Italy


My Readers can probably tell by the Italian words in the title of this post that we’re back in Italy for the Fifth Day of Christmas, specifically in Lombardy, where we find the sparkling wine region of Franciacorta, about halfway between the cities of Bergamo to the northwest and Brescia to the southeast. These products are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Franciacorta was accorded the official status of DOCG — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — in 1995. The Montenisa estate has been in the hands of the Conti Maggi family since the late 16th Century. In 1999, the Maggi family entered an agreement with Marchesi Antinori of Tuscany to share in the operation of the vineyards. Montenisa Brut is composed of chardonnay and pinot bianco grapes with a touch of pinot noir. The grapes are fermented partly in stainless steel tanks and partly in oak barriques; after second fermentation, the wine rests on the lees for 30 months. The color is pale gold, and the fountain of bubbles forms a gratifying torrent in the glass. Montenisa Brut is fresh and clean with notes of apple and spiced pear and hints of yeasty bread and roasted lemon, lime peel and grapefruit. This is a zesty, vibrant, savory and botanical sparkling wine — I mean by botanical slightly minty and floral — with a prominent background of limestone and flint minerality for a lithe and elegant structure, though it does not stint on subtle ripeness and a sense of moderately mouth-filling lushness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates. A sample for review.

… and instead of a partridge in a pear tree I offer this unusual thing, a Prosecco that’s not only vintage-dated but a single-vineyard designation. “Hey,” you’re saying, “Prosecco? What’s the big deal?” I know, I know, most Prosecco is lightly effervescent, ethereal, ephemeral and forgettable. Immediately enjoyable, I mean, and then we go on to other matters. Such is not the case with the Adriano Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. “Rive” is local dialect for a steep hillside vineyard, local being the area of the Veneto north-northwest of Venice and Treviso. When Burton Anderson published The Wine Atlas of Italy in 1990 (Simon & Schuster), he said of Prosecco, “Growing popularity in Italy has left little for export.” That assessment did not account for the explosion of Prosecco’s popularity in America in the following two decades, though most of the product shipped to the United States fell into the soft, slightly sweet and quickly drinkable category. The Adami concern goes back three generations to 1920, when Abele Adami acquired the Giardino vineyard, which still produces grapes for the family. Abele’s son Adriano furthered the family’s reputation, and the estate is now operated by his sons Armando and Franco. The Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011 was made completely from glera grapes, as the prosecco grape is now called, and produced in the method of second fermentation in tanks. The color is about as silvery as a pale pale gold sparkling wine can be, the pleasure of its hue abetted by a fountain of surging, glinting bubbles. This is all steel and snow, frost and flint and damp limestone, highlighted by hints of roasted lemon, verbena and lime peel, with notes of acacia and almond skin. Bright acidity and a touch of grapefruit keep this Prosecco snappy, juicy and bracing, but mainly it’s about fleet-footed minerality, though there’s nothing austere or forbidding. It all fits together in lovely harmony. 11 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $22, a Great Value.

A sample for review.

