The Chianti name has been used and abused over the decades, and as a result, it has lost a good bit of reliability. But the fact is, real Chianti—which I define as Sangiovese grown in the “original”, Chianti Classico zone, vinified alone or with a small proportion of other Tuscan varieties, and aged in large botti—remains one of Italy’s finest wines, and one of its most useful reds at table. So, let’s do a quick mental cleanse of the bastardized Chiantis that have soiled this great red’s reputation:
Forget the $10 Chiantis sold in straw baskets.
Forget the Chiantis churned out for the sake of yields—mechanized, processed, and sterile.
Forget the Chiantis grown in soils apt to produce, at best, an innocuous table wine.
Forget the “Super-Chiantis” tarnished and blackened by Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot.
Forget the international-styled Chiantis that reek of the sweet vanilla from heavily toasted French oak barrels.
Let’s take this 2013 from Podere Campriano as an example of what I have brazenly dubbed real Chianti. Proprietor Elena Lapini crafts this wine with her husband Luca atop a hill overlooking the town of Greve, south of Florence. Their steep parcels of Sangiovese rest on galestro, a flaky, blueish stone similar to schist that is typically found in the region. Elena and Luca farm their tiny plots by hand, organically, and bring their grapes into the little winery adjacent to the family home for a natural fermentation. The wine then rests for a year in neutral oak casks, and when it finally goes into bottle, it is neither fined nor filtered, and minimal sulfur is added. The result? A bright, yet deeply perfumed red reminiscent of sour cherries, herbs, and leather that envelops the palate with a velvety touch while simultaneously showing a firm structure of fresh acidity and fine-grained tannins. The slightly grippy finish begs for roast pheasant or truffle risotto—but a simple pasta with red sauce will easily suffice. This is real Chianti.
Almost all of the growers with whom we work manage “small family farms.” Then there is Podere Campriano in Greve, who prove the statement more literally than just about anyone. This Tuscan family lives in a humble farmhouse atop a small hillside of 2 hectares of Sangiovese vines. This is their organically pampered backyard from which they craft a delicious Chianti Classicos in the stone cellars beneath their home. The Campriano red wines are traditionally made and reflective of the unique terroir of the Alta Greve—dark, galestro schist infused wines with bold fruit and serious depth. The extreme care and focus of the Lapini family and their dedication to organic agriculture impart a unique character and spirit upon their wines.
Perhaps no region is tied to Italy’s reputation as a producer of fine wine as much as Tuscany. Since Etruscan times, viticulture has played a prominent role in this idyllic land of rolling hills, and the Tuscan winemaking tradition remains as strong as ever today. With a favorable Mediterranean climate, an undulating topography offering countless altitudes and expositions, and a wealth of poor, well-draining soils, conditions are ideal for crafting high-quality wines. Add to that the rich gastronomical tradition—Tuscany is home to some of the country’s finest game, pastas, salumi, and cheeses—and you have the blueprint for a world-class wine region.
This is Sangiovese territory; in fact, it is arguably the only place in the world where Sangiovese reaches a truly regal expression. In spite of a rocky history with fluctuations in quality, traditionally produced Chianti has reclaimed its status as one of the country’s most reliable, food-friendly reds, while the rapid rise of Brunello di Montalcino shows the grape’s potential for grandiose, opulent reds allying power and finesse. Traditionally-minded growers have stuck to using only indigenous grape varieties and employing techniques like aging in massive wooden casks known as botti, creating wines of terroir that shine at the Tuscan table.
Tuscan wines have had a place in our portfolio since Kermit’s first visit in 1977. While the names of the estates have changed, the spirit of those first unfiltered Chiantis he imported live on through our current selections.
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