One might say that chianti, rather like Cinderella, has gone from a poor girl in rags to a beautiful princess.
The original formulae consisted of 70 per cent sangiovese grapes with 15 per cent canaiolo added for soft fruitiness and even 15 per cent of a white wine grape called malvasia bianco.
The bottle itself, called a fiasco, was squat and straw-covered and overall it was considered to be a pleasant, inexpensive everyday libation.
This all started to change about the time I entered the trade and by 1995 the law evolved to allow the use of 100 per cent sangiovese. Today all chianti must have a minimum of 80 per cent of this classic grape of Tuscany. The remaining 20 per cent can even include cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.
Plain chianti is the first quality level and we do not stock any, instead we carry classico, classico reserva and the new gran selezione.
On the highest hilltop in Tuscany sits Castello di Volpaia, a tiny Roman village surrounded by just under 1,000 acres of forest, olive groves and organically farmed vineyards. This time last year we were sipping their wonderful wines under a canopy of flowering wisteria in a courtyard with our friend Federica Mascheroni and her mother, owners, with her father, of this majestic estate. The Wall Street Journal rates it the top alternative place overall for tourists to visit in Italy, and you can even stay there.
Volpaia 2013 Chianti Classico received the following praise from Wine Enthusiast Magazine: “Editor’s choice 91/100. A delicious expression of 90 per cent sangiovese and 10 per cent merlot, this opens with enticing aromas of fragrant purple flower, ripe red berry and sweet baking spice. The silky, vibrant palate doles out juicy wild cherry, black raspberry, clove and liquorice while sleek tannins and bright acidity provide the framework. A tobacco note signals the close. Drink through 2018.” $23.40.
Terrabianca (white earth), at 307 acres, is a place of wild boars, forests and, of course, vineyards. Located about 30 miles from Florence, this property is mentioned — and first named — for its chalky and sandy soils in documents from Sienna in 1085. Their Chianti Classico Riserva Croce 2011 takes its name from an ancient crucifix that stands in this Radda-in-Chianti vineyard. The wine is a blend of 97 per cent sangiovese and 3 per cent canaiolo and it gets a most respectable 92/100 from Robert Parker. Although Terrabianca is better known on our island for their Super Tuscan wine called Campaccio, I can assure you that Croce will please with its juicy black cherry with notes of mocha. It is really quite lovely. $26.55.
San Felice is all encompassing; a Roman hamlet, a five-star hotel, a terrific restaurant and of course all is surrounded by vineyards. Although they manage an experimental vineyard with the University of Florence that has over 250 historic Italian varieties, their Chianti Classico Il Grigio Reserva 2012 is a 100 per cent sangiovese that they suggest will age well for up to ten years. It is a deep, ruby red with intense aromas of sweet violets and wild red berries. Staying remarkably consistent with the others that we are reviewing today, this wine can claim 91/100 scores from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast Magazine. $25.60.
Here is what James Suckling has to say about Gabbiano Chianti Classico Reserva 2011: “92/100. Excellent red with layers of subtle fruit, toasted oak, mushroom and truffles. Full body with firm, racy tannins and a long, flavourful finish. A solid example of a riserva Chianti classico with lovely balance and structure.” It consists of 95 per cent sangiovese and 5 per cent merlot. $30.10.
San Felice 2013 Il Grigio Gran Selezione is a fine rendition of the newest wine category in Tuscany that includes Chianti. I will start with a quote from Wine Enthusiast: “95/100. Smooth and delicious, this boasts enticing scents of violet, berry, leather, tilled soil and aromatic herb. The radiant, elegant palate offers ripe red cherry, crushed raspberry, white pepper and liquorice, while a note of pipe tobacco closes the finish. Polished tannins and bright acidity provide balance and structure. Drink 2018-2025.”
Parker gives it a 94+ rating (meaning that it will gain complexity as it ages) and he tells us that the base is 80 per cent sangiovese with the rest being abrusco, pugnitello, malvasia nera, cilegiolo and mazzese. It is an utterly unique blend, unmatchable anywhere else. Leonardo Bellaccini, their winemaker who stayed in our home last October, has told us that pugnitello was rescued from a single remaining historic vine that they discovered and re-propagated. $37.00.
So much of the Italian culture revolves around food and I suggest that these charming wines will significantly enhance the family meal. All are a special treat.
•This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or 295-0176. Stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409).