Ricasoli classics and Chianti Classico

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Good to know: The 2010 Torricella Toscana IGT is a delightful introduction to Tuscan white wines. | Photo by W. Peter Hoyne

Chianti Classico is an inspiring parcel of land within the soul of Tuscany, where new regulations combined with agronomic techniques are changing the way we view the wines of this region. Bordered by Florence to the north, Siena to the south and mountains to the east, Chianti Classico is shaped by terraced vineyards etched into the steep Tuscan hillside.

Many times we assimilate Chianti with Chianti Classico, when in fact the character and quality of these wines are vastly different. Chianti is a term referring to a homogenous style of wines grown in a wide swatch of Tuscany, while Chianti Classico is very specific in its geographic zone and taste profile.

Within the confines of Chianti Classico reside nine communes including the towns of Radda, Greve, Gialoe and Castellina. Chianti Classico can have a site-specific taste profile within each of these communes. The Gallo Nero, evidenced by the Black Rooster, identifies the wines of Chianti Classico. The managing members of the wines of Chianti Classico, referred to as the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, monitor and regulate the quality in this locale.

In 2013 Chianti Classico ratched up the status level of its wines introducing a new category of wine atop of its pyramid of distinguished quality. The new classification is labeled Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which is now at the highest point of this pyramid. In the middle is Chianti Classico Riserva and at the base is Chianti Classico Annata ”Vintage dated” wines.

Gran Selizione wines, which are Chianti Classico at its best, will be introduced into the market later this year. These wines must be produced from the estates best grapes, which may be a single vineyard location and will adhere to strict technical and sensory parameters. They will be aged a minimum of 30 months, six months longer than Riserva wines and will have at least three months of bottle aging.

Sangiovese is the dominant grape within Chianti Classico, and the new criteria specifies that at least 80 percent of the wine must be of this grape, allowing for 20 percent of other red indigenous grapes or international varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This new category comes on the heels of Chianti Classico’s attempts/intentions to strengthen the overall quality level and prestige of wine within the region.

Unlike many winegrowing regions in the world, Tuscany’s producers seem to have an individualistic approach to Sangiovese. Clones are chosen that are best suited to their communes, with each producer having their own stylistic interpretation. These are not ultramodern nor over-extracted New World expressions, but instead wines of balance, finesse and a sense of place with an affinity for food. Understanding these wines takes patience and many enjoyable hours of tasting.

Familiarize yourself with the individuals behind the labels of Chianti Classico and you can clearly identify the personality of the wines. Francesco Ricasoli is the guardian and owner of Barone Ricasoli, the oldest and one of the most historical estates in Chianti Classico. The Ricasoli family has been intimately associated with wine and the Chianti region since the 12th century. In 1872 Francesco‘s great, great, great grandfather, Bettino Ricasoli was credited with researching and developing the formula with which Chianti Classico is produced. In 1993, Francesco bought back Barone Ricasoli from a multinational company, intent on elevating the quality of the wines and placing his mark on the family’s legacy. He believed in exploiting the greatness of Sangiovese and “making a world class wine that is unique around the world.”

With 570 acres under vine, Francesco has undertaken an ambitious replanting program, identifying and preserving some of the original Sangiovese rootstock that was planted on the estate centuries ago. His dedication to research and experimentation with Sangiovese is reminiscent of the passion of his great, great, great grandfather. Francesco’s attention to detail with replanting, vineyard management and modernization of the winery has elevated the status of Ricasoli wines and their recognition in the world market. He is proud of his heritage while recognizing that “tradition is still dynamic and evolving”, as is today’s Chianti Classico region.

2010 Castello di Brolio

Chianti Classico DOCG: A selection of the best parcels of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the estate. Deep ruby in color leaning to opaque. Masculine with dark berry fruit, acidity and razor sharpness.

Retail: $24.99

2010 Torricella Toscana IGT: This white is a blend of 80 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Sauvignon Blanc with a portion of the fruit derived from the limestone-based soils on the estate. This is a delightful introduction to Tuscan whites. Deep straw in color, this beautifully balanced wine has vibrant overtones of melon sorbet and lemongrass with a tropical fruit richness. An overachiever with plenty of personality and such a long finish.

Retail: $29.99

2010 Colledila Chianti Classico DOCG: This is a 100 percent single vineyard “cru” Sangiovese from the best 17 acre plot within the estate. Aged in new oak casks for 18 months, this deep ruby wine possesses a modern feminine character with aromas of crushed violets. The elegant and spiced black cherry flavors end with a fresh sweet backbone. It received a top rating from the Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Guide in 2014.

Retail: $69.99

W. Peter Hoyne has been a wine journalist for over 20 years, covering stories of national and international significance. While his professional relationships in the wine industry have allowed him to share a unique perspective of wine, he is also intrigued by the culinary aspect and harmony that exist between wine and food. As a wine advocate, he is committed to consumer education and is focused on upcoming trends and American wine-buying habits. Email him at wphoyne@att.net.