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Outstanding Chianti Classicos - May 2020

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.

 

There now follows an important note on the availability and delivery of both wines.

The Tenuta Perano is currently in stock.

The Tenuta di Bibbiano wine has seen a strong sales run, and is all gone in the immediate term. However, we expect to see more here in early/mid-August. Please contact us on communications@exelwines.co.uk to reserve the bottles you would like. No payment is required at this stage. When the shipment arrives, we will contact you to arrange payment and delivery.

 

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.

  • The 'standard' Chianti Classico (2018) is classic, classy CC - crunchy and lively (and excellent with sausages).
  • The Riserva (2016) is a definite step up - more complexity and depth - and came in for 92 points from Decanter. As Riservas at £20 go, this is outstanding.

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.

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Poggio al Sole 'Casasilia' Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016 (1x75cl)

** THE WONDERFUL, AWARD-WINNING 2015 VINTAGE HAS NOW ALL GONE. WE WILL BE BRINGING IN THE 2016 AND 2017 VINTAGES IN MID-LATE AUGUST. 

BOTH COME HIGHLY RECOMMENDED ... AS OUR VIDEO TASTING HERE EXPLAINS (click blue link) AND SEE ALSO THE BOX BELOW.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO JOIN OUR WAITING LIST FOR THE INCOMING CASASILIAS (NB: THERE IS ONLY LIMITED 2016, SPEED RECOMMENDED!), PLEASE EMAIL US ON communications@exelwines.co.uk SPECIFYING HOW MANY BOTTLES YOU WOULD LIKE.

We also highly recommend the 'everyday' Chianti Classico and Super-Tuscan from Poggio al Sole. **

___

Awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their May 2020 edition panel tasting of top-end Chianti Classico (see blue link below).

Poggio Al Sole 'Casasilia' Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016 - April 2020 Decanter review

The 2016 vintage was awarded a Platinum medal and 97 points at the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards (click link for details).

For other 2019 DWWA winners, click here.

The 2014 vintage was also awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their May 2018 edition review of the top tiers of Chianti Classico (see blue link below).

Poggio Al Sole 'Casasilia' Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2014 - May 2018 Decanter review

 

How does the 2016 compare with the 2015? Here's the word from Valentino Davaz, winemaker at Poggio al Sole:

 

"From a winemaking perspective, the 2016 vintage was almost a perfect wine year. During flowering there was a lot of sun and wind, which had an ideal effect on the young grapes and set us up with abundant quantities for the season. Between spring and summer, we had an ideal balance between rain and sunshine. A few very warm August and September weeks put the vines under some water-stress. From previous years we know that has a positive impact on the intensity of the aromas and acidity.

 

Throughout the year we identify the grapes for our Gran Selezione Casasilia and reduce quantity in favour of quality through multiple selection steps. At the beginning of October, we were able to harvest wonderfully ripe Sangiovese grapes of the highest quality. During the destemming of the berries we run a last selection of the Sangiovese grapes, which leaves us with the top berries destined for the Casasilia.

 

In terms of structure, fruitiness and acidity balance, the 2016 vintage is certainly on a par with its predecessor. It distinguishes itself through round and well integrated tannins, which gives the wine an extra layer of elegance, whereas the 2015 had more power and structure. Here, at the winery, we like to say that 2016 has probably been the best vintage in the decade (2010-2020) that just ended. Our base Chianti Classico 2016 already impressed with a very fruity and intense bouquet and a fresh and juicy palate. The just -eleased Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon Seraselva 2016 reaffirms the vintage by standing out with above average aroma intensity in the bouquet and a round, complex and long palate and finish".

Documents in the archives of the abbey of Badia a Passignano, which owned Poggio al Sole until the 1960s, show that olives and wine were grown there as early as the 12th century. The Davaz family, which acquired Poggio al Sole in 1990, has grown wine in the Bündner Herrschaft in Switzerland since the 1970s. The eighteen contigous hectares of sloping schistose-clay vineyards are among the very highest in Chianti,  and are perfectly sheltered from the Tramontane wind by the surrounding oak forest. Alessandro Masnaghetti, the brilliant taster, journalist, and publisher of Enogea, believes that Poggio al Sole is one of the top three vineyard sites in all Chianti Classico.

The Casasilia - Poggio al Sole's premium Chianti Classico from the top-tier Gran Selezione classification - is ample testament to that.

Here's Poggio al Sole's own data sheet/fiche technique on the Casasilia.

