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An Island of Tradition in a Sea of Chianti Classico Change
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 16, 2015
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Melini, Chianti Classico Riserva “La Selvanella” 2011 (Frederick Wildman & Sons, $28):  I have many favorite Chianti Classico wines.  One that has remained a constant on my list for all my years of tasting is La Selvanella, the single-vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva that is the flagship wine of the Melini winery.  Through all the changes that Chianti Classico has undergone over the past three decades -- clonal research and replanting, for example, the trend toward inclusion of international varieties to complement Sangiovese and what seems now to be the reversal of that trend, the use of French oak barriques for aging, and so forth -- La Selvanella today remains essentially the same as it was since Melini made the first wine in 1969.

The La Selvanella vineyard is situated in the Radda district of Chianti Classico, the district known for its high altitudes.  La Selvanella stretches from almost one thousand to almost two thousand feet in altitude and covers 123 acres of vines.  It is planted entirely to Sangiovese, and any replanting is done using a massale selection of the existing vines.  Theoretically, the vineyard could produce 200,000 bottles of wine, but 80,000 bottles is the typical size of a Selvanella vintage -- and the wine is produced only in the best vintages.

Winemaker Marco Galeazzo has a clear vision for La Selvanella Chianti Classico: that the wine be a true expression of Sangiovese and of its terroir in Chianti Classico.  “I like to work with the local variety, and made a modern wine but not an international one.  Modern wines are clean wines made with modern technology, round and soft but with the taste of the terroir only.”  International-style wines, such as Super-Tuscan wines, can be beautiful, he says, “but you can make them everywhere.”

Galeazzo has been the winemaker of La Selvanella since 2006, and is only the second winemaker of that wine since Nunzio Capurzo made the first vintage 46 years ago.  His winemaking regime upholds the wine’s traditions, including long macerations of 20 days or more, sometimes 40 days, and aging in large, old casks of French oak, about 40 years in age and more than 3500 gallons in size.

Thanks to two fine vintages back-to-back, both the 2010 and 2011 La Selvanella Chianti Cassico Riserva are available here -- the 2010 already in stores and restaurants, and the 2011 just hitting distributor warehouses.  The two wines have different personalities: the 2010 is a charmer while the 2011 is tight and reserved to the point that it seems more than just a year younger. 

La Selvanella 2010 is a soft, full, ample Chianti Classico with ripe tannins and flavors of wild berries and smoke, as well as a savory minerality.  This wine has sufficient fruit and tannin to age (La Selvanella is typically a long-aging wine), but the soft tannins are already so integrated that the wine does not require aging.  It is complete now.

The 2011 La Selvanella has an impressive core of tight, fresh, focused sour cherry notes and firm acidity along with firm tannins.  It seems at first to be lighter than the 2010 but actually it is just tighter and still a bit severe.  (Winemaker Galeazzo believes that in three or four months, the wine will shed it tightness.)  But the remarkable concentration and freshness of its core fruit, and the flavorful, lingering finish indicate that this is an excellent La Selvanella, and one for the long haul.  Galeazzo considers the 2011 similar to the sleek 1999, which is now finally “an adult” in his terms, some sweetness of age just beginning to emerge.

Among the 2011 Chianti Classico wines I have tasted, La Selvanella is unusually fresh and compact, lacking any suggestion of dramatic ripeness and richness that I find in many other wines.  In the context of the vintage, the style of the wine puzzled me for a moment when I first tasted it, until I realized that I was tasting the terroir, the traditional Sangiovese vines and the altitude.  As good as the 2010 is, the 2011 is the keeper.

91 Points