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A Tuscan Secret
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 10, 2012
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Fattoria Selvapiana Chianti Rufina (Tuscany, Italy) 2009 (Dalla Terra, $17):  As New Year’s resolutions go, I believe a wine lover could do a lot worse than resolve to drink more Chianti in 2012.  Chianti is one of the world’s great red wines, but I get the feeling that these days it has been overshadowed by the sheer multiplicity of red wine choices from all over the world.  When I refer to Chianti as a great wine, of course I don’t mean all of the wine produced in the various zones of central Tuscany whose name begins with “Chianti,” much of which is uninspiring.  I am referring to the wines of good producers from the most favored zones.  Chianti Classico is the largest of these and boasts the highest number of interesting producers.  Chianti Rufina is perhaps the smallest--and it’s where the value lies.

Every time that I taste a Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, I marvel at its price.  If this estate could call its wine “Classico,” I bet the wine would sell for twice what it does.  The relative obscurity of the Rufina (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable) zone makes this wine a bargain for knowledgeable wine lovers.

The Rufina area lies east of the city of Florence, along the Sieve River, which empties into the Arno River in Florence.  It’s a hilly area with high altitude vineyards, and cooler weather than in most of the Classico zone southwest of it. As a result the Rufina-zone wines seem to me to have a sculpted taste and more definition on the palate than most Classico wines -- although generalizations about the wines of the Classico zone are difficult because of the diversity of that area.

Selvapiana is an historic estate that produces fewer than 20 thousand cases of wine annually.  Its fifth-generation owner is Francesco Giuntini Antinori, and the estate managers are the sister and brother team of Silvia and Federico Giuntini A. Masseti.  Selvapiana Chianti Rufina is their largest production wine and one of the estate’s two Chianti Rufina wines, the second being the very fine Chianti Rufina Riserva from the Bucherchiale vineyard ($30).

The Chiantis of Selvapiana are fairly traditional in style, made with native grape varieties, relatively long maceration periods and limited use of French oak barrels for aging.  This Chianti Rufina is mainly Sangiovese with a small amount of Canaiolo.  Thirty percent of the wine aged in stainless steel, 20 percent in barriques, and half in Sessile oak casks (an Eastern European species of oak). After blending the wine spent only two to three months in French oak casks.

Fattoria Selvapiana is known for the special emphasis it gives to grape growing as opposed to winemaking technique.  In the his 2009 Selvapiana, I can taste the wonderful presence of high-quality fruit character, a purity and focus of tart cherry fruit and minerality that carries across the entire palate and into the wine’s finish.  This wine is medium-bodied and fully dry, with lovely depth in the mid-palate and a texture that is fairly silky for a Chianti. The wine has fine-grained tannins that give it some grip to balance the fresh fruit flavors.

Despite its affordable $17 price, this wine is more than an everyday red.  It has the integrity to age five years or more, and the elegance to grace a special-occasion table.  Its acidity and precision suit it well to medium-rich dishes such as poultry in creamy sauce as well as lighter dishes such as a plate of perfectly sweet prosciutto.

90 Points