Because that’s what we want during these chilly weeks, isn’t it? Red wines that we don’t so much have to cogitate about as enjoy, red wines that pair nicely with the hearty, stick-to-the ribs food we’re craving now: red meat pasta dishes, braised short ribs, veal and lamb shanks, chili and beef stew and lentil soup. Oh, sure, it’s easy for collectors to trod the dusty stairs down to their dim wine cellars and snatch a bottle of deep dark Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Cornas or muscular Australia cult shiraz from the shelf, but most of us don’t have the luxury or the fiduciary prowess for that. Instead, I offer today a trio of reds, not huge block-buster reds with high alcohol and powerful extraction, , just attractive, full-flavored reds with fairly gentle tariffs that should do the trick right now for your palates and pocketbooks. And they’re from three different countries; you’re so cosmopolitan!
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First, the Meli Carignan 2012, Maule Valley, Chile, a wine that includes 10 percent cabernet sauvignon and aged a few months in 10 percent used oak barrels and 90 percent in stainless steel tanks. The result is a wine with a dark purple-violet color and immediately appealing freshness of black cherry-black currant-and-plum scents and flavors permeated by notes of lavender, potpourri, dark chocolate and graphite. Moderate tannins gently assert themselves, to remind you that there’s some heft and backbone, while acidity keeps its end of the bargain by provided a lively aspect. 14 percent alcohol. Clean, lively and tasty. Drink now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif.
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All right, we turn to Spain and the wine region of Utiel-Requena, named for two towns in the province of Valencia, for the Pasión de Bobal 2010, produced by the Sierra Norte estate. Utiel-Requena undergoes the harshest conditions of any wine region in Spain, with poor soil, extreme heat in the summer and frigid temperatures in winter, but the indigenous bobal grape, which makes up about 75 percent of vine cultivation in the region, is hardy enough to withstand the rigor. I loved the Pasión de Bobal 2010 for its deeply mineral and tarry individuality, its dark panoply of ripe, spicy black and blue fruit effects; its acute and roiling acidity for freshness and vibrancy and its structure that deftly yet powerfully melds litheness and sinew with a dense, dusty almost cushiony texture; undertones of briers and brambles lend earthiness. The wine was made from 25- to 60-year-old vines and aged six to eight months in French barriques. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015. Excellent. About $15, a Bargain That Sends The Mind Reeling.

Steve Miles Selections, Denver, Co.
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Composed of sangiovese grapes with dollops of alicante and malvasia nera, the Fattoria Le Pupille 2011, Morellino di Scansano, from the estate of Elisabetta Geppetti in southwest Tuscany, offers a medium ruby color with a hint of violet hue and beguiling aromas of black and red cherries, currants and plums, highlighted by notes of fruitcake, lavender, oolong tea and dried orange rind. This pleasing array segues seamlessly into the mouth, where mildly dense tannins and vibrant acidity provide support for spicy black and red fruit flavors and intriguing depths of graphite minerality and a core of dried flowers and dark chocolate. 14 percent alcohol. Highly drinkable and tasty, through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $16.

Importer N/A.
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Looking for a nifty red to go with burgers, steaks, hearty pizzas and pasta dishes? What Dr. FK orders is the deeply flavorful Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2011, from Il Poliziano, an estate established in 1961 in the Montepulciano commune of southeast Tuscany. A blend of 80 precent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot, the wine matures for eight months, about 20 to 40 percent (depending on the vintage) in two-year-old American 59-gallon barriques and the rest in large vats. The color is rich dark ruby; aromas of mulberries, black raspberries and black currants are permeated by notes of dried rose petals, violets, orange rind and Earl Grey tea. The flavor profile is consistent with the bouquet, perhaps a bit fleshier, though wrapped around a spine of firm slightly dusty tannins, lively acidity that makes you crave another sip and a touch of graphite-like minerality for depth. The finish is dominated by spicy oak that takes on some austerity as the minutes pass. 14.5 percent alcohol, which seems to be the universal standard now. Drink through 2015. Winemaker was Federico Carletti. I’m not saying that the Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 wouldn’t be appropriate with the ever-nearing Thanksgiving feast, but I’m just sort of finished with that topic, O.K.? Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image from cellartracker.com.

