Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione: Toward Understanding and Appreciation

The steps leading up to the Fifth Avenue entrance of the New York City Public Library have a certain grandeur all their own. A climb, one might imagine, toward higher education, learning, knowledge.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-20151Entering the library, my hopes are high that what I learn at today’s Chianti Classico / Gran Selezione 2015 presentation will replace skepticism with a better understanding and appreciation of the newly-minted Gran Selezione disciplinare belonging to Chianti Classico, one of Italy’s most iconic wine appellations.

Today’s presentation quickly sets about to introduce the Gran Selezione classification (wines launched in early 2014) as Chianti Classico’s “best of the best”. I do understand the intended sentiment, really, but the choice of words highlights one of the main market challenges facing Gran Selezione: does the category of Gran Selezione really communicate the importance suggested by its title?

In getting to know Gran Selezione, a savvy consumer or wine industry professional might look to sort things a bit by referring to the requirements for classification as a Gran Selezione wine, which include:

• Produced from 100% of grapes grown by the winery bottling the wine. This could be taken to mean sourced from a single vineyard or selection of vineyards (To be clear, a producer owning non-contiguous vineyards within the Chianti Classico territory is, I believe, permitted to use grapes from any or all of his in-zone owned properties.)
• Aged 30 months including 3 months bottle aging, non-specific guidance
• Minimum 80% Sangiovese (same as Chianti Classico Riserva)
• Can include other permitted varietals, i.e., Canaiolo, Merlot, Syrah, etc.
• Can be released as 100% Sangiovese

Unfortunately, between Gran Selezione requirements and certain requirements for other Chianti Classico wines – the Riserva wines come to mind – there exists a degree of overlap which rather obscures a clear differentiation for Gran Selezione, often creating confusion and questions.

Speaking of questions, here are some of the questions I heard walking around the tasting floor and during the course of the event:

Is it the intention to produce Gran Selezione wines every vintage or only in the best vintages?

What are the implications of re-structured ownership / acquisitions upon Gran Selezione quality?

Is Gran Selezione a marketing tool to promote and sell the Chianti Classico category?

What varietals really create Gran Selezione, that is to say, what varietal/s are driving the “quality upgrade” to Gran Selezione?

Which are the “new” wines created under Gran Selezione versus the existing wines that have been repurposed into the new Gran Selezione category?

Does Gran Selezione simply perpetuate the culture of Super Tuscans, giving them a different label?

Confusion (in the market) around Gran Selezione does exist and largely derives out of consumers trying to identify terroir-specific value. It is vital that market messaging and communication from Consorzio Chianti Classico address that gap.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-2015-bibbianoOn the producer side, many producers are doing a good (read: serious, sincere) job to interpret to the Gran Selezione denomination, a classification that, at some level, is still figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up.

Now, 16 months after the inception of Gran Selezione, with 89 labels of Gran Selezione being produced, hailing from all communes of Chianti Classico, the central question seems to be whether the classification will be understood in the US market, one that represents 31% of the Chianti Classico market.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-2015-castello-la-lecciaWhile still skeptical of its current configuration, I am as well optimistic about the future of Gran Selezione.

American writer/poet Nancy Willard said, “Sometimes questions are more important than answers.” In the case of Gran Selezione, in this moment in time, I couldn’t agree more. Here are two improvement oriented questions that may help point the way for consumers to more easily understand and appreciate Gran Selezione:

Would the decision to produce Gran Selezione wines only from single vineyard locations help consumers better identify terroir-specific value? (True, moving in this direction will require much consensus-building. But, hey, we are talking about a “grand selection”, “best of the best”, classification, right?)

Would the decision to produce Gran Selezione from 100% Sangiovese better differentiate the wines, reduce variation within the category, reduce confusion?

You can find my un-rehearsed comments from the Chianti Classico / Gran Selezione 2015 event in the IEEM video interview embedded just below:

Chianti Classico NYC 2015: Cement and Me

Chianti Classico NYC 2015: Cement and Me

At yesterday’s Chianti Classico 2015 wine event in NYC, I was able to confirm something that I have long suspected about myself:

I’m a bit of a cement head.

You can take that to mean that I appreciate – and indeed at times adore – wines vinified or aged in cement.

Which, I guess, leads one to wonder what the heck is so special about wines raised in cement anyway?

bibbiano-chianti-classico-event-nyc-2015With a little digging, I was able to gather a couple of insights which make sense to me:

Cement (using the term interchangeably with concrete) fermentation vessels, I’m told, manage to keep a very consistent temperature. And as we know, that is a very good thing. Fluctuating temperature does not reside on the top ten list of things good for wine ;-).

Consequently, fermentation in cement is slow and gradual and that can mean a tendency toward vibrancy of fruit, clean, pure flavors and a marked degree of freshness.

The porosity of cement, too, according to sources, enables the wine to breathe, allowing the wine to evolve in a favorable way, preserving the expressive aspects of fruit, softening tannins, etc., and thus making cement a viable format for ageing as well.

Based on my appreciation of cement raised wines, I won’t argue.

castello-la-leccia-chianti-classico-event-nyc-2015Cement-raised wines often strike me as having a certain richness of mouthfeel which, for me, is important: holding wine in one’s mouth is such an intimate experience that the sensation of doing so should be pleasing in its own right.

At yesterday’s Chianti Classico event, during the walk around tasting segment, the wines of producers Bibbiano and Castello La Leccia captured my tasting attention. I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that both producers utilize cement in raising their Chianti Classico wines which, by the way, were showing beautifully. And though not present at the event, I’ll mention here too the Chianti Classico of producer Monteraponi, another fine example of cement raising and a wine of which I’ve long been a fan.

Francesco Daddi of Castello La Leccia helped me to understand, too, that cement fermentation vessels, tanks, etc., can also provide a few challenges on the production side of the house: they are not the easiest things in the world to clean and maintain. And they can be heavy, as one might imagine, and thus difficult to transport.

To be clear, I am not here to say that cement as part of the vinification / ageing regimen alone churns out gorgeous wines. Only that I’m learning that cement can bring something to the finished wine that is attractive to my palate. And perhaps, too – still learning here – that Sangiovese seems to respond beautifully to its time in cement.

Ventolaio Rosso di Montalcino 2010

Ventolaio Rosso di Montalcino 2010

ventolaio-rosso-di-montalcino-2010It was a wet evening in Montalcino complete with howling wind which convinced me that hidden gems are found not only on gloriously sunny mornings or bright afternoons in the countryside.

Traveling with a group of American journalists on a media trip to Montalcino, we visited Ventolaio on an evening were you were happy to be inside, warm, dry, and in good company. Wines I tasted that evening were lasting reminders of this under-followed producer.

Having recently come by Ventolaio’s Rosso di Montalcino 2010, I am happy to find it drinking as well now as then, if not a bit more evolved, with still intense aromatics, a good mingle of red / black cherries, violets, earth and tobacco, with deliciously chewy tannins. A superb bottle of Sangiovese goodness.

I have wondered several times why I don’t see more of Ventolaio here in the US market. I am baffled, really, why not, but propose you to add Ventolaio to your “hidden gems” list.

Related Link, from the media trip: Brunello di Montalcino: A Reflection

Chianti, Version COOL

Chianti, Version COOL

jazz-guitar-3Smooth, cool sounds of live jazz carry me aloft and scenes from the excellent Chianti NYC 2014 showcase tasting are still fresh in my mind. As two of the jazz scene’s most exciting guitar players do their part to help make jazz once again hip for modern listeners, Chianti’s producers too are reinvigorating the wines of their denomination, making Chianti cool for a new generation of wine aficionados.

During my lifetime Chianti has evolved from a wine that grandfather kept in the kitchen cabinet to a serious wine that seeks clarity of expression in voices more subtle than grandiose. That evolution has been largely driven by a willingness on the part of producers and the Consorzio to depart from stale convention, tempered by respect for tradition, in order to advance quality within the Chianti heritage.

chianti-nyc-2014-2Today’s Chianti has upped the cool factor, delivering wines of emotion and meaning, and doing so with an attitude of casual elegance and sense of freedom attractive to a hip, chic clientele.

A highlight of CHIANTI NYC 2014 was the guided tasting introducing marvelously varied styles of six Chianti wines:

Sorelli Chianti Riserva 2010 is herbaceous and floral, perhaps by virtue of the rare addition of 10% Trebbiano in the blend. Weighing in at 12.5% alcohol, this red wine is light enough to give good blessing to summer fish dishes, first courses and entrée salads. Aperitivo approved 🙂

Flexing a bit more muscle with 14 degrees of alcohol, the fuller-bodied Morzano il Quarto Chianti Riserva 2010 rested 24 months in third passage barrique before pleasing admirers with its floral, fruity, spice-inflected bouquet and overall harmony.

Sensuously scented Bellini Chianti Rufina Riserva 2010 impresses with rich, velvety sensations of red fruit sailing over a river of delicious acidity. Finishes with big, harmonic tannins. Nice Chianti to lay down for a bit.

Having done time in large Slavonian oak and a stint in bottle, Castello Oliveto Chianti Riserva 2010 delivers good Sangiovese flavor on a palate ever so slightly softened with a small percentage of Merlot. Enduring, elegant nose of red and black cherries and violets.

Made from 100% Sangiovese, Tenuta Cantagallo Chianti Montalbano 2010 Riserva shows a modern side with hints of vanilla and spice, berry cake bouquet and very polished palate.

Open and round, Castelvecchio Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva Vigna La Quercia 2010 is striking with rich dark fruit, savory herbs and a touch of smoke, a good call whenever lamb chops are within grilling range.

Just a note on Chianti serving temperature: even in better restaurants, Chianti is oftentimes served too warm at 18 C / 65 F or warmer. Recommend you enjoy Chianti at a slightly cooler temperature, say, 16 C / 60 F to receive its message. (You really must try a slightly cooled Chianti paired to sushi or sashimi.)

Whether you’re craving an insane burger creation from some hipster chef, feeling zen-ed out and sushi-addicted, hanging with investment bankers for a clubby evening of steaks, or visiting home for a Sunday serving of Mom’s roasted pork loin studded with rosemary and garlic – whatever foodie flag you may be flying – today’s Chianti wines can deliver unique, affordable pairings for every budget and level of sophistication.

And that’s cool.
#Chianticool, to be precise 😉

Related Post, Chianti, Turning the Page: Notes from Chianti NYC 2013
For additional information about Chianti wines and territory, click over to Chianti Consorzio