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Gran Selezione: The True Pinnacle of Chianti Classico or Hype?
By Michael Apstein
Mar 4, 2014
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With the 2010 vintage of Chianti Classico, consumers will see a new class of wine identified by the words “Gran Selezione” on the label. Whether this new category represents progress depends on whom you ask.

The Consorzio of Chianti Classico announced the world wide inaugural release of Gran Selezione with great fanfare in what could not have been a grander setting. An array of dignitaries, including Matteo Renzi, the Mayor of Florence (now Italy’s new prime minister), gathered under the magnificent Vasari-painted ceiling in the Salone Cinquecento of Florence’s renaissance Palazzo Vecchio to hear Consorzio officials glowingly describe the new category and then to sample the initial releases.

Gran Selezione, a category meant to focus on terroir, now sits atop the Chianti Classico pyramid of quality, according to the Consorzio. Chianti Classico Riserva is just beneath it while Chianti Classico Annata (sometimes called normale) comprises the base. A complete list of the Gran Selezione appears at the end of this column.

Estate Grapes But Not Necessarily Single Vineyard Wines

To qualify for the Gran Selezione label, the wines must come solely from estate-grown rather than purchased grapes. However, they need not come from a single vineyard, which is the major shortcoming of the new classification, according to its critics. Paolo de Marchi, owner of Isole e Olena, a leading Chianti Classico estate, agrees that the concept is a good start, but he prefers a system that designates vineyards instead of wines. He believes that a pyramid system that recognizes levels of quality is an excellent idea, but, “There’s a need to identify distinct spots, just as is done in Burgundy.” He notes with some disdain that even the name implies a human selection and not a vineyard-based one.

Giovanni Poggiali, whose family owns Fèlsina, another leading Chianti Classico estate and who is a member of the Consorzio, echoes de Marchi when he says, “We need to focus on the land.” Fèlsina has focused on the site since its inception because, as Poggiali explains, “we have a mix of soils in our region.” Fèlsina’s top wine, Rancia, from a single vineyard, remains labeled as a Chianti Classico Riserva.

Geographic Designation Down the Road

Giovanni Manetti, owner of Fontodi, another one of the region’s top estates and like Poggiali, a member of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, explains that the very idea of mentioning geography by the Consorzio years ago was taboo because it was a political hot potato. But now, the members are actually discussing it. Manetti believes within a couple of years Gran Selezione will have a geographic designation (such as Gran Selezione-Greve or Gran Selezione-Radda) that would indicate the origin of the grapes. Such a refinement would give large producers the potential to bottle more than one Gran Selezione, something that Barone Ricasoli has already done in 2010 with their Castello di Brolio, a blend from various vineyards within Gaiole and their Colledilà, from a single vineyard in that sub-zone.

De Marchi’s waiting until the message is clear before signing on with his flagship and much sought-after Sangiovese-based wine, Cepparello. Sensing that both the concept and regulations will continue to evolve, de Marchi explains that, “I want to wait until the ball stops rolling.” As the regulations stand now, a producer who owns vineyards in many districts could still blend the grapes, as long as they were estate-grown, to make a Gran Selezione.

The team at Querciabella, another top-notch and innovative grower in Chianti Classico, is, like Fèlsina, ahead of the curve as far as vineyard designation is concerned. Stephanie Cuadra, Communications & Marketing Director, insists, “You can’t avoid the topic of (geographic) specificity if you want a pyramid approach (to quality).” Since 2007 they have been working to identify unique vineyards located in various Chianti Classico sub-zones. With the 2011 vintage, Querciabella is releasing a Sangiovese based Chianti Classico from the communes of Radda, Greve, and Gaiole that will be labeled as such. It’s a welcome project because until now it’s been difficult to know whether the difference between wines made in different communes or subregions of Chianti Classico is due to the terroir of the commune or the producer’s style.

When to Declare Gran Selezione?

Another criticism of the new category is the flexibility afforded the grower, who can wait until just before bottling to decide whether to label the wine Gran Selezione. Kerin O’Keefe, an American wine writer living in Lugano, just across the border in Switzerland and an expert on Italian wines, agrees with others that focusing on the specific vineyard is critical. To reinforce the primacy of the vineyard, she believes that growers should be forced to designate the wines for the Gran Selezione category at the time of harvest. Wine failing to evolve as expected could always be declassified at the time of bottling to Chianti Classico Riserva or even Chianti Classico.