Italian white winemaking has improved greatly in the past decade or so, with producers paying more attention to appropriate soil types and climate, vineyard practices and methods in the winery. Not that seas of nondescript white wines from overcropped vineyards in areas that are too widespread don’t make it to our shores, but the wines under review today are not only delightful but encouraging signs of integrity and authenticity. The first is from Piedmont, the second from Sicily; both were made in stainless steel and see not a whiff of oak. One of the notable aspects of these wines is that they employ grapes that we don’t often — or actually never — see; again this reliance on indigenous fruit is a reflection of a desire to honor place and tradition. These wines were samples for review.
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We drink gallons of Vietti’s Roero Arneis by the glass at the Italian restaurant we frequent. It’s great with salads, grilled vegetables, grilled octopus and sardines. The grape is arneis; the region in Piedmont is Roero, part of the Cuneo district. For 2012, this wine offers a very pale straw-gold color; yes, it’s clean as a whistle and fresh as a daisy, but it develops layers of nuance that focus on orange rind and lime peel with a touch of candied grapefruit before opening into a panoply of lemon effects that in turn call up spiced tea, lemongrass and limestone. Acidity is keen and steely; the texture is supple and lithe, sort of winsomely sinuous, and it all goes down very easily indeed. It’s as enticing and charming as it sounds. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $23.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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The Regaleali Bianco 2012, Sicilia, is a blend of 36 percent grecanico grapes, 34 percent catarratto, 20 percent inzolia and 10 percent chardonnay. The grapes derive from a vineyard planted in 1957 on the Regaleali estate owned by Count Tasca d’Almerita. The color is pale straw-gold; this is as spanking fresh as a sea-breeze, blown with brine and salt-marsh earthiness and highlighted by notes of apple and baked pear, peach and tangerine peel with hints of cloves and grapefruit. Chiming acidity keeps the wine electrically charged, while scintillating limestone minerality adds depth to the delightful citrus and stone-fruit flavors. The whole effect is bracing, saline and savory, with a tinge of almond-skin bitterness of the finish. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, a Terrific Value.

A Leonardo Locascio Selection, imported by Winebow Inc, New York.
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Last week, Jenn Louis, chef and owner of Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, Oregon — I follow this Food and Wine magazine Best New Chef 2012 religiously for her inventive cuisine — posted this picture to her Facebook page. It’s a sandwich of goat liver and pancetta on sour rye bread with pickled chili aioli. I “liked” the image and said that I wondered what kind of wine would be appropriate; her reply was “crisp white.” So I looked through my notes and came up with the roster of eight crisp and savory white wines that might pair nicely with this unusual item as well as such fare as charcuterie, pork chops braised with sauerkraut and apples, veal roast and hearty seafood pastas and risottos. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I reduce technical, historical and geographical information to a minimum in order to offer blitz-quick reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palates. These wines were review samples. They are all, coincidentally, wines made from a single grape variety. Enjoy!
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Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile. % alc. Pale gold color; very bright, clean, fresh, with scintillating limestone minerality; notes of roasted lemon and peach, lemongrass, ginger and quince with a touch of cloves; the body and power build incrementally, adding chalk and loam and hints of dried herbs; faintly grassy; chiseled acidity. A great performance. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; fresh, clean and spicy; lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, hint of peach; lively and acutely crisp but with a sensuous texture that’s moderately lush; still, lots of stones and bones, in the Alsace fashion, limestone and flint, with a surge of cloves and allspice and stone-fruit savor. Delicious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $24.
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Balverne Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.7% alc. Light gold color; fresh, clean, pert, sassy and grassy; lemon, tangerine and pear, hints of mango, roasted lemon and spiced peach, notes of mint, thyme and tarragon; slightly earthy background, limestone and slate; lithe, flinty but supple texture and crisp acidity buoying a sort of bracing sea-salt element. Very attractive. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Fred Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. 12.5% alc. Pale pale gold color; at first this wine seems a tissue of delicacies, almost fragile but it gains character and depth in the glass; yes, clean, fresh and crisp but spicy, earthy, savory and saline; green apple, spiced pear, roasted lemon; grapefruit and candied rind; limestone and damp gravel, lovely drapery of texture shot with exhilarating acidity; hints of dust, powdered orange peel and cloves in the finish. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 13% alc. 716 cases. Pale gold color; clean as a whistle, fresh and invigorating, with bright, intense acidity and an appealing combination of spicy, savory and salty qualities; roasted lemon, grapefruit and spiced pear; hints of dried thyme and rosemary and a touch of leafy fig; dry and spare but with a suppleness from partial aging in neutral French oak barrels; lots of depth, subtlety and dimension. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
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Gustave Lorentz Réserve Gewurztraminer 2011, Alsace, France. 13% alc. Pale gold color; rose petals, lychee and white peach; quince, ginger, white pepper and cloves; hints of melon and fig; beautifully wrought, exquisitely balanced among rigorous acidity, assertive limestone minerality and juicy citrus and slightly candied stone-fruit flavors; lovely sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $24.
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Sequoia Grove Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. % alc. 350-400 cases. Mild gold color; all about persistence: jasmine, lilac, trace of fig and banana, thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and lime peel, touch of grapefruit; a few minutes bring in lemongrass and mango; truly lovely wine with an engaging character and a sense of lift along with some earthiness, chalk and limestone; lip-smacking acidity. Drink now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
Image from Bills Wine Wandering.
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Tascante Buonora 2012, Terre Siciliane, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Very pale gold color; clean and fresh, bracing as a brine-laden sea-breeze; roasted lemon, thyme, almond and almond blossom; lovely silky texture enlivened by brisk acidity; lime peel, yellow plum, hint of almond-skin bitterness on a finish packed with dried spices and limestone minerality. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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The sparkling wine from Italy that most American consumers are familiar with is Prosecco, made in a specific area of the Veneto region from the glera grape in the bulk Charmat process. Prosecco tends to be simple, tasty, with notes of apples and almond blossoms, and often fairly sweet, though the best examples imported to this country are increasingly dry. Another area of Italy produces sparkling wine that deserves attention, however, and that’s Franciacorta, in Lombardy, where the sparkling wines use not only the traditional champagne method but the typical chardonnay and pinot noir grapes of the Champagne region. These are sparkling wines of real character that make Prosecco and other Italian sparklers look like mere bagatelles. Not that there’s anything wrong with mere bagatelles; sometimes they fill a necessary place in life. My recommendation today, Wednesday, is the Satèn Lo Sparviere non-vintage Franciacorta from the producer Gussalli Beretta. Made completely from chardonnay grapes, this sparkling wine, which fermented 80 percent in stainless steel and 20 percent in large casks, offers a pale gold color with a gentle surge of tiny glinting silver bubbles. The initial effect is clean, fresh and energetic; aromas of roasted lemon, jasmine, ginger and quince and lightly buttered cinnamon toast are delicate and fine-spun, while the whole package, though enlivened by dynamic acidity, is dry, elegant and high-toned, with great bones and a whip-lash limestone spine. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this delightful Franciacorta over several nights as aperitif with various snacks and appetizers. Excellent. About $22, a Steal, and a terrific addition to restaurant and bar by-the-glass programs.

