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At Long Last: Subzone Designations for Chianti Classico
By Jim Clarke
Mar 15, 2022
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It can be very easy for a wine brand or a region to get a little too obsessed with a particular marketing message, sometimes to the point it overshadows other messages that could take the region forward.  Champagne has spent so much time on protecting its name that it has become a meme: “It’s only the real thing if it comes from the Omicrhône region of France; otherwise, it’s just sparkling Covid,” for example.  Chianti Classico, similarly, labors long and hard in its fight against linguistic laziness that would prefer to drop the second word.  They’re not wrong to do so – Chianti is its own, larger appellation, often producing less prestigious wine – but sometimes it interferes with other advancements that might be of interest and accentuate Chianti Classico’s status as a fine wine.

That’s why it was very gratifying to see that the Chianti Classico Consorzio and the Italian government have given official recognition to subregions within the Chianti Classico zone.  I can appreciate the reluctance to do so; for many consumers, the confusion between or conflation of Chianti Classico and Chianti wine is real, and the latter has its own subzones to add to the mix.  But one would struggle to find a fine wine region with Chianti Classico’s size and history that hadn’t articulated the various regional differences within its borders in some manner.  Keen observers and the region’s own winegrowers have long been aware of these differences, but having them officially recognized makes it easier for newcomers in particular to explore the DOCG’s wines with confidence.

The Consorzio hasn’t rushed in, however.  For now, only Gran Selezione wines will be able to bear a Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive (UGA), as the new designations are called, on the label.  Eventually it’s expected that Riservas and Annata Chianti Classicos will be able to use the designations as well.  There are 11 UGAs.  In some areas there are subdivisions that are somewhat provisional; producers in those areas will have three years to decide which they would prefer to use.  

Last month the Consorzio presented a tasting of eleven wines at a venue in New York City, each representing one of the new UGAs.  The results were very convincing, with clear differences between the wines.  Italian journalist Alessandro Masnaghetti led the presentation for the most part, together with Consorzio Chairman Giovanni Manetti, who made a point that echoed much of my own thinking about red wine styles of late.  He pointed out that a couple of decades ago the differences between these sub-regions might not have shown themselves as convincingly as they do now; the so-called “international style” that was so dominant for a time – higher alcohol, more extracted, and heavily oaked – would have obscured them.  I think this is true in many other regions, and the fading of the international style really has allowed individual regions to show their own character, as well as subregions, as we see here, to do the same.

The wines listed below start in the northeastern quadrant of Chianti Classico and follow more-or-less clockwise.  The wines show a pattern that will be familiar to savvy fans of Brunello di Montalcino – another region ripe for official subdivisions, though one that has been able to establish a super-premium reputation nonetheless, in part thanks to the fact that it is just over one-third the size of Chianti Classico in total area.  But in both regions, higher elevation vineyards in the north and east generally yield elegant, more perfumed examples and then evolve to more powerful, darker-fruited wines in the south and west.

Here are the wines, identified by UGA, and some tasting notes:

Greve:  Castello di Querceto Gran Selezione “La Corte” 2018.  An area with higher elevations and a mix of calcareous and sandstone soils.  Lamole and Montefioralle, below, are currently part of this subregion as we wait to see if producers in those areas will choose to use the Greve name, which has greater recognition with some winedrinkers, or their more specific UGAs.  The 2018 La Corte represents a shift in style for Castello di Querceto, which used to pursue a more powerful style, despite their terroir.  The wine is medium-bodied, with a mix of candied and fresh red fruit – cherry and currant especially.  There are subtle earthy tones and a slight graininess to the tannins as well as a long finish.

Lamole:  I Fabbri Gran Selezione 2018.  According to Masnaghetti, one of the most specific UGAs in terms of its soils, which are uniformly sandstone.  Lighter bodied and very long, the I Fabbri was very perfumed and elegant, with cherry juice notes and a light grippiness.  Very pretty.

Panzano:  Le Cinciole Gran Selezione “Aluigi” 2016.  Directly east of Lamole, but at a lower elevation and once more a mix of limestone and sandstone soils.  Fuller and firmer, but still fresh.  The fruit is still red – plums, cherries – but with a slightly darker tone, and there are complementary floral notes.

Radda:  Castello di Volpaia Gran Selezione “Coltassala” 2016.  We’ve returned to higher elevations here, and are about in the middle of the Chianti Classico region as a whole; sandy soils predominate.  The Coltassala, accordingly, is a very classical and balanced example of Chianti Classico, with great depth and a mix of spice, earth, and fruit notes.  Quite structured, with serious but not drying tannins.

Gaiole:  Rocca di Montegrossi Gran Selezione “Vigneto San Marcellino” 2016.  The largest of the UGAs, generally showing Alberese soils with clay and limestone.  The Vigneto San Marcellino shows a bit more power, with black cherry, plum, and earthy notes, and chewy tannins.

Castelnuovo Berardenga:  Fèlsina Gran Selezione “Colonia” 2016.  This UGA is actually split between an eastern and western area, as a triangle of Gaiole extends down between them.  Producers in the western section can also use the name “Vagliagli,” as per the Dievole, below.  The “Colonia” is structured and firm, with great length, and complex, showing a mix of forest floor, earth, spice, and black cherry notes.

Vagliagli:  Dievole Gran Selezione “Vigna di Sessina” 2016.  Shows a mix of red and dark fruits – cherry, plum, and raspberry – on the nose, but somewhat earthier on the palate.  Medium-bodied and fairly grippy.

Castellina:  Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione 2016.  Generous on the nose, with a mix of earth and black cherry fruit notes plus touches of bay leaf and anise.  Medium-bodied and softer in texture.

San Donato in Poggio:  Castello di Monsanto Gran Selezione “Vigna il Poggio” 2016.  This was the one wine where the winemaking obscured the message somewhat, but only, I think, because of the youth of the wine; there were some smoky, char notes, presumably from barrel aging, that I’m sure will integrate and fade over time.  When that happens, I expect the black raspberry and cherry notes will emerge more fully and enjoyably.  All the elements for a classic, structured Chianti Classico were there, but they were still waiting for their time to shine.

San Casciano:  Villa Le Corti Gran Selezione “Don Tommaso” 2016.  We’re now in the very northwest of Chianti Classico, with loamy soils rare elsewhere in the DOCG.  This was quite a full-bodied and powerful wine, with dak fruit notes of blackcurrant and black plum as well as supporting mineral touches.

Montefioralle:  Villa Calcinaia Gran Selezione “Vigna Bastignano” 2016.  Another tiny UGA, part of the larger Greve area, but before one ascends into the higher elevations of that UGA.  Shows some of the floral character and elegance seen in the two wines from that region (Greve and Lamole, above) but with less acid backbone, darker fruit, and a more pronounced earthy touch.         

Read more columns:   Jim Clarke 
Connect with Jim on Twitter:   @JimWineBeer