Rigorous Panel Tasting

The skepticism towards the other major criteria for determining Gran Selezione status--approval by a tasting panel--has evaporated, at least with the first release. Panel tastings in Italy have a reputation for rubber-stamping submissions. Not so with the wines submitted for the initial release of the Gran Selezione designation--half were rejected. Compare that to a ten percent rejection rate for wines submitted to a panel for DOCG designation, according to Silvia Fiorentini, a spokesperson for the Chianti Classico Consorzio. Whether the rigorous selection continues with successive vintages remains to be seen.

In addition to the estate grown requirement and the tasting panel, the wines must meet certain technical requirements and must be aged for 30 months, including three months of bottle age, before release. The regulations controlling the varietal composition of the wine remain the same, a minimum of 80 percent Sangiovese.

Gran Selezione versus Super Tuscan

Those are the basic regulations. In practice, the wines are meant to be, as Manetti put it succinctly, “the producer’s Grand Vin. There’s no fixed number (of Gran Selezione), they just must be very good.” But must they be the estate’s best? Left unanswered is the pecking order of Gran Selezione versus the Super Tuscans. Though many Super Tuscans simply can not be bottled as Chianti Classico because they lack the minimum of 80 percent Sangiovese, many could be but are not because the producers opt out for a variety of reasons.

So which is the true pinnacle at Fontodi, their Vigna del Sorbo, which now carries a Gran Selezione label, or their Flaccianello delle Pieve, which could legally be labeled a Chianti Classico, but carries the IGP designation? I suspect the market, as it usually does, will determine.

Worthy Wines

Despite the concept’s perceived shortcomings, it is clearly gaining traction among the growers and the category will undoubtedly grow. Andrea Cecchi, who along with his brother, Cesare, owns Villa Cerna, plans to submit a new pure Sangiovese-based wine from the 2013 vintage for Gran Selezione designation even as they continue to produce their distinctive and excellent Sangiovese Canaiolo blend Chianti Classico Riserva.

Whatever the criticism of Gran Selezione category of Chianti Classico, now that the wines have been released, one thing is clear from my tastings--they are uniformly high-quality wines justifiably deserving a separate category.

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione


Producer

Name of the Wine (2010 unless noted)

All are Chianti Classico DOCG

Composition (100% Sangiovese unless noted)

Antinori

Badia a Passignano 2009

Barone Ricasoli

Castello di Brolio

Sangiovese 80%, Merlot 15% Cabernet Sauvignon 5%

Barone Ricasoli

Colledilà

Bibbiano

Vigna del Capannino

Bindi Sergardi

Mocenni Particella 89

Casaloste

Don Vincenzo 2009

Castello d'Albola

Il Solatio

Sangiovese 95%, Canaiolo 5%

Castello di Ama

Castello di Ama

Sangiovese 85%, Merlot 10%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%

Castello di Fonterutoli

Castello Fonterutoli

Sangiovese 92%, Malvasia Nera and Colorino 8%

Castello di Gabbiano

Bellezza

Castello di Meleto

Castello di Meleto

Sangiovese 85%, Cabernet Sauvignon 15%

Castello di Volpaia

Il Puro

Castello La Leccia

Bruciagna

Castello Vicchiomaggio

Vigna La Prima

Colle Bereto

Colle Bereto

Fattoria di Corsignano

L'Imperatrice

Fattoria di Lamole

Vigna Grospoli 2011

Fattoria di Lamole

Lama della Villa

Fattoria di Montemaggio

Montemaggio 2009

Sangiovese 95%, Merlot 5%

Fattoria Viticcio

Beatrice 2011

Sangiovese 95%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%

Fontodi

Vigna del Sorbo

Sangiovese 95%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%

I Fabbri

I Fabbri 2011

Il Molino di Grace

Il Margone

Lornano

Lornano

Sangiovese 85%, Merlot 15%

Losi Querciavalle

Losi Millennium 2007

Sangiovese 90%, Canaiolo 5%, Malvasia Nera 5%

Luiano

Ottantuno

Sangiovese 85%, Merlot 15%

Rocca delle Macìè

Sergio Zingarelli

Sangiovese 90%, Colorino 10%

Ruffino

Riserva Ducale Oro

Sangiovese 80%, Merlot 10%, Cabernet 10%

San Fabiano Calcinaia

Cellole

Sangiovese 90%, other varieties 10%

San Felice

Il Grigio da San Felice

Sangiovese 80%, other varieties 20%

San Vincenti

Tenuta San Vincenti 2011

Sangiovese 85%, Merlot 15%

Tenuta di Lilliano

Lilliano

Sangiovese 90%, other varieties 10%

Tenuta di Nozzole

La Forra 2011

Sangiovese 90%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%

Vignole

Vignole 2009

Sangiovese 90%, Cabernet 10%

Villa Calcinaia

Vigna Bastignano