Imported by Siema Wines, Springfield, Va. A sample for review.

I was going to write up more cabernet sauvignon wines from California for this edition of Weekend Wine Notes — Sunday is still the weekend — but I realized that this blog has been top-heavy with red wines for the past few months, so instead I offer a diverse roster of white wines with a couple of rosés. We hit many grapes, regions and styles in this post, trying to achieve the impossible goal of being all things to all people; you can’t blame me for trying. As usual with the weekend wine thing, I provide little in the way of historical, technical and geographical data; just quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices today range from $8 to $24, so blockbuster tabs are not involved. These were samples for review, except for the Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, which I bought, and the Laetitia Chardonnay 2012, tasted at the winery back in April. Enjoy! (Sensibly and in moderation)
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Domaine de Ballade Rosé 2012, Vin de Pays des Gascogne. 13% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Pale copper-salmon color; raspberries and red currants, very spicy and lively; vibrant acidity; spiced peach and orange rind; slightly earthy, with a touch of limestone minerality. Tasty and enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, meaning Good Value.
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C.H. Berres Treppchen Erden Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Luminous pale gold color; green apples and grapefruit, hint of mango; delicately woven with limestone and shale and spanking acidity; very dry and crisp but an almost cloud-like texture; ripe flavors of pear and peach, hint of tangerine. Now through 2015 to ’17. Delightful. Very Good+. About $20.

