jamie goode's wine blog: Confusing Chianti

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Confusing Chianti

One of the wine regions I can't get my head round is Chianti. I've had so many disappointments here, and so few memorable wines, that it's made me question whether there's much merit to Sangiovese at all. But in theory I'm still hoping; still believing; still trusting - surely Chianti is capable of greatness.

Tonight's wine leaves me confused once again. There are bits about it I really like, but then bits that put me off. The package as a whole doesn't quite convince, but then when I prepare myself to dismiss it, I take another sip and suddenly I think it's serious again.

Fattoria Selvapiana 'Vigneto Bucerchiale' 2003 Chianti Rufina Riserva
A perplexing wine. It's quite deeply coloured, with a nose of sweet, lush red and black fruits with a compelling spicy complexity and a hint of tar. The palate is alcoholic and sweet, but this is offset nicely by a lovely savoury, spicy structure, that persists through the finish with some mouth-drying tannins. There's a hint of oak, too. I love the spicy complexity, and the structure suggests this could be one for the cellar, but I'm slightly worried by the sweetness of the fruit and the 14.5% alcohol. It's not at ease with itself at the moment, but I reckon cellar time might cure that. 89/100 (£18 Marks & Spencer)

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At 4:33 AM, Blogger Paul Tudor said...

It may be a matter of how one was "brought up" on Chianti, but we were spoiled rotten here in the late 80s when Italian wines were relatively inexpensive (the lira versus the Kiwi went completely the wrong way in the 90s), so were able to enjoy top notch Chiantis for not very much. Not that we saw the other wines that much, Brunellos or Vini Nobile etc.

However one of the side effects of this good fortune was the ability to sample a range of fine Reservas and even a number of aged wines, Chiantis bottled in the early and late 70s, shortly after domaine bottling came in vogue there, which had been held back and released with bottle age.

I believe that is the key for low cropped, well crafted Sangiovese - time. Yes, the variety does have a fruit sweetness that seems, well, mundane, when the wine is young. Yes, there is an odd sort of rusticity with the tannins and acids. But the complexity that can develop with extended ageing, now that is delicious...

As for the "modern" styles that appeared in the 90s, all late harvest, new oak and micro-ox (can't get it - why pick prunes and then micro-ox them to kingdom come???) they kind of left me cold when I first tried them. Easy to pick as Sangio in a blind line up, yes, but are the truly Chianti? I do not know and have not cellared any to see what they look like now. It would have been fascinating to have done so. I have come across a couple in various omnibus tastings - and they still look like the robowines I thought they were.

At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like you, I have been disappointed over the years by Chiantis across the price spectrum. Experience has shown me two important factors in getting Chiantis to show off at their best.

Firstly I believe that these are essentially wines that show best with food and good hearty Meditarrean fare at that - that sounds like a cliché but it works for me. The wines unfold readily in the presence of roasted red peppers, garlic, good oil etc., and the flavours meld together to an impressive complementary whole, with the lively acidity of the wine playing an important part.These are not wines to drink by themselves.

Secondly I've found that vigorous aeration of the wine immediately prior to serving helps a great deal too - pouring the wine from bottle to jug and back again, nothing subtle.

Hope this helps
Best wishes
Martin Jones

At 8:22 AM, Anonymous Shon said...

Selvapianas are not as open-knit as Chiantis from further south but come into their own with the local nosh(the local recommendation was slow-roasted wild boar) Opened the '98 Bucerchiale a few weeks ago - still had a good 5 - 10 years to go. Reminded me a bit of a young Chateau Musar. You should definitely keep a look out for the Selvapiana Fornace IGT and Vin Santo - sadly we don't see them much in Britain.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Doug said...

I think Paul, Martin and Shon make excellent points.

Two potential problems here. The 03 vintage was particularly tough on growers and grapes alike; many wines in Tuscany were overwrought this wine may never be a classic. Secondly, the Riserva wine spends a lengthy period in oak - I imagine that the fruit will probably dry out before the oak merges with it.

A more general observation. Traditional Italian reds are rarely made to be soft, puppyish and charming, but their very astringency does makes them ideal with regional peasant cooking - they are truly al dente wines. The sweeter, more modern styles (be they from Italy, France or the New World) lack this edge and mineral component: a combination of extraction, residual sugar, high alcohol and low acidity is designed to create a robowine (to use Paul's expression) for instant gratification, but try digesting food with these wines...


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