Poggio Al Sole 'Casasilia' Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016 - fiche technique

Additional detail (for those that like it): the wine is

- fermented in steel vessels (for best temperature control); 

- put through malolactic fermentation in a mix of stainless steel and old oak; 

- first matured in French (esp Nevers region) oak barrels/barriques of 225 litres, ~20% of which are made of new oak, the remainder being one-year old barrels, for some 9 months; 

- then matured for a further 9 months in much larger (30 hectolitre/3,000 litre) Stockinger vessels of Austrian oak (currently 2-5 years of age, but these will be used until 15-20 years of age), for a slower polymerisation than occurs in the barriques; and

- allowed to rest and develop in stainless steel (with occasional extra time in the Stockingers) for another 12 months before bottling.

100% Sangiovese.

"This wine gushes with aromas of black and red fruits, mint, chalk, dried herbs and the vanilla and spice of high quality oak, which lead on to a full-bodied, yet velvety, palate with finely detailed tannins. It really pulsates with its energy, mesmerising your palate as it swoops by, culminating in a long and elegant finish" (DWWA19 tasting note).

This wine is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

ABV = 14.5%.

£30.95

Tenuta di Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2018 (1x75cl)

** NOW IN STOCK! **

PLEASE SEE ALSO THE FULL CHIANTI CLASSICO RANGE WE TAKE FROM BIBBIANO (all with Decanter scores).

___

Awarded 88 points and Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) at their Chianti Classico & Brunello Value Picks Tasting in Feb 2020 (see blue link below).

Tenuta Di Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2018 - Feb 2020 Decanter review

"The 2018 Chianti Classico reveals the promise of the excellent 2018 vintage in Tuscany. It shows good concentration with appealing complexity of dark red plum, dried cherry, underbrush, and a hint of dried Tuscan herbs. It’s bright on the attach and very fresh on the palate. A 100% Sangiovese fermented stainless steel with malolactic occurring in cement. This wine is a blend of grapes from both sides of the estate, mostly Sangiovese but with a bit of Colorino, too. 91 points", International Wine Review (reviewer, Donald Winkler), June 2020, full article here

___

Founded in 1865, Bibbiano is located in the historiic Chianti region, in the municipality of Castellina-in-Chianti, overlooking the Elsa Valley towards the castle of Monteriggioni. Today’s owners, Tommaso and Federico Marrocchesi Marzi, are the fifth generation. Surrounded by vast olive groves consisting of over three thousand trees, Bibbiano’s vineyards cover an area of about 25 hectares, at an altitude ranging from 270 to 300 meters, with enviable exposure and excellent microclimate. The vineyards consist of plants of Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso grapes as well as a smaller quantity of Colorino.

Tenuta di Bibbiano was the longest standing consultancy of famed winemaker Giulio Gambelli, also famous for his long relationships with Montevertine and Case Basse di Soldera. Their decades-long association with Gambelli, under whom Bibbiano’s current winemaker trained, still lives on in their traditional approach to winemaking and their commitment to 100%-pure Sangiovese wines. Their harvest is still conducted manually and grapes carefully selected, with different vinification procedures according to the position of the slopes on which the grapes were grown. They are committed to replanting vineyards using wood poles and columns and by planting only autochthonous grapes. Bibbiano is committed to promoting conservative renovation of the farms, in order to not lose their architectural and human heritage and its very ancient history. The estate was certified organic in 2011.

Tommaso Marrocchesi Marzi is a leading voice in the push to establish formal village appellations in Chianti Classico and is a great supporter of the new Gran Selezione category, which requires wines labeled as such to be made exclusively from estate fruit and bottled at the origin. With the 2014 vintage, Bibbiano raised their Montornello Riserva to a Gran Selezione, lowering production significantly. The Montornello, now a limited production single-vineyard Riserva, comes from the northern face of the estate where calcareous clay and stony alberese soils give the wine its distinctive acidity and red-fruited profile. This wine, the Capannino, continues as a Gran Selezione Riserva, featuring the dense structure and rich, black fruits that result from these reddish-brown, clay-rich soils planted exclusively to Sangiovese Grosso. There is also - and this - a Chianti Classico Riserva, made from exclusively from the Sangiovese da Chianti clone grown on the Montornello side of the property, selected after the very best bunches are picked for the Montornello single-vineyard bottling.

The Annata (or 'standard' Chianti Classico) is produced using grapes cultivated on both exposures of the property, across a vineyard area of 30 hectares including all the estates's vineyards in Bibbiano and Castellina-in-Chianti.

