Visiting Chianti Classico 
Part 7: Castell'in Villa


Castell’in Villa has a long history spanning back to the 1200s, but its reputation for wine stems from its current owner: Princess Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa. We had dinner with her (although she didn’t eat), and she was quite insistent that no-one take any photographs of her, a request I observed. [This is only the second time someone has refused to let me take their picture: the first was Tony Brady at Wendouree.]

The Greek-born Princess Coralia and her husband Riccardo bought the estate in 1968. ‘We thought we should buy somewhere where we could retire and put our roots down,’ she explains. At the time, practically the whole region was for sale. It was just coming out of the feudal collective system (called mezzandria) and shifting to its more modern system of private estates. At the time the vineyards were a sort of polyculture, with wheat being grown in the middle of the vine rows, and pigs, cows and olive oil also being produced on the farm. ‘People had a fantastic life,’ she recalls, ‘with large families living together.’ Mezzandria’s demise came towards the end of the 1950s and continued through the 1960s.

‘I didn’t even drink wine when I started making it,’ says the Princess. In 1985, tragedy stuck: her husband Riccardo died, in the year that all the olive trees burned because of the frosts. ‘I thought of giving up,’ she recalls, and she sold her house in Rome straight away. But rather than sell Castell’in Villa, Princess Coralia decided she’d make a go of it herself. ‘I cut off all the friends of my husband, came here and tried to survive. I had wanted to go back to Switzerland, where I grew up, and then I thought of going to the USA,’ she says. However, her son objected, because they’d no longer have any roots in Italy. Although Castell’in Vill had been her husband’s passion, she started working at the estate in a flurry of busyness, without giving herself time for thought. The estate wasn’t in brilliant shape at the time: everything was in need of renovation. ‘The tower was good, but this place was just used during the hunting season, from August to November.’ She recalls that, ‘The workers at the time were fantastic people: they loved what they did, and the earth. Workers today don’t care less.’

She now does everything on this 300 hectare estate (with 54 hectares of vineyard, of which 40 are currently producing because of some reorganization work), even selling the wine, the only part that she doesn’t like. She says that she doesn’t like inoculation, so natural ferments are the goal. She pumps over to submerge the cap, and malolactic fermentation is done in tank. She doesn’t use many barriques but instead prefers big casks. The wines here are released later than is normal and spend 3 years in large oak before bottling.

‘I have a theory that Sangiovese is a very delicate variety,’ she explains. ‘Not great, but a charming variety. It is after the fourth year that it starts showing its best.’ Her Chiantis are exclusively made with Sangiovese

Of the 2008 vintage, she says that, ‘The grapes are correct but there is no emotion in them.’


Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva 2000
Quite pure with firm spicy fruit (damson, plum and cherry). Fresh and elegant with good purity to the focused fruit, as well as some spicy and earthy notes. Bright and savoury. 92/100

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva 1985
Meaty, spicy, herby nose is slightly sweet with a hint of reduction. Quite complex and evolved, but some purity here, too. The palate is fresh and fruit-driven with herby, spicy notes and hints of earth. Good acidity. A delicious, evolved, complex wine. 93/100

Castell’in Villa Poggio delle Rose IGT 2003
100% Sangiovese aged in barriques. Dense and spicy with sweet ripe cherry fruits and a slightly medicinal edge. There’s a subtle greenness to this wine. A bit dusty with a drying finish and some earthy notes. Quite tannic. 89/100

Castell’in Villa Santacroce IGT 2003
A 50:50 blend of Cabernet and Sangiovese aged in barriques. Smooth, pure black fruits nose. Quite dense and rich with nice purity and focus with some spicy density. Very stylish with lovely focus and smooth structure. 92/100

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva 1977
This was a year with frost in April that led to naturally low yields. This was the first time they realized that yields were so important. Pure, smooth, ripe nose with some earthy hints. The palate is really pure, fresh and complex with lovely spiciness to the dark fruits. Brilliant stuff that is evolving beautifully. 95/100

Castell’in Villa Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 1993
Sweet and marmaladey with some apricot and spice notes, too. Quite complex and rich with nice citrussy notes. Long intense and complex. 92/100


Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Fontodi
Part 3: Castello di Querceto
Part 4: Castello della Paneretta
Part 5: Bibbiano
Part 6: Fattoria di Felsina
Part 7: Castell'in Villa
Part 8: Palazzino
Part 9: Barone Ricasoli
Part 10: Colle Lungo
Part 11: Vicchiomaggio

Wines tasted 10/08  
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