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
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.
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.