The 2018 harvest started on September 13th.

Fermentation was for 16 days in stainless steel. Ageing was for 12 month in concrete vats.

100% Sangiovese. 

Brilliant ruby red. A very floral, aromatic nose, especialy of red cherry and wild berries. Fresh and persistent flavours, with lively acidity.

ABV = 13.5%.

£16.95

Tenuta di Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 (1x75cl)

** OUT OF STOCK, AT LEAST FOR JULY. **

** HOWEVER, IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO JOIN A WAITING LIST FOR THIS WINE, PLEASE EMAIL US ON communications@exelwines.co.uk. **

** PLEASE SEE ALSO THE FULL CHIANTI CLASSICO RANGE WE TAKE FROM BIBBIANO (all with Decanter scores). **

___

Awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) at their Chianti Classico New Releases Tasting in Feb 2019 (see blue link below).

Tenuta Di Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 - Feb 2019 Decanter review

"2016 was another excellent vintage for Tuscany, especially for the late ripening Sangiovese, albeit at below normal yields. This Riserva is outstanding from its vibrant and highly complex nose to the lovely, long finish. The palate is full and layered with bright fruit, firm acidity, and round, fine-grained tannins. Outstanding freshness and balance with dark berry/plum, cedar, and fresh herbal aromas and flavors. Matured in oak vats and cement for 18 months. 93 points", International Wine Review (reviewer, Donald Winkler), June 2020, full article here

___

Founded in 1865, Bibbiano is located in the historiic Chianti region, in the municipality of Castellina-in-Chianti, overlooking the Elsa Valley towards the castle of Monteriggioni. Today’s owners, Tommaso and Federico Marrocchesi Marzi, are the fifth generation. Surrounded by vast olive groves consisting of over three thousand trees, Bibbiano’s vineyards cover an area of about 25 hectares, at an altitude ranging from 270 to 300 meters, with enviable exposure and excellent microclimate. The vineyards consist of plants of Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso grapes as well as a smaller quantity of Colorino.

Tenuta di Bibbiano was the longest standing consultancy of famed winemaker Giulio Gambelli, also famous for his long relationships with Montevertine and Case Basse di Soldera. Their decades-long association with Gambelli, under whom Bibbiano’s current winemaker trained, still lives on in their traditional approach to winemaking and their commitment to 100%-pure Sangiovese wines. Their harvest is still conducted manually and grapes carefully selected, with different vinification procedures according to the position of the slopes on which the grapes were grown. They are committed to replanting vineyards using wood poles and columns and by planting only autochthonous grapes. Bibbiano is committed to promoting conservative renovation of the farms, in order to not lose their architectural and human heritage and its very ancient history. The estate was certified organic in 2011.

Tommaso Marrocchesi Marzi is a leading voice in the push to establish formal village appellations in Chianti Classico and is a great supporter of the new Gran Selezione category, which requires wines labeled as such to be made exclusively from estate fruit and bottled at the origin. With the 2014 vintage, Bibbiano raised their Montornello Riserva to a Gran Selezione, lowering production significantly. The Montornello, now a limited production single-vineyard Riserva, comes from the northern face of the estate where calcareous clay and stony alberese soils give the wine its distinctive acidity and red-fruited profile. This wine, the Capannino, continues as a Gran Selezione Riserva, featuring the dense structure and rich, black fruits that result from these reddish-brown, clay-rich soils planted exclusively to Sangiovese Grosso. There is also - and this - a Chianti Classico Riserva, made from exclusively from the Sangiovese da Chianti clone grown on the Montornello side of the property, selected after the very best bunches are picked for the Montornello single-vineyard bottling.

The Riserva is produced using grapes cultivated on both exposures of the property, across a vineyard area of 30 hectares. It represents a real tribute to the tradition of Bibbiano's terroir.

Some 35,000 bottles of the 2016 Riserva were produced.

The harvest started on September 26th.

Fermentation was for 23 days in stainless steel and cement vats.

Ageing was for 18 months, part in cement vats, part in French oak tonneaux (large barrels). 

100% Sangiovese. 

Deep ruby red. Prune and cherry. Juicy and fruity with soft tannins. As Decanter said in the review above, "youthful and giving, this offers up aromas of celery, anise, pepper and oregano, giving nuance to the ripe red berries. Ample fruit on the palate fits nicely with firm tannins, while assertive acid gives lift and energy".

ABV = 14.5%.

£20.50
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