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Wither Chianti?


#1

I’ll start with a short explanation if you think that starting on this it has little to do with Chianti, you are partially correct, but bear with me and we will get there.
I have no favorite destination in the world and all countries including our own have amazing cities villages landscape etc, it matters not whether it is the great plains of Africa or a Cornish fishing village they all bring enjoyment in a different way.
Having said that I have visited Italy on occasions far in excess of anywhere else, throughout the seventies and eighties we went twice a year on average and apart from occasional criss crossing never visited or very rarely the same place twice.
From north to south, including the islands large and small I have been lucky enough to see the greater part of that beautiful country.
Which brings me to the first part of what I want to say about Chianti, by talking about a winery in Umbria !
It must have been in the late seventies early eighties that whilst driving through Umbria we came acros a small town, Torgiano which is south of Perugia and north of Deruta the pottery centre from where we had come, when I saw the name I realised this was the home of Giorgio Lungarotti, who around that itme had made a name in the British wine press, such as it was then, with reviews of his Rubesco.


He had built up quite a small empire in the small town and the hotel Le Tre Vassele was the centre of it so we parked among the Ferraris and Porsche with out hire car and went into lunch at the restaurant within, an amazing space made the more so by high ceilings and widely spaced tables, all was white and being a hot Italian summer the doors to outside were open and the large white curtains were gently billowing in the faint breeze, it was like a scene from a Fellini
film.

We had a very good lunch and walked afterwards down the road to Lungarottis wine museum and wine shop, very nicely put together in a way only the Italians can do and needless to say we came away with three bottles of the Rubesco, it was the only wine on that trip we brought back as we were flying.
Lungarotti died in '99 but the winery and everything else lives on and the wine range has expanded over time to include his own version of a Super Tuscan, San Giorgio, the range has even expanded to two other areas outside of Torgiano who add further to the range produced which includes white , fizz, Vin Santo and grappa, a full house indeed.
It is not for me to say to much, I have not sampled anything from Lungarotti for years and it does not obviously have a British outlet, though I could be wrong.
Back to the Rubesco, after a suitable period the Rubesco was opened and drunk and even then I have to say it was well made very acceptable but did nothing for me despite the accolades at the time, also it was not cheap so overall it was a one off though I did drink it again later with much the same result.

Umbria is of course next to Tuscany and is or was often referred to as the “poor mans” Tuscany, but that is not the case they are different and Umbria has as many delights as its more famous neighbour.

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But the wine certainly then was not that renowned apart from the likes of Torgiano and Montefalco to the north that had a niche following , though I found most were overpriced and over rated.

Chianti when I was younger was one of the very few wines anyone had heard of in this country, the Italian restaurants made sure you remembered it by decorating the tables with the raffia covered bottles turned into table lamps a trend soon followed by homes across the country.
That may in part been the reason that for a long period Chianti became naff, but more likely the novelty had run its course and the world of wine was beginning to appear on merchants shelves and people started to buy exotics like Bulgarian Bulls Blood and soon others followed.

From quite early I purchased Chianti from the likes of Antinori and Frescobaldi and later moved onto the likes of Badia a Coltibuono, well worth a visit, Volpaia, Isole e Olena, Fontodi before it became a silly price and others.
But even I became a bit jaded with Chianti as more and more of the worlds wines appeared, this wasn’t because Chianti as a wine had become bad it was because few if any ever seemed to go above good/very good and there was a sameness amongst them, I never had one that made me sit up and say wow, as a food wine maybe I was asking to much but that is what I felt.
So my Chianti days slid into obscurity and just the odd bottle has passed my way since with no change in my views on the wine.

My recent “coming together again” with a bottle of the TWS exhibition Chianti and a discount bottle of Ricasoli reserva ,didn’t sadly alter that view so I did a bit of research on Chianti with articles written and reviews in Cellartracker, Decanter and Wine Searcher etc that sort of confirmed my feelings.

What did emerge was that the overall quality level in Chianti is better than most if not all other Italian wine regions, outside of the inevitable dross, the standard is uniformly very good, wines with scores around the 90 mark are there in numbers though as a generality they should be as the new Gran Selezione category seems to have pushed the price up with little improvement despite all the hype over reservas, on Wine Searcher there were only two Chiantis above 90 points, two at 92, which regardless on how you view such things is not exactly wonderful despite one of those bottles being £110, you can certainly do better elsewhere at that price and many of the others being asked.
No doubt someone reading this will say that such and such at whatever is wonderful, and maybe it is, after all I have hardly been an advocate in recent times, what I am trying to convey is my observation of one of the great names in wine not quite delivering, the recent Decanter tasting and recommendation roughly followed what I have said here it seemed to be bigging up good but not exceptional wines, like all those years ago with Rubesco, and the Cellartracker reviews confirm this as well, it is a lot of style over substance, but then the Italians always did style.

