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Chianti Rùfina: Wines Worth Knowing
By Michael Apstein
Apr 5, 2016
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It’s well worth unraveling the confusion that often prevents consumers from embracing Chianti Rùfina, for the wines from this area are a joy to drink.  Some people mistake this subregion of the greater Chianti area for Ruffino, a prominent producer of Chianti and Chianti Classico (Ruffino makes no Chianti Rùfina, though).  Others stumble over the pronunciation--the accent marks the emphasis, making it ROO-fi-na, not Roo-fin-NA. 

The wines from Chianti Rùfina are very different from those of Chianti Classico, the best-known subregion of Chianti whose wines are easily identified by the black rooster logo on the neck label.  Indeed, Federico Giutini Masseti, from Fattoria Selvapiana, one of Rùfina’s top producers, wishes the name of the area were simply Rùfina.  A cooler climate--Rùfina is further north and east compared to Chianti Classico--explains, in part, why the wines from the two areas are so different, the wines of Rùfina marked by an elegance and austerity that complements their black cherry fruitiness.

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An overview helps put Chianti Rùfina into perspective.  It is the smallest of the eight subzones of Chianti, a vast area in the middle of Tuscany, and accounts for only about three percent of the region’s production.  In comparison, Chianti Classico, the area located in the hills between Florence and Siena, produces ten times the amount of wine.  (For completeness the other subzones whose names consumers will see on labels are Chianti Colli Aretini [the hills around Arezzo], Chianti Colli Fiorentini [the hills around Florence], Chianti Colli Senesi [the hills around Siena and extending well to the south of that city], Colline Pisane [south of Pisa], Chianti Montalbano [west of Florence near Livorno], and Chianti Montespertoli [just west of Florence]). 

Wine made from grapes grown outside these eight subzones will be labeled simply Chianti or Chianti Superiore if they meet some additional benchmarks.  Producers In Chianti Rùfina, but not in Chianti Classico, have the option of “declassifying” wines made from grapes within the subzone to simple Chianti.  Tavogliani, a top producer in Rùfina, for example, opts not to use Sangiovese from younger vines in his Chianti Rùfina.  Instead those grapes go into a delightfully cheery wine simply labeled Chianti.  In the future, when the vines are older and produce higher quality grapes he will use them as part of the blend for his Chianti Rùfina.

As in the rest of the greater Chianti area and its eight subzones, Sangiovese is the primary grape used to make the wines here.  Some producers blend other indigenous varieties such as Colorino, Canaiolo, or Ciliegiolo, while others use small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Though the grapes may be the same, the wines from Chianti Rùfina are typically less ripe and powerful compared to those from Chianti Classico because of the cooler climate.  The resulting wines often convey an herbal or mineral quality that balances a black cherry-like fruitiness.  The cooler growing conditions allow the Tuscan acidity to shine, providing a mouth-watering zestiness to the wines.  As in Chianti Classico, winemaking practices in Chianti Rùfina vary, with some producers aging their wines in French barriques, while others use more traditional large barrels.

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The spectrum of wines from Chianti Rùfina varies enormously, from those that provide immediate enjoyment to Riservas that typically require several years of bottle aging.  Indeed, Riservas from the top producers can develop brilliantly with bottle age.  Over dinner last month, Andrea Cecchi, a top Chianti Classico producer, ordered a 1981 Castello Nipozzano Riserva from Frescobaldi, one of Rùfina’s very top producers, in a Florence restaurant.  (It’s a rare and confident producer who orders another producer’s wine in a restaurant, but Cecchi makes such terrific wines, including a stellar Chianti Classico, Villa Cerna, that his confidence is justified.)  The Castello Nipozzano, despite being from an average year, was marvelous, showing a lively and enthralling combination of savory herbal qualities and dried red fruits. This wine reinforced my mantra--producer, producer, producer--rather than focusing exclusively on the reputation of the vintage.

Speaking of producers. Despite the small number of producers--fewer than 25--in this diminutive area, the wines from Chianti Rùfina are well represented in the United States.  From my experience, the two top producers in Chianti Rùfina are Frescobaldi and Selvapiana, followed closely by Fattoria I Veroni, Tenuta Bossi-Marchesi Gondi (Tenuta Bossi is the name of the domaine, whereas Marchesi Gondi is the family who owns it.), and Villa Travignoli.  Selvapiana’s top wine, from a single vineyard, Bucerchiale, needs years to develop but is always worth the wait.  Both the 2011 (96) and 2012 Bucerchiale (95) are stunning. 

Frescobaldi’s 2013 Chianti Rùfina Riserva (91) is a delight to drink now. Fattoria I Veroni made excellent Chianti Rùfina in both 2013 and 2014; the 2013 (90) is a bit denser and more powerful, whereas the 2014 (89) has captivating charm.  Their Riservas develop magnificently--the 2007 Riserva (94) showing a refined combination of dried and fresh fruit flavors enrobed in a silky texture.  Tenuta Bossi’s 2014 Chianti Rùfina, labeled San Giuliano (90), is a balanced blend of Sangiovese (80%), Colorino (10%), and Merlot that is bright and fresh and not overworked.  One of their Riservas, called Pian dei Sorbi (93) (Sangiovese, 80% and Colorino) is a gorgeous study of elegance and finesse. Another, Villabossi (90), a blend that includes a little Cabernet Sauvignon and that is aged in French barriques for a brief period, displays a slightly richer, some would say, “more modern,” profile. Villa Travignoli’s 2010 Chianti Rùfina Riserva, Tegolaia, (93) is a showstopper with dazzling finesse and complexity.

Other producers whose wines I can recommend heartily are Castello del Trebbio, Colognole, and Frascole. Castello del Trebbio’s 2011 Chianti Rùfina Riserva (92), made entirely from Sangiovese, is a graceful and seamless mix of black cherry-like fruitiness and mineral qualities. Colognole’s 2009 Chianti Rùfina Riserva, currently on the market, has developed wonderful complexity, depth and finesse.  In short, it’s a joy to drink now. Both Fascole’s 2013 Chianti Rùfina and its Riserva are harmonious, with the Riserva showing more weight and density.  Both are easy to recommend. 

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Though remembering producers’ names is more important than vintages, the vintage does matter.  Every producer to whom I spoke remarked at how “difficult” the 2014 vintage was throughout Chianti, including Chianti Rùfina and Chianti Classico.  (“Difficult” can be translated into “it was hard to make good wines in a year that was cool and rainy.”)  Nonetheless, many of the 2014s I tasted were fine and easy to recommend, in large measure because producers “declassified” wines--grapes destined for the Riserva designation found their way into the regular bottles.  For example, Selvapiana produced a third less of their Bucerchiale in 2014, opting to use those grapes in their regular bottling.  My advice to consumers is to try the wines from the 2014 vintage--both from Chianti Rùfina and Chianti Classico--before “writing off” this vintage.

The producers I’ve talked to were not unanimous about the quality of recent vintages, with some preferring 2013, others 2012 and still others 2011.  My vote goes to the 2010s, which have just gotten better and better every time I’ve tasted them.  All, however, appear incredibly enthusiastic about the 2015 vintage.

Are the wines from Chianti Rùfina better than those from Chianti Classico?  The producers in Chianti Rùfina would give a resounding yes, while those in Chianti Classico would most certainly disagree.  But both groups of producers and I are in agreement about one thing: the wines are different, which of course, what it’s all about.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Chianti in general or Chianti Rùfina in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

April 6, 2016