I borrowed this image from Benito’s Wine Reviews.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. This winery’s first release of sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; lemongrass and celery seed, quince and cloves, hint of ginger and mango, a fantasia on grass, hay and salt-marsh savoriness; flavors of ripe pear, pea shoots, roasted lemon; brisk acidity cutting through a burgeoning limestone element; lots of personality, almost charisma. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Halter Ranch Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 68% grenache, 15% mourvèdre, 12% picpoul blanc, 5% syrah. 1,200 cases. Beautiful pale copper-salmon color; pure strawberry and raspberry highlighted by cloves, tea leaf, thyme and limestone; lovely texture, silky and almost viscous but elevated by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element; finishes with red fruit, hints of peach and lime peel, dried herbs. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $19.
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Hans Lang Vom Bunten Schiefer Riesling 2009, Rheingau, Germany. 12.5% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; lovely and delicate bouquet of lightly spiced peach and pear with notes of lychee, mango, lime peel and jasmine, all subdued to a background of limestone and an intense floral character; still, it’s spare and fairly reticent, slightly astringent, quite dry yet juicy with citrus and tropical fruit flavors; exquisite balance and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneti di Foscarino 2010, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% gargenega grapes. Medium yellow-gold color; spicy and savory; roasted lemon, yellow plums, almond and almond blossom, acacia, dried mountain herbs; Alpine in its bracing clarity and limestone minerality; spare and elegant but with pleasing moderate lush texture and fullness. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. A superior Soave Classico. Excellent. About $25.
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Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; lemon balm, yellow plums and grapefruit zest; spare but not lean texture, enlivened by zinging acidity; crisp and lively and lightly spicy; quite delicate overall; finish brings in more grapefruit and a touch of limestone. Quite charming to drink through Summer of 2014 on the porch or patio or on a picnic. Very Good. About $8, a Bargain of the Decade.
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Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 13.8% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; pungent and flavorful with limestone, pineapple and grapefruit with hints of mango and peach, jasmine and lightly buttered toast; sleek and supple, seamlessly balanced and integrated, oak is just a whiff and deft intimation; lively with fleet acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, Domaine Faiveley, Chalonnaise, Burgundy. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; ginger, quince, jasmine, talc; grapefruit and a hint of peach; very dry wine, crystalline limestone-like minerality; note of gun-flint and clean hay-like earthiness; grapefruit, pineapple, spiced pear; lovely silky texture jazzed with brisk acidity; sleek, charming. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24 (what I paid).
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Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Very pale gold color, with a tinge of green, and modestly effervescent, which is to say, frizzante; apples and pears, smoky and musky, soft and slightly sweet but with driving acidity and a limestone edge; notes of muskmelon, cucumber and fennel; a few moments bring in hints of almond, almond-blossom and musk-rose. Delicate, tasty, charming. Now through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Certified biodynamic. Pale straw-gold color; very dry but ripe and juicy; peach, pear, touch of lychee; incisive and chiseled with chiming acidity and fleet limestone minerality yet with an aspect that’s soft, ripe and appealing; slightly earthy, with a hint of moss and mushrooms; a pleasing sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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What, you say, you’re making a wine from 2007 the Wine of the Week? Are you mad? Neither mad nor angry, Readers, and if you follow my advice, you will be not only neither mad nor angry but gratified and wise. Colognole, in the area east of Florence dubbed Chianti Rufina — not the producer Ruffino — is one of my favorite estates in the region. Rufina, which, unusually, is not contiguous with the rest of the vast Chianti DOCG, was singled out for mention by Cosimo III Grand Duke of Florence in his edict of 1716 as one of the zones of superior production for the wine; as is the case of the Chianti Classico terrain that Cosimo also commended, the Grand Duke was correct. There’s nothing flashy or flamboyant about the wines of this traditional estate, acquired by the Spalletti family in 1890 and owned now by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante; you just don’t find names like that in the USA. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 offers a lovely, limpid medium ruby-garnet color; the complete balance, harmony and integration of this wine are not awe-inspiring — remember, there’s nothing showy here — but rather intensely satisfying and, well, humane, in the sense that one really wants to share the wine with family and friends around a table set with a simple, delicious meal. Aromas of red and black currants and red cherries are woven with hints of sour cherry, dried cranberries, lilac and rose petal; give the wine a few minutes in the glass and notes of graphite, moss, black tea and loam enter the picture. Colognole typically ages 12 months in 660-gallon Slavonian and French oak casks, far larger than the standard 59-gallon French barrique beloved by many producers at the various levels of Chianti, and then ages additionally in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 is enlivened by fine-edged acidity that cuts a swath on the palate but doesn’t disrupt the wine’s enticing suppleness and lithe character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. This is the first release from a vineyard replanted in 1995; one has to appreciate the 12-year wait to allow the vines to mature. The blend is about 95 percent sangiovese, 5 percent canaiolo. Excellent. I paid $19, the average of prices around the country.

