I love attending the Winetasters Society of Toronto tastings as I get to taste older vintages that I would normally not have the opportunity to try. Last week, the tasting focused on 8 Chianti Classico Riservas from the 1997 vintage. Most of them were still very much alive and drinking quite well.
Yes, Chianti has come a long way since the ‘fiasco’ days of the 70s when everyone bought a bottle just so they could stick a colourful drippy candle in it once the not so great wine had been gulped down. Chianti is now a wine of variable quality – some are still quite mediocre, but the best can be excellent.
Chianti is located in Tuscany, where many of Italy’s most famous and sought after wines are crafted. There are 8 subzones in Chianti: Rufina, Colli Senesi, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Coline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli (added in 1997), and Classico. Chianti Classico is the heart of the Chianti region and usually makes the best – although according to Tom Stevenson, some Rufina and Colli Fiorentini can have the same ‘classico‘ quality. The Chianti Classico zone is roughly the same area that was delimited by the Medici Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1716. The Chianti area was expanded in 1932 and 7 subzones were established. In 1966, Chianti became a DOC and in 1984, the entire Chianti region was awarded DOCG status (some argue that only Chianti Classico should have been given DOCG status).
Two types of soils are found in the Chianti Classico region: the soft, marl-like galestro, where Sangiovese thrives, and the sandstone called alberese. In Chianti Classico, Sangiovese makes up 80 to 100% of the blend (compared to other Chianti zones, where Sangiovese must make up at least 70% of the blend). Up to 20% of other authorized red grapes, such as Colorino, Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are allowed. White varietals are no longer permitted in Chianti Classico (they are optional in other Chianti zones up to 10%). The minimum alcohol level permitted is 12% (compared to 11.5% for other Chiantis).
Chianti Classico Riserva is typically a more robust wine than regular Chianti Classico due to grape selection, higher minimum alcohol levels (12.5%), and longer aging requirements. Riserva wines are aged a minimum of 2 years in barrel before being bottled, while regular Chianti Classico may be released as early as October 1 following the harvest. Riservas are great when paired with robust stews, braised meat dishes, and hearty meat and tomato-based pastas.
1997 Chianti Classico Riserva Tasting Notes:
Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo: A medium garnet colour with quite a tawny rim. Mature aromas of dried figs, tar, earth, leather, and woodsmoke float from the glass. On the palate this wine had good acidity and integrated tannins with flavours of dried cherry, fig, plum, and earth with a fairly long length.
Rocce delle Macie Riserva di Fizzano: The colour was a darker garnet than the first wine. This wine shows dried cherry, prune, forest floor, and cedar aromas with a bit of a sour note. I thought this wine wasn’t as concentrated as the first wine and rated it my least favourite of the tasting. I found it quite tart and even sour. It seems that many didn’t agree with me as this came 3rd overall in the group.
Badia a Coltbuono: A pretty, floral nose with potpourri, tea, black cherry, and earth aromas. Lots of dried berries on the palate, but I found the finish to be bitter and a bit shorter than some of the other wines of the tasting.
Carpineto: Very earthy, animally aromas of smoked meat, mushroom, black licorice, and chocolate. A beefy palate, with dark fruit flavours of chocolate covered dried blueberries and plums. A long finish. I really liked this wine.
Castello di Monastero: Complex and seductive, this wine shows aromas of dried berries, blueberries, leather, cedar, and spice. This wine seemed to have fresher fruit aromas than other wines of the tasting. Still quite fresh with silky tannins and a long finish. A beautiful wine.
Castello di Volpaia: Exquisite aromas of dried cherry and fig, dried flowers, underbrush with an enticing earthy note. A silky texture with dried red berries and white pepper flavours and refreshing acidity. Another favourite.
Podere Olmo: Subtle aromas of baking spice and black licorice. Very subdued. A bit weak or thin on the palate. I rated this wine my second least favourite.
Lanciola Le Masse di Greve: Some nice black fruit aromas of black cherry and plum, with leather and black licorice. I found the tannins to still be quite coarse, considering the age of the wine, with not as much fruit on the palate as on the nose. Although the group as a whole rated this the favourite wine of the tasting, I had it somewhere in the middle. Still, I wouldn’t turn it down if someone gave me a bottle.