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Visiting Chianti Classico

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Once upon a time, wine from Chianti was associated with candles and straw wrapping. Savvy wine connoisseurs today know that the quality of wine from the Chianti region of Italy—and the specific D.O.C.G. region of Chianti Classico — has soared. Yet many consumers wonder what makes Chianti Classico different than ‘regular’ Chianti? And where is this Chianti Classico region, exactly?

The Chianti Classico zone includes the territories of the communes of Castellina, Gaiole, Greve, and Radda and parts of those of Barberino Val d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Poggibonsi, San Casciano Val di Pesa, and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa – over 70,000 hectares. Altitudes range from 200 to 800 meters, the climate is continental overall, and the stony, shallow soil and steep slopes make for a quality wine producing area. Wines with the familiar Black Rooster logo – symbol of an official D.O.C.G. Chianti Classico – must satisfy a series of regulations stipulated in the production of this wine, namely 80% Sangiovese and up to 20% maximum of other red varieties including Canaiolo, Colorino, and even international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Trebbiano and Malvasia (white grapes) were once part of the official mix, but have been outlawed as of the 2006 vintage.

To help students of wine better understand the region, the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust organized a study trip for students and graduates in mid-June of 2009. It would prove a whirlwind of two and a half days of touring eight wineries, yet it would prove a fantastic opportunity to meet the producers and get a real feel for the region.

After an early morning flight and train ride to Florence, we were whisked off to the town of Gaiole and the first of several wineries, Checchi – Castellina. We enjoyed an extensive tour of the property and learned a bit about its history. The winery was founded by Luigi Cecchi in 1893 when the accepted recipe for Chianti was 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, and 15% Malvasia Blanca. The Canaiolo gave the wine tannic strength, and the white grapes softened the blend. The mix also gave winemakers the tools to overcome flaws that are now avoided by this winery’s shiny new equipment and viticultural savvy. Andrea Cecci, co-proprietor with his brother Cesare, were getting ready for VinExpo but greeted us at a reception in a gorgeous space overlooking the vineyard where we had the opportunity to taste select vintages.

Our next stop was Fattoria di Petroio s.a.s di Diana Lenzi & Co. This is a remarkable winery for many reasons. The tour was led by the dynamic blond American Pamela Lenzi, whose Italian physician husband inherited the property. Pamela’s incredible enthusiasm and dedication to the property was palpable. While showing off the cellar, she laughed that while most women want diamonds or fur coats as birthday gifts, she wanted new tanks. The estate’s terroir is unique as it stands on the watershed between two major basins of Tuscany resulting in little rain. Large, sculpture-size stones spring up all over the property, rendering it something of a magical place. An ancient church adjoining the property is sometimes used for weddings. Following a tasting and check-in at a lively, modern hotel, we attended dinner al fresco organized by Consorzio Chianti Classico at Podere Terreno alla via della Volpaia.

The following day we visited Rocca di Castagnoli, another gorgeous property. This winery combines the best of the old and the new — the stone building spans centuries, yet has a sleek, updated look due to the high tech glass doors and state of the art winemaking equipment. Max, our informative guide, gave us a tour of the cellar and orchestrated the tasting. Next was a ‘light lunch’ and tasting at the Colle Bereto winery in Raddda. Like most of the estates visited, Colle Bereto also produced olive oil. Curious as it seems, at times olive oil was a more lucrative business than wine production. Following this visit we went to Greve, another Chianti Classico-producing town, and toured the Panzanello winery now owned by Andrea and Iole Sommaruga, a young couple who have made wine on the estate for over ten years. Afterward we tasted their Riserva wines, very refined due to the couple’s mantra of “drinking wine, not oak.”

Our last winery visit and tasting of the day was also in Greve, at Azienda Agricola Savignola Paolina di Ludovica Fabbri. Winemaker and owner Ludovica Fabbri had the similar high energy of Pamela Lenzi, though both have very different backgrounds. Azienda Agricola Savignola Paolina was known as a Christian settlement, built around the first half of the seventeenth century. In 1780 the Fabbri family purchased Savignola and started wine production in the second half of the 1800s. According to the effervescent Ludovica, the first real success of Savignola was a result of her aunt Paolina who between the two world wars took charge of the company and created its present name: Savignola Paolina. When Ludovica spoke of Paolina I could visualize this incredible, gutsy woman quite clearly in my mind. That night, we had a multi-course ‘Italian sampler’ dinner at Macelleria Cecchini, the restaurant of a butcher who is quite famous in town. Many Chianti wineries contributed bottles for our sampling pleasure.

On the day of our departure, we visited and enjoyed a tasting at Solatione in Greve, family owned and operated since 1972. In 1992, flame-haired brother and sister Fabio and Francesca decided to bottle their own wines and carry out the dream of their late father. One of the more amusing aspects of this visit was when the charming Francesca showed us one of the tanks with a typical minuscule opening. When someone asked how it was cleaned, Francesca described in an amusing fashion how a giant man was able to fit himself inside. Our final visit was Fattoria Le Corti, a historic estate where we enjoyed a tour of the winery, tasting, and lunch.

Overall, the key takeaway point from the trip was the passion the Chianti Classico producers had for their wine and their D.O.C.G. region. A surprising number of the producers were young, inherited the winery when they had established other careers, yet despite the ups and downs of the wine production trade consider producing wine a labor of love as well as a source of revenue. Far from the stereotype that once plagued the name “Chianti wine,” these producers will do anything in their power to create better wines, whether it is investing in expensive new winery equipment, pulling up old vines, or planting new clones. These producers are dynamic, creative, and enormously resourceful.

This youthful energy is perhaps behind many of the new changing laws in Chianti Classico, as producers now desire to create a wine that consumers actually want to buy instead of sticking to tradition. Perhaps the best visual representation of this new energy comes from the home of Ludovica Fabbri, as her living room is constructed directly over an old olive oil press visitors can see through a window pane on the floor. Yes, the Chianti Classico region is founded on its unique terroir, but its new generation of producers are taking it into the new century.

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  • Thanks Marisa, your article are great, I enjoy them all.