Vintners Estates Direct Importing, Healdsburg, Cailf.

The Chianti region of Tuscany, as was the case with many vineyard and wine-making areas of Italy, was assailed by the vagaries of reputation in the second half of the 20th Century, mainly of its own doing. Chianti was marketed as a cheap wine for college students and cheap restaurants; the straw “basket” covering didn’t help. Growers overplanted their vineyards and extended acreage into inappropriate terrain, resulting in wines that were diluted and bland, when they weren’t shrieking with acidity. Fortunately, the regulations of 1984, when Chianti became a DOCG wine, lowered yields and the amount of white grapes allowed in the blend and instituted more stringent vineyard and winery practices. Chianti Classico was granted its own DOCG in 1996.

The history of Chianti, as a wine and a region, is long and storied, though the story, as I have indicated, is not always a great one. The earliest written record of Chianti wines dates to the mid-13th century, referring to some villages around Florence; at that time, the wine was white. Cosimo III de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, laid out the official area of Chianti in 1716, an act that seems to be the earliest effort to regulate wine production and delineate a vineyard territory. The region was expanded in 1932 and 1967, the latter edict encompassing most of central Tuscany, from the hills of Pisa in the northwest to the hills of Pomino in the northeast and far south to Siena. The first “formula” for Chianti was elucidated in 1871 by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, who recommended a blend of 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent canaiolo, 10 percent malvasia (later amended to include trebbiano) and 5 percent other local red varieties. That is not the Chianti we see nowadays, when the wine may be 100 percent sangiovese — the minimum is 80 percent sangiovese — or with dollops of “international” grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon or syrah. Only the most traditional estates include indigenous red varieties like canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino.

The other innovation in Chianti — particularly in Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva — is the use of 59-gallon (225-liter) French oak barriques for aging instead of the traditional large Slovenian oak casks; you will notice at least one of the wines under consideration today aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and when that process occurs I think we’re leaning more toward Pauillac and Napa Valley than Tuscany. In fact, if a Chianti Classico Riserva is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes and ages, say, two years in barriques, how different is it from Brunello di Montalcino also produced completely from sangiovese and aged in barriques? If you smell vanilla, you smell French oak, no matter where the wine was made.

Today we look at a dozen wines, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, some fairly traditional, some more progressive or modern in spirit. Though I tend to like the traditional manner better, not a one of these wines is flawed or overplayed; most of the ratings are Excellent. Chianti Classico, by the way, derives from the heart of Chianti, the area south of Florence that still conforms largely to the geographical outlines laid down by Cosimo III in 1716. The implication is that the Grand Duke’s foresight was prescient and that Chianti Classico and Riserva remain the best that the region can offer, though the producers of Chianti Rufina, northeast of Italy might beg to differ.

Map from viottolowines.com.
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Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2010 consists of 90 percent sangiovese and a 10 percent blend of merlot and syrah; yes, syrah is allowed in Chianti Classico. The great majority of the wine aged nine months in 55 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks, the rest in American oak barriques; 55 hectoliters equals 1,453 gallons, so those are large casks. This is a beguiling old-style Chianti Classico (despite the merlot and syrah) that displays a dried fruit/dried spice/dried floral character still fresh, ripe and appealing and singing in notes of red and black currants flecked with sour cherry, dusty plums and graphite. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry cast; the wine is quite dry, spare without being severe, elegant without being delicate. Vibrant acidity and a long mineral and woody-spice finish reveal the fine structure that underlies this enterprise. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.

