We invaribly find it's the panel tests that reveal the most sought-after wines. The more prominent of these - and the one with by far the higher scorers - is of Chianti Classico, and specifically the Riserva and Gran Selezione categories from the 2015 and 2016 vintages. Which is good news as these have emerged as two of the truly great years across Tuscany, both for Sangiovese and most other grapes.
Decanter Premium subscribers can find the whole article here.
I make no secret that good Chianti is - my parents, girlfriend, cat and best bicycle excepted - my favourite thing in the world. I am a signed-up fan. It does - by Brunello and Barolo fans, in particular - get a little looked down upon. But top Chianti is - make no mistake - every bit the equal of these, and this review focuses on the top echelons of this superb DOCG.
In the view of others, top Chianti (rather like good Cava and top wines from Languedoc) often gets all too dragged down in esteem by its more everyday/cheap namesakes. A good few folk don't really 'get' Chianti and its denominations/classifications; for them, and as a reminder for others, there's a piece at the foot here that I/we wrote on Chianti some time ago.
Setting all that context aside, then, this was a sizeable test. Over 200 wines were tested. Four of them were rated Outstanding and awarded 95 points (another 61 were rated Highly Recommended/90+).
We offer two of those four Outstandings, being, as far as we can see, the most sensibly-priced pair. Of one of them, we have the only appreciable stocks in the UK (and they are going fast). Of the other, we are the exclusive UK outlet, with the wines - world situations allowing - arriving here in mid-late April.
Let us tell you more. In fact, for the first time - what with us being locked inside and all - we've created a video tasting of these two wines (click link or image below). The Decanter reviews pay glowing tribute to both but, in our view, miss the key differences between them, so we've covered that off.
The first comes from the Frescobaldi stable, from their Tenuta Perano winery in Gaiole-in-Chianti, and is the 2016 Riserva. It's technically 'only' a Riserva, not because of its ageing (which qualifies it as a Gran Selezione) but because of the origin of the grapes used (not all from the producer's own estate, we believe). Decanter did not hold back in their adulation:
It's a superb and brilliant Chianti. After tasting it, I'd draw on one phrase (from Andrew Jefford) more than any other: "More dominated by its acidity than many, but that acidity is singingly bright and packed with fruit flavour". It really is. This is a classic Chianti, which I always think of as having an certain (attractive) 'angularity' to it, given the sour cherry thing along with high acidity and tannin levels. The Perano has a real zing/vivacity to it, and with it a certain lightness and agility. It is not a 'big' wine, nor is it effortlessly smooth (but then, it really shouldn't be: it's Chianti and not Napa Merlot). In a very elegant way, it has serious 'crunch', which is exactly what good Chianti should have. If that's your style, wade in. If you're more about a bit more density and softness, read on...
... as what you probably want is the Tenuta Bibbiano Vigna del Capannino Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016. This is some wine: my wine of (a weird) 2020 so far. I've been drinking Chianti for a long while, and this is among the best I've been lucky enough to taste. As the tasting video sets out, it's more supple, softer, fuller-bodied, riper and all-roundly 'bigger' than the Perano. The French and Slavonian oak has been brought more to bear here, but softly/lightly and not heavily or at all clumsily. It's an 'easier' glass of wine, an not entirely dependent on being drunk with food. By comparison, the acidity is more tamed, less electric; this immediately tastes like an older wine. It is much akin to a younger Brunello (not surprisingly; the Sangiovese used by Bibbiano here is a Montalcino clone) yet has a vivacity beyond its hilltop neighbour.
Again, the panel left us in no doubt of their view.
As a pair, these make a fascinating taste comparison. Both are wonderful Chiantis in their own right. They will drink now or become more interesting for at least another ten years. They can be for the current, alas-darker days or the happier days ahead. In any event, they will not disappoint.
A word while we're here on Tenuta di Bibbiano (photos of which, above). In taking samples of the Capannino, I was also given access to their other Chianti Classicos, and was much impressed. For those seeking other price points, or those looking to try the range, step right up.
