While in Tuscany last December I had dinner in Greve with Daniele Rosellini, chief enologist for the Chianti Classico Consorzio. More importantly, Daniele was a major part of the Chianti Classico 2000 project, a project that spanned 16 years and continues to alter the landscape for viticulture and winemaking in one of the world’s most well-known wine regions.
Rosellini began by saying that the clones of Sangiovese historically used in the Classico region were selected for quantity over quality. Add to that the fact that a majority of the vineyards in the region were planted in the 1960s or 1970s, and needed to be replanted at the time the project was proposed. Many producers, Rosellini told us, were unaware of the origin of the clones planted in their own vineyards, and those clones tended to ripen unevenly, resulting in harsh tannins in the wines that either necessitated blending with international varieties or extended barrique aging to soften.
The Chianti Classico 2000 Project was initially designed by the Consorzio in 1987 to modernize viticulture in the region and improve the quality of future wines. It was approved by Ministry of Agriculture and the Tuscan regional administration in 1988 and endorsed and financed by the EU. Further, the project involved cooperation between the agricultural schools at the University of Florence and the University of Pisa.
The entire project took 16 years to complete and was divided into three phases: on-site testing and inspections, data analysis, and the publication of the results. To facilitate the project, 16 experimental vineyards were planted over a total area of 25 hectares (61.75 acres). Five research cellars were then set up to vinify test batches of grapes from each vineyard. Ten small meteorological stations were also installed throughout the region to track micro- and macro-climate patterns. After the logistics were set the project members then agreed upon the following overall objectives:
From these objectives, six studies were created with the overall goals of modernizing grape growing and winemaking in the Chianti Classico region:
The future impact of the clonal study will be played out over the next several decades. It is estimated that 60% of the Chianti Classico vineyards will be replanted to the new clones over next ten years if commercially viable. Keep in mind the fact that it costs approximately €35,000 to plant one hectare of new vines. Regardless, the new clones should make for easier cultivation as well as more consistent wines with softer, balanced tannins. Rosellini also believes there will be a trend towards less use of international varieties and a return to the traditional medium-sized barrels as opposed to the use of barriques.
In the end one can only conclude that the Chianti Classico 2000 Project was a remarkable undertaking and definitely one of the top studies of its kind ever completed. But the proof, as they say, is in the bottle. The day after our dinner with Rosellini we had an opportunity to taste 30 Chianti Classico Riservas at the Consorzio headquarters. Most of the wines were from the current 2008 vintage with some older bottlings as well. I have to say that the tasting was one of the delightful surprises of the entire trip. Across the board the wines showed consistent high quality with considerable depth, complexity and a wonderful balance of the fruit, acid, and tannin components. The experience also served to reaffirm my belief that Sangiovese is one of the most versatile red grapes of all and that the purest expression of the Sangiovese is Chianti Classico. Here are a few of my favorite wines from the tasting:
1. 2008 Banfi Riserva Vibrant red fruits, sandalwood, and dried rose with dusty earth and a touch of wood. Elegant, refined and long finish.
2. 2008 Bibiano Riserva "Vigna del Capanninio"More wood influence up front but with lots of savory notes, dried red berries and dusty-woodsy earth. Long, sappy and very good.
3. 2008 Capanelle RiservaDeep red berry fruit with anise/herb, dried flowers and damp earth. Textbook Chianti palate.
4. 2008 Casale dell Sparviero RiservaPronounced floral notes with cranberry and craisin fruit, sandalwood; and mushroom consommé. Tart, vibrant and persistent.
5. 2008 Castello Vicchiomaggio Riserva Agostina PetriIntense, vibrant red fruits with sandalwood, anise and bitter herb notes. Earth, truffle and wood notes on the palate.
6. 2008 Castello Vicchiomaggio Riserva "La Prima"=Ripe red fruits with floral, sandalwood-spice and dusty earth. Riper, sweet fruit on the palate with a long finish framed by wood. Very good.
7. 2008 Fattoria Nittardi RiservaDeep, concentrated cranberry/plum fruit with pronounced green herb and woodsy notes. Good depth and concentration on the palate with a persistent finish.
8. 2008 Felsina Riserva RanciaConcentrated red fruits with dried floral, anise and Lapsang Soochong tea notes. Elegant, seamless and long on the palate. Excellent.
9. 2008 Fontodi Riserva Vigna al Sorbo Deep, rich and intense fruit with tomato/herb and anise notes. Wonderful concentration and depth of fruit with a long, tart finish. Very complex. Outstanding.
10. 2008 Querceto di Castellina RiservaVery ripe and concentrated with spicy sandalwood and dark earth notes. Impressive intensity and concentration; long and complex.
11. 2008 Rocca della Macie Riserva di Fizzano Deep ripe and plummy with red floral, herb and chalk/earth notes. Juicy, plummy, delicious.
12. 2008 Terre di Melazzno Riserva ElikiaVery pure red berry fruit with savory notes and a touch vanilla spice.
1. 1990 Castello di Verrazzano RiservaLots of rancio character: fruit cake character with prune, spice, black licorice and old wood. Elegant, well-aged and delicious.
2. 1993 Felsina Riserva Berardenga Rancia Very complex and layered with a seamless palate.
3. 1998 Capanelle RiservaVinous, deep and rich with lots of dried fruits, spice and woodsy character. Still plenty of time.
February 16, 2012Tim Gaiser
Excellent line up of Chianti Classico. I had the opportunity to taste many 2008 with the Consorzio of Chianti classico and they were great. aromatic with floral character and vibrant fruit and acidity, always showing the earthy components. Thank you for sharing this article Tim , I love chianti classico and this information opened up my understanding of the region and its wines.
Tim~ You didn't mention the second bottle from the left, Vignamaggio Mona Lisa Reverva I believe from the look of the
Really great article, Thank you for bring us the information in such a concise form.
Quite a project, thanks for sharing Tim. I wonder if any growers, thru clonal selection and replantings on their own, already had high %'s of the clones that turned out to be the top selections as a result of the study?
Pretty exciting to think that, if finances allow, several of these producers will plant these better clones, blend less Merlot, etc, and utilize lower impact vinification techniques, potentially resulting in a purer expression of Chianti! A shift in the blind tasting paradigm?