The Antinori wines are imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.They were samples for review.
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Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 and Marchese Antinori Chianti Classic Riserva 2008. The Villa Antinori CCR 10 is a blend of 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent merlot; the Marchese Antinori CCR 08 is 90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. The oak treatment reflects the slightly more serious nature of the “Marchese”; while it aged 14 months in new French oak barriques, the “Villa” aged 12 months in French and Hungarian small oak barrels. The color of “Villa” is radiant deep ruby with a hint of violet at the rim; aromas of black and red cherries and red currants are imbued with notes of lilac, cloves, sandalwood, graphite and a hint of mocha, and I’m saying that for such a young CCR, this is pretty seductive. The wine does not neglect a scrupulous structure, though, one resting on resonant acidity, sturdy yet lithe and harmonious tannins and a slightly dusty woody quality in the finish. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35. The grapes for the “Marchese” 08 derive mainly from Antinori’s Tignanello estate, with the rest coming from Badia a Passignano (see the next entry) and Peppoli. There’s heft and character here, a depth of structure that touches on modernity without going all the way into an “international” or California style, held in check by the sangiovese grape’s typical acidity and spareness. The balance between freshness and ripeness — fruit lies in the red and sour cherry range (with a hint of cranberry and black currant) — on the one hand and the panoply of dried fruit, spice and flowers on the other is deftly handled, while the fairly dense chewy tannins lend a paradoxical dynamic of velvety elegance and muscular power, and granitic minerality adds intensity in the lower registers. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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Marchese Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. Gosh, what a lovely wine, beautifully balanced and harmonious. It was made completely from sangiovese grapes and aged 14 months in new Hungarian oak barriques. The Antinori family acquired the 1,000-year-old abbey and its vineyards in 1987. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of garnet; aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of coffee and tobacco, dried orange rind and violets. Tannins are both plush and rigorous, and the oak brings not only spice on the palate and suppleness to the texture but a sense of distinguished austerity. For all that, Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is delicious, tending toward mellowness, and finishes with a long swallow of graphite, brambles and lavender. Alcohol content is … percent. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $53.
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Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico 2010 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. (Jackson Family Wines) These are modern-style wines, each aging 10 months in French oak barriques. The CC 10 is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese, 19 percent merlot and a bare 1 percent cabernet sauvignon. The color is dark ruby; the wine is ripe, fleshy, spicy and oaky; notes of raspberry and black currant are permeated by cloves, orange zest, black tea and brambles; it’s really attractive initially, but you feel the sandpaper of burnished oak from mid-palate back. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20. The CCR 07 is a combination of 80 percent sangiovese, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent merlot. The color is dark ruby with a touch of mulberry at the rim;aromas and flavors of dried black and blue fruit and dried baking spices admit of some fleshy and meaty elements, a little spiced and macerated, but this is primarily dry, dense and chewy, smoky, austere, packed with spice, graphite, bittersweet chocolate and dusty oak that comes up in the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try 2014 to 2020 or ’22, hoping for the best. 1,430 cases. Very Good+. About $25.

Samples for review.
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Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 and Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009. Here’s a pair of well-made traditional CCR and CC. Each is based on the sangiovese grape with dollops of canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino — no merlot! no syrah! — and aged in French and Austrian casks of various sizes, CCR 08 for 24 months, CC 09 for 12 months; the wines were produced from organically grown grapes. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009 offers a medium ruby color of moderate intensity and cleanly delineated black cherry and currant scents and flavors permeated by blue plums and blueberries, violets and cloves and hints of orange rind and pomegranate. A pleasing rasp of acid and slightly grainy tannins makes for an attractive texture, while the finish pulls together elements of graphite, bitter chocolate, lavender and leather. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 is rather a different creature, high-toned, taut, a tad imperious in the tannin and wood departments, very dry in the sense of encompassing not only a bit of austerity but the dryness associated with potpourri, woody spices such as allspice and sandalwood, the dried citron and currants of fruitcake; the oak comes up from mid-palate through the finish. Still, one gets undertones of the classic elements of sour cherry, violets, clean new leather, black tea and pomander, until they’re o’er-tower’d by the inscrutable lithic finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.