Recommended, all. Very much.
The Bibbiano range with Desmond the Dragon
To return to the magazine, we'd also mention one more Chianti from the review. The Poggio al Sole Gran Selezione, the Casasilia 2016 attracts a score of 92 points. We are the sole UK importer. We don't have the 2016 yet, but we do still have the superb, DWWA19 Platinum-winning 2015 vintage. If you like/adore Chianti but have not tried this, you really should. If you have tried it, and liked it, move fast: these are the last bottles now of that vintage.
That piece regarding Chianti, Chianti Classico and the designations therein...
Chianti? Really? As in bottles in baskets, fava beans, that sort of thing?
Not really, no. You see - and this is important - there’s Chianti and there’s Chianti, and they are very definitely not the same thing.
<blank look, silence, etc>
Should we explain?
If you would, please.
OK. We’ll start simply. ‘Simple’ Chianti comes from Tuscany, from a zone of around 15,000 hectares, very broadly enclosed by the cities of Florence, Siena and Pisa. From this zone, wines made with at least 70% Sangiovese, made to a few stipulations, can be termed Chianti. At the geographical heart of that region lies an additional 7,000 (not 70,000 as Decanter have published!) hectares of prime vineyard land – superior soils, aspects, microclimates etc – which is termed Chianti Classico (and symbolized by the famous black rooster symbol). Chianti Classico is made to much tighter restrictions on quality (lower yields, higher alcohol, 80% proportion of Sangiovese etc).
And therein lies the confusion. As the (ever-useful) Oxford Companion to Wine puts it, “the very irregular quality of wine labelled simply Chianti has always had a very detrimental effect on Chianti Classico’s reputation”. As so often happens, Chianti producers made to the lowest allowable standards, just about qualifying for the name, leading to huge volumes of questionable wine being sold at low prices and bringing the whole Chianti name into some disrepute. See also: Cava...
Chianti Classico, for that reason, has done all it can to put distance between itself and the lesser, broader zone ... to such an extent, in fact, that wine cannot be declassified from Chianti Classico to basic Chianti (should it ever fail to meet Classico standards).
You’re real Chianti Classico fans, it seems.
Too right we are. What’s not to like? Good Classico is the real deal: a wine of big tannins and acidity, of stunning intensity, complexity, food-pairing-ability and ageworthiness. Barolo, granted, is perhaps Italy’s most famous red export (although not everyone’s cup of tea) and Brunello has its legions of oak-loving fans, but Chianti Classico is unquestionably one of the world’s Top Ten Wines.
I’m guessing your new Chianti isn’t "just a Chianti", then?
You guess correctly. It’s the apotheosis and very pinnacle of Chianti Classico: a Gran Selezione.
<faint groan> And I was just starting to get the hang of this: what’s a Gran Selezione?
We sympathise. As with many of the world’s great wine regions – Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace – there’s a designated hierarchy of quality. For those three regions, it’s based on the quality of production land within their regions. For Chianti Classico, once you’re inside that zone, it’s then largely about the winemaking.
Standard Chianti Classico (if you can call it that) must be aged for a full year before release; although it need not be in oak, it almost invariably is.
Riserva Chianti Classico (which also gets reviewed in the Decanter test) – about 30% of all Classico production – must be aged for two years (and carry a touch more alcohol).
Gran Seleziones (GSs) are the tip of the quality pyramid and account for just 4% of production; all grapes used must be grown on the estate on which they are vinified and the finished wine aged for a minimum of 2½ years (many are aged further). A high proportion of GSs are single-vineyard wines, although, technically, they need not be. There are only some 100 GS labels currently under production: these are rare beasts indeed. The whole idea of a Gran Selezione is that it represents a producer's best wine. There was plenty of controversy when the GS category was created: did Chianti need a new classification, after all? Those that chose not to recognise the GS category typically make a Riserva their best offering.