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A Gentle Reminder: Drink Chianti Classico
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 14, 2017
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Castello di Gabbiano, Chianti Classico (Italy) Riserva 2013 (TWE Imports, $75):  Every time I taste Chianti Classico, I wonder why I don’t drink it more often.  I love Chianti Classico’s dryness (unfortunately, an increasingly uncommon characteristic in red wines), its typical aromas and flavors of red fruits, its nervy tannin structure and its terroir-driven range of expressions.  More often than not, I marvel at the affordable price.  Is there a greater value among the world’s classic red wines?

Last year, Chianti Classico celebrated its 300th anniversary as a wine zone.  Sales are strong, having risen steadily since the global recession had its impact in 2009.  Almost 80 percent of Chianti Classico wines are exported, and the U. S. is their largest market.  And yet, I don’t hear wine lovers talking about Chianti Classico as much as they discuss the wines of Piedmont or Mt. Etna, for example.  Consider this column a gentle reminder that Chianti Classico is a great wine from a dynamic wine region.

Recently I gathered a few Chianti Classico Riserva samples for a blind tasting.  Although the wines were mainly or exclusively from Sangiovese grapes, they showed a range of styles that demonstrates the diversity of terroirs within the zone -- an area that boasts more than 17,000 acres of vines spread over 170,000 acres of hilly, convoluted landscape.  Relatively light, vibrant wines are typical in some areas, for example, while rich, fairly soft wines are the norm for other areas.

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 is a wine in the lighter camp.  It hails from the commune of San Casciano Val di Pesa, to the southwest of Florence, a northerly and relatively cool area.  Freshness of fruit expression is a key attribute of this wine. Aromas and flavors suggest vibrant red cherry and strawberry, with notes of tobacco, dry earth and spice.  In your mouth the wine is fresh and lively with high acidity and measured, firm tannins that highlight but do not overwhelm the fruit.  Within its trim scale, the wine shows good concentration of fruit and the purity of that fruit is impressive.  “Some people could say that this wine is too light,” my fellow taster remarked, but we agreed that careful tasting reveals depth, balance, delicacy and similar virtues that belie the wine’s weight.

One characteristic that you will not find in this wine is the toastiness of oak.  After the vinification of grapes from individual plots on the Gabbiano estate and subsequent blending to form the final wine, the wine aged in large French oak casks (15 to 30 hectoliters/ 400-800 gallons) and in barriques, with only 20 percent of the oak being new.

For me, this wine was a pleasant surprise compared to my memory of richer, less delineated Gabbiano Chianti Classico wines from 15 to 20 years ago.

Another wine worth mentioning falls into the richer end of Chianti Classico expression.  Tenuta di Arceno 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva from the Strada al Sasso vineyard ($35) is a full-bodied, soft Chianti Classico that expresses the ripeness of the very good 2010 vintage as well as the estate’s location in Castelnuovo Berardegna, the southernmost and warmest commune of the zone.  This wine does not sacrifice complexity and nuance, however.  The aromas suggest dark plum with floral accents and a bit of smokiness, while flavors include cherry, chocolate, caramel and spice, with piney high notes.  Together with these complex aromas and flavors is a structure of well-integrated tannin, shaping a wine of weight and presence.  True to Chianti Classico, the wine finishes with a dry, earthy note mingling with the ripe fruit. 

An awareness of the diversity of terroir within Chianti Classico enables you to appreciate the typicity of each of these two, very different wines.  Both wines can handle aging; the 2013 will drink best now and over the next ten years, in my opinion, while the 2010 is best now and over the next six years -- depending on your storage and your taste preferences.  I give each wine the same score.

91 Points