Destiny or Delusion in Chianti?

Chianti_ClassicoI found this article in Wine Searcher amusing. Chianti has made very solid wines for several decades since they upgraded their standards in the 1980’s. Their wines are distinctive and well-priced but always with an earthy, rustic quality lacking the polish and concentration of top-tier wines.

So it’s real news that the 2018 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ceni Primo received a 100-pt. score from a “well-known and highly influential wine critic” equaling Lafitte-Rothschild and other 1st growth Bordeaux from that vintage. They should be justly proud and excited that the introduction of the Gran Selezione quality level appears to have succeeded in boosting their fortunes.

The reaction of Francesco Ricasoli, proprietor of the Ricasoli estate (this is the home of the famous Castello di Brolio) noted this historical moment and also reflected his gracious manner. “I’m happy for myself, obviously, but also for the denomination. We’ve broken through a glass ceiling.”

Who was this “well-known and highly influential critic?” I scrolled down through the article, read it twice in fact, and nowhere was he/she mentioned, so I began to suspect who it was. I went to the producers website and it was as I suspected—none other than the notorious score inflator James Suckling. The Wine Spectator gave it 90 points and Vinous 91 so there is clearly no consensus about the virtues of this wine. (I couldn’t find a 750 ml bottle in the U.S. so there probably isn’t one in my future.)

I’m rooting for Chianti but color me skeptical that the world has a new Grand Cru contender.

Nevertheless, you can’t diminish the value of this kind of publicity and it clearly has advanced the ball for the Chianti Classico region. Which makes the rest of the article amusing.

But does Marrochesi Marzi believe Gran Selezione should be compared with Brunello di Montalcino? “The territories of Chianti Classico and Montalcino are very different,” he remarks. “The aging rules of Gran Selezione and Brunello are very different too and, even if 100 percent Sangiovese, eventually the Chianti Classico territory shows so many diverse sub-zones that a proper comparison is almost impossible.”

And Ricasoli sings from the same hymnal.

But Ricasoli stops short of embracing the idea of local producers taking on Brunello di Montalcino with Gran Selezione. “It (Gran Selezione) does not necessarily have to be 100 percent Sangiovese. It should represent the top end of Chianti Classico; it is not a ‘comparison’ with Brunello.”

Manetti is also wary of equating Gran Selezione with Brunello. “I would not compare the two.”

This is silly. Of course they will now be compared with Brunello. They are just down the road from each other and, although Chianti Classico Gran Selezione is required to be only 80% Sangiovese, and their aging requirements are different, consumers will still have to decide what to buy. The producers may not welcome the comparison but the comparison is inevitable.

Like it or not they are locked in battle. Hopefully there is room for both. But it will take more than a outlier score to make the battle interesting.

One comment

  1. This article is a joke. In the first, Chianti and Chianti Classico are two separate DOCG’s, and the respective laws are also different. Second, the laws surrounding Gran Selezione were recently changed to include a minimum of 90 percent Sangiovese, and only autochthonous varietals meaning that most producers (having not dabbled in planting pugnitello or even canaiolo in most cases) will be producing 100 percent Sangiovese at that quality level, a quality level that I might add was created as a way to compete with top quality wines from across the peninsula and on an international scale.

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