Isole e Elena, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 (Various importers, app. $25): The Chianti Classico DOCG zone in central Tuscany is one of the world’s most historic and most beautiful wine regions. It’s a fairly compact area of about 100 square miles, but because the zone is all hilly, almost everything that defines terroir -- vineyard altitude, the directional aspect of the vines, the soils and the climate of the vineyards -- varies from one part of the territory to the next. As a result, Chianti Classico wines display enormous variation in style according to the location of their vineyard estate (and of course further variation according to the winemaking techniques employed). The diversity of the area and its wines has given me happy material for research for many years.
One of the Chianti Classico estates that is a consistent favorite for me is Isole e Olena. It is a fairly small property with 124 acres of vines and a total production of about 18 thousand cases. The wines produced include varietal wines from Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah, but the Sangiovese grape is the foundation of its production. In addition to this mainly-Sangiovese Chianti Classico, Isole e Olena makes a stunning IGT Toscana (a “super Tuscan”), called Cepparello, entirely from Sangiovese.
In an interview in Tuscany a few years ago, owner (and viticulturalist and winemaker) Paolo De Marchi argued that Sangiovese is one of the most difficult grapes to grow in Italy, more difficult than Nebbiolo, because it demands the right conditions but even then it performs inconsistently. Nonetheless, he seems to have mastered the Sangiovese in his own estate, and produces exceptional wines from it.
What is the style of this 2006 Chianti Classico? Definitely not powerful, intense or rich. You could call it a “pretty” Classico, but the connotations of that word might demean the wine. It is delicate, pure, pristine, vibrant. It sings.
When you pour a glass of it, you can tell from the medium ruby color that you’re not dealing with a dense or heavy wine. The forthcoming, pure aromas of black cherry and the slightest floral note tell you that the wine is about delicacy more than power. It is nearly full-bodied in your mouth (its alcohol is 13.5 percent) but it is also beautifully balanced with high acidity; typical Sangiovese tannins are there, for sure, but they are fine as dust and the wine’s soft and silky texture offsets them. The flavors are fresh-fruity, black cherry and tart cherry, and easy to appreciate. The finish expresses concentration of fruit.
Reading reviews of this wine from a year ago, I conclude that it has improved since its release and I believe it is now drinking at or near its peak. It should be delicious for 3 to 5 years more. The 2005 Isole e Olena Chainti Classico--available for just $12 at one California retailer --is also excellent, and offers more immediate pleasure. I prefer both vintages in a glass with a medium-size narrow bowl (the wine seems more focused and its flavor purer) than in a glass with a large or rounded bowl.
This is the style of Chianti Classico that I love -- among the many styles that I enjoy and admire.