and Livia Vineyards. This way, year after year, their selection can start from a single source, taking only the best grapes from each plot to the cellar, and with these, the unique characteristics that the microclimate gives them. In 1998, Jacopo Di Battista decided to oversee production personally, and enlisted the assistance of Gioia Cresti, a young enologist whose wines were attracting considerable attention. L’aura Chianti Classico was the very first wine produced in 1998, 3,300 bottles in total. The Querceto production has grown over years to approximately 55,000 bottles/year across the range of 4 wines.
Querceto di Castellina’s 2015 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Sei” is a single-vineyard wine that comes from the “Belvedere” vineyard and represents the best selection of the estate’s Sangiovese and Merlot grapes. The 2015 is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot. The vineyard is trained with the Cordon system, has a Southwest exposure with soils that are medium in texture with limestone, marl, and rich in minerals, and sits at an altitude between 420 and 450 meters. Sei is the number six in Italian and there were many instances of this number coinciding with the production of the estate’s Gran Selezione. The single-vineyard wine comes from a special selection of grapes in a vineyard area measuring 6.6 hectares with a density of 6,666 vines per hectare within the Belvedere vineyard. The tonneaux barrels they predominantly use hold 666 bottles of wine and Jacopo’s mother Laura was born in 6/6/46. Sei is only produced during ideal vintages with optimal conditions to ensure it is a wine of the highest quality and worthy of the Gran Selezione designation; if this is not possible, it will be labeled as a Riserva.
The grapes for the 2015 Sei were hand-harvested and fermented in stainless-steel. For aging, the Sangiovese spent 18 months in 500lt. tonneaux and the Merlot 12 months in 225lt. barriques. The wine was then blended and bottled where it rested for 12 months before release. Only 700 cases were produced, of which only 350 cases were imported. Expressive and leaping from the glass, the 2015 Sei starts out with a rich oaky note followed by aromas of black cherries, leather, wild herbs, oriental spices, and tar. Full in the mouth, the palate is flooded with rich dark cherry and juicy red to black currant fruit which is underpinned by dried herbs, cedary tobacco characters, earth, and spicy leather nuances. The wine has excellent concentration and depth with sturdy, well-integrated oak tannins and balanced acidity providing the framework. It finishes with a long, rich savory aftertaste. While the wine shows well now, it needs time. If you can wait, cellar this wine for another 5-6 years.