Somewhere down the line Chianti lost me as a customer and lover of the wine, at current prices they are going to have to do quite a bit better to win me back.


#2

Do you feel the same way about all predominantly Sangiovese wines or is it just Chianti you are disillusioned with?


#3

Where it makes up the major component in a blend such as Tignanello or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano it reaches a higher level, on its own I have never had a “superb” Chianti, maybe like Bordeaux blends it is better that way.
I am not convinced by Chianti going the cru route as it has so rarely shown (to me) any justification for that, none of that is to say I have not enjoyed the wine, mainly in Italy with a meal, that seems to be its forte.


#4

Your use of “food wine” makes it sound like a slight put-down, is that the case? I find that odd if so, all the best wines I’ve had are enhanced by the right dish, and vice versa. And it seems a bit English to think of wine not in terms of a meal.

Anyway, sounds like sanviovese isn’t the grape for you. Presumably not keen on Brunello either?


#5

or Flaccianello for that matter…


#6

All wines were originally made to accompany meals some are more successful than others, wine is made for food, Bordeaux is probably the most food friendly wine in that it can be drunk with so many different dishes, Chianti, Valpollicella, Bardolino are all wines you would order with food in Italy without even thinking about it, they make natural partners.
Maybe I didn’t explain my point well, what I was trying to convey as a standalone drink I don’t think Chianti reaches heights that many other grapes do, certainly without blending and I don’t think on that basis that Chianti warrants the high prices many now command.

Brunnello has some great wines but also a sea of industrialised overpriced products, the words of Robert Parker, not me.
The only Sangiovese I has some time back that made me sit up was from the Maremma, Le Pupille it had more to it than the Chiantis I had tasted, Morellino is what they call Sangiovese here and there well may be others as a lot of money has been invested in the area.


#7

A couple of years ago I had some mature (~6 year old) Isole e Olena Chianti Classico, from TWS. It was one of those moments were you try something and realise it’s a cut above almost everything else. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was just amazing, comparable to my memory of Penfolds Grange or one of Mascarello’s top Barolos, and I enjoyed it far more than a 10 year old Ceparello (Isole e Olena’s top wine). Unfortunately, there seemed to be a lot of bottle variation - I wouldn’t describe any of the subsequent bottles from that case as faulty, they just weren’t as good. It was quite a strange experience, and perhaps a reminder that one’s experience of a wine might depend partly on setting, mood and food. I wonder if I enjoyed the next few bottles less because my expectations had changed after that first one? So I suppose my view is that Sangiovese really can be capable of greatness, but I haven’t found a source that provides consistently, at a reasonable price.


#8

I generally enjoy simple and unpretentious Chiantis for what they are, but understand that there is an amount of inconsistency at the top end where expectations are naturally higher. Must admit that most of my higher end Italian purchases have been from Piedmonte rather than Tuscany.


#9

That’s interesting as I’ve just been very disappointed in a 2015 Isole e Olena, not least because it didn’t taste much of sangiovese.


#10

According to Antonio Galloni on the Vinous Forums, 2015 not great for Isole e Olena due to rain during the harvest.


#11

Great opening post, @cerberus.

I think it is good to know one’s own palate. Although I do like sangiovese wines, I would entirely understand if somebody else does not. None of us share the same tastes and there is no harm in that (and much to applaud). What I am taking a long time to get to is that it may well be that sangiovese wines are not for you, but before you get to that point, it may be worth considering a few things. You are probably well down this road, so please forgive me if I make the rest of this general enough for any passing reader.

Firstly, I would ignore any scores. I say this for two reasons -

  1. If you don’t know whose palate is involved and how theirs aligns with yours - if at all - then it’s a snare and a delusion. There is no such thing as a universal palate (see above).

  2. Many times, scores are generated as a result of a “tasting”. Wines that score well at tastings tend to be rather forward and flamboyant. Chianti, as has been well articulated, is par excellence a food wine.

Secondly, sangiovese can (depending on how it’s made) give a wine for immediate drinking, or one that needs time in the cellar. The latter can be drunk immediately, though it would be easy to miss the point with them early on. With all due respect to TWS’s drinking windows, the best can go on developing for fifteen or more years.

So - before discarding Chianti entirely, is it really what you want? A food wine has to work with the food for the duration, without shouting “look at me!” too loudly - or, more importantly, tiring the palate. If you like to drink wine on its own, maybe a different wine would be the better choice.

