Chianti Classico returns to its roots

The traditional Tuscan region of Chianti Classico is on the move. Many producers are focusing more on Sangiovese than on international varieties. The Consorzio is even toying with the idea of limiting the still-young Gran Selezione classification to 100 percent Sangiovese. 

James Lawrence has the story.

The Castello di Fonterutoli, just a few kilometres from Castellina in Chianti.
The Castello di Fonterutoli, just a few kilometres from Castellina in Chianti.

Chianti Classico stands apart from Europe's great red wine appellations. It would be unthinkable for any grower in Chambolle-Musigny to openly criticise the majesty of Pinot Noir. Yet Chianti Classico's winemakers have spent decades compensating for the weaknesses of their signature grape variety – Sangiovese. The grape has been maligned by critics, sommeliers and Italian producers. “Winegrowers in Chianti Classico have historically used international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon to fill in 'missing aspects' of Sangiovese. It must be said that the grape has been difficult to manage when compared to varieties such as Merlot,” says Francesco Ricasoli, president of Ricasoli 1141. “In the 20th century, Sangiovese produced many poor, acidic wines in Chianti,” adds Albiera Antinori, CEO of Antinori.

However, Tuscany's signature export appears to be back in favour. In 2000, the region embarked upon a project to replace high-yielding clones of Sangiovese with genetic material more suited to the production of fine wine. It is now starting to show impressive results. Global warming has also played a vital role. The late-ripening Sangiovese has traditionally struggled to achieve satisfactory phenolic ripeness in the zone's higher altitude vineyards, but contemporary vintages have yielded concentrated wines of deep colour, with seductive tannins. It has given producers the confidence to embrace 100 percent Sangiovese wines and disentangle themselves from a legacy of varietal embarrassment. “All four of our 2018 Gran Selezione wines will be 100 percent Sangiovese,” says Riscasoli. “This marks a new era for Ricasoli.”

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