The wines of Badia a Coltibuono are imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. The badia (“abbey”) was founded in 1051. It has been owned by the Stucchi Prinetti family since 1846 and is home to the famous cooking school of Lorenza de’Medici. These were samples for review.
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Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico 2009. This ancient estate was purchased by Dominic Poggiali Fèlsina in 1966 and is now run by his sons. While the wine is composed of 100 percent sangiovese grapes, in the modern fashion, it aged only a year in “mid capacity” Slovenian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby at the center shading to slightly lighter ruby-garnet at the rim; beguiling aromas and flavors of dried red currants and plums, sandalwood, violets and dried orange rind are heightened by notes of oolong tea, graphite and new leather, a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of smoke, sour cherry and loam. The structure can only be called lovely; moderately dense and grainy tannins are supplemented by a gentle wash of granitic minerality and a burnished, lightly dusty wood influence; acidity is bright and supportive. 13 percent alcohol. A beautifully-made, nicely restrained Chianti Classico for drinking through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. I paid $24, but it can be found around the country as low as $18.

Imported by Delta Wholesalers, Memphis, Tenn.
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Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. The flagship of Ruffino’s “Ducale Trilogy,” the Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is regal enough for a dukedom and indeed displays a measure of Olympian detachment and power. The wine is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese with approximately 10 percent each cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The aging is ultra-traditional: six months in vats; 24 months in oak casks of 35- or 75-hectoliter capacity; another six months in vats; six months in bottle; for a total of 3 years. (How many gallons in a hectoliter, class? That’s right, Johnny, there are 26.4 gallons in a hectoliter!) The color is vivid medium ruby with a magenta tint at the rim; you can smell how dry the wine is in its legions of potpourri, racks of dried spices, bushels of dried, crushed black and red berries, in its tomes of dusty graphite and old leather and tobacco-like old paper qualities. Same in the mouth, as the wine develops a dynamic that pitches keenly expressed acidity against supple polished yet substantial tannins, a dry, dusty rather ecclesiastical woody character and an earthy, lithic foundation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Give this breathing space, elbow room, years to grow, say, 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

Ruffino Imports, Rutherford, Calif. A sample for review. The estate was launched in 1877 by cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino, who sold it to the Folonari family in 1913. The Folonaris expanded the estate and the brand tremendously beginning in the 1970s. Constellation Brands acquired 49.9 percent of the company in 2010 and the remaining 51.1 percent in 2011.
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Tenuta Vìgnole Chianti Classico 2008 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. This 51-acre estate was acquired in 1970 by the Nistri family and is operated by brothers Massimo and Fabrizio Nistri. The CC 08 is comprised of 85 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot; the wines are aged separately for 12 months, the sangiovese in large casks, the merlot in barriques, before blending. The color is dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; overall, the wine is seamlessly balanced and integrated, with aromas that twine the freshness of red and black currants and red cherries with cloves and sandalwood, notes of violets and dried orange rind and a light granitic, earthy, loamy quality. These elements segue smoothly on the palate, where the wine is dry and spare, and bright acidity keeps it lively, if not pert, and the earthly and mineral character asserts itself through the dry finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $37. The Vìgnole CCR 07 is a creature of different nature; medium ruby with a garnet tinge, it’s a blend of 85 percent sangiovese and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 20 months in a combination of 225-liter barriques and 400-liter tonneaux. The word is “tough,” as in a rigorous, leathery, stalwart tannic and woody structure that coats the palate and makes for a pretty damned demanding mouthful of wine. Traces of dried spice and a dried floral element lend a hint of piquancy, but this needs time in the bottle to soften and become more inviting, say 2015 or ’16 for consuming through 2022 through 2025. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent production was 1,200 six-pack cases. Excellent potential. About $60.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Tasted at a trade event in Chicago, May 15.
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