Also - have you tried a few mature, quality Chianti in the above timeframe? There’s always much to be said for doing this with any wine as it really helps to give a handle on what that wine is all about. I also remember those fiaschi, and with the best will in the world, they were usually made for early drinking. Glugging, even. By comparison, the Exhibition Chianti can sometimes be a bit hard work when issued.

Anyone getting to this point and still not liking Chianti is probably pretty safe in focusing their attentions elsewhere!


#12

I have only ever discarded two wines both for their ridiculous prices and failing in the main when I did buy them to live up to theri supposed quality and that was Burgundy, red, and Barolo, both of which I love when it’s the real deal.
As above maybe my point is not clear enough, I do like Sangiovese, there are very few wines I don’t like, it is that when when the expectation of something better through producer of note has come my way it has never really been there, and yes that does include aged versions.
I have always felt when in Italy that most wines are very food friendly and that of course is a good thing as most of my drinking is at the dinner table, Chianti as explained falls into that category well, but as with a top Bordeaux you can still appreciate with food a high quality wine, and as much as anything else while enjoyable Chianti, for me, has apart from that one or two occasions not done that.
With scores I take your point and I have made the same point, tasting at a wine competiton or a tasting can never have the same result as an opened bottle at the dinner table and rightly scores should not compared like that, they are just a guide, if one or two recent wines with very high scores from supermarkets lately are to go by scores should be ignored completely, but that is another thread, and on that front I miss the notes of Michael Broadbent who would state that at a dinner such and such was poured, you never see that now.
Just finally on this comment, the palate, we all by nature have different takes on flavours whether in wine or food, it would be a very boring world if it were otherwise, but I am not alone, it has been mentioned on this blog how many of us have a change in the way that a wine appeals or not over time, I mentioned recently how ith all these years of drinking Rieslings my taste has shifted to the less sweet and drier versions, not abandoned the sweeter ones but less drunk, it is an ever changing area and creates good talking points.
If ever there was an example of my quest for the new or revisited Peter M has got me buying Pinotage and enjoying it, there’s hope yet !


#13

A very good point - it has happened to me too. It’s worth remembering if tempted to splurge on filling a cellar with your favourite wine.

Peter M deserves a medal for his steadfast championing of what was once an unpopular grape!


#14

Excellent post @cerberus, I really appreciate both the experience you relay and the amount of thought and effort in writing it up.

I’ve been following the post with interest, not leastwise because Chianti is one of my go-to wines. More often than not I’m drinking wine with food, and I often go for a lighter style of Chianti (love a Rufina) which is my general leaning for reds anyway.

In looking at TWS current list, I can see how some might view these wines as being at the high end for what they are. Villa di Vatrice used to be a good choice for just under a tenner but I’ve not seen it in a while, and barring the Society’s Rufina (which I drink a fair amount of) and the Exhibition Classico, the choices start for around £20.

I think claret is a good comparison. With both wines, a good example at £8-10 is a very different type of wine than one at say £22-25. Whilst I think they are favourable to one another at the low end, as the price increases it could be argued you can get more out of Bordeaux in a side-by-side tasting. Or put another way, pay more for Chianti and get a nicer Chianti; pay more for Bordeaux and get a wine that wants to be on the world stage (for better or for worse).

I’ve got a case of 2010 Fontodi Classico on the go. It’s been an interesting evolution so far, and I still think it has time left, but I’m not sure it’s getting any better or more complex. Then again, I’m also not sure it’s meant to. It was certainly an enjoyable wine when I bought it and for me, worth paying for. Maybe I’ll be blown away at some point by the Flaccianello I’ve got squirrelled away, but in the meantime I’ll keep buying nice Chianti moreso than classy claret for immediate drinking with food. My favourite from the last year has probably been this wine, and I see from the reviews that @Leah is also a fan…


#15

One of my favourites. Tanners are selling the 2016.


#16

This was the Maremma sangiovese Le Pupille I was talking about, it is not 100% sangiovese, and the couple of bottles I had were from one of the first vintages so may not be typical.

I see TWS do one from the same area but have no knowledge of how they compare.


#17

I too was fortunate enough to dine at Le Tre Vaselle, about 20 years ago.
I love many Italian red wines, but I do not love Chianti.
Were we separated at birth?!

Guy


#18

Snap, the two restaurants belong to a group of like minded who all promote their food and have these plates made for each one, I don’t have the Le Tre Vaselle but I do have the Nizzoli one depicting the season of the Zucca…small world…

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anyone else, we could go for the set !


#19

TWS used to sell this, it’s available from Armit wines at the moment. I prefer it to the current offering but probably mainly for romantic reasons as I first had it in a roman trattoria on holiday. Have a few of the 2016 and some of their 2014 Riserva at home.


#20

The reserva has a different label, I couldn’t find an example of an earlier, but remembered Cellartracker has older labels, this one is the one I had ?