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.
Entering 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.
On 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.
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: