by Chris Ryerson
In Monday’s New York Times, wine writer Eric Asimov described a recent tasting of twenty Chianti Classicos and lamented the lack of classically styled wines from the region, particularly at the Riserva level. His primary complaint centered on the unnaturally dense, dark appearance of many of these wines, often due to over-extraction, heavy use of oak, or blending of international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. We here at Oliveto couldn’t agree more. From the outset our wine program has focused on sourcing Italian wines made in a more traditional style: “Typicity, authenticity, and honest, traditional methods are key factors in the wines we typically find interesting. Balance, elegance, and the ability to age gracefully are defining characteristics that guide each selection for our list.”
Of course, defining exactly what is typical, authentic, and honest is not a black and white issue; as Asimov points out, the indigenous grape, Colorino, has long been used to deepen the color of Tuscan wines, preceding the influence of international varietals and globe-trotting critics. Nevertheless, in our opinion and for our palates, over-extracted, heavily-oaked wines supplemented by non-indigenous varietals rarely, if ever, offer the balance, elegance, and ability to age that we prefer.
Thus, we took great pleasure in noting the top two producers that emerged from the NY Times panel’s tasting: Fèlsina and Fontodi. Both estates are well represented on our regular list and our Wine-in-Time list of older vintages. We have been fortunate during the last 15 months to have Caterina Mazzocolin of Fèlsina and Giovanni Manetti visit Oliveto for wine dinners. While their styles are somewhat different (Fontodi is a bit more toward the modern end of the spectrum) we believe both estates strive to produce wines that are typical of what they are supposed to be and that reflect the distinctive qualities of the Sangiovese grape. Each wine from these two producers is unmistakably Tuscan.
Finally, although the NY Times panel focused specifically on DOCG designated Chianti Classico Riservas, it is worth noting that a number of producers make similar quality wines either as basic Chianti Classico or even outside of the DOCG regulations. Two prime examples from our list are the tiny producer Le Boncie and the legendary Montevertine. At Le Boncie, Giovanna Morganti makes only one wine, “Le Trame,” which she designates as a simple Chianti Classico. She focuses all her energy and best grapes into making one great wine and frequently produces what I consider to be the epitome of elegant, refined Chianti. In 1968, Montevertine was one of the first producers to forego the prestige and marketing prowess of the Chianti designation in order to make wines exclusively from Sangiovese. At the time Chianti had to be a blend, but Sergio Manetti believed in Sangiovese as a noble grape. He parted ways with the Consorzio to pursue this vision, and today Montevertine is revered by Tuscan insiders and aficionados around the world for this unwavering commitment.