There’s a new Chianti in Town

Getting to the bottom of the Gran Selezione

 


Many of us think of Chianti as an expensive, everyday wine but of course the truth of the matter is much more complex than that, and it just got even more complex. Adding complexity where it is not necessary seems to be something the Italians excel at, and with the introduction of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione they may have just done just that. We already have a hierarchy with Chianti that includes Chianti, Chianti Classico, additional Chianti appellations, Chianti Riservas and, as of this year, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

I was fortunate to be able to have tasted a line-up of these wie earlier this year at Prowein, the trade only wine fair held annually in Dusseldorf, Germany. For more information on this amazing event please check out: Why You Should be Going to Prowein. I was also able to taste through more than two dozen current release Chianti Classico’s while at the Chianti Classico stand and the reviews for those wines can be found here: Cracking the Chianti Code.
This new level of Chianti seems to be fairly self explanatory. The producers in Chianti Classico have decided to legislatively create a new, highest level of quality, but one has to ask is there any reason for another layer of nomenclature to denote such a wine or is this simply an exercise in marketing prowess. It should not escape attention that some of the greatest wines in Tuscany, wines that now make part of the widely disparate group of wines known as Super Tuscans, were originally produced as a response to vinous legislation that hindered the production of top quality wines. 
 
Before we begin to pass judgement on this new category of wines it’s necessary to understand what has been undertaken. Gran Selezione is, as the name implies, a term that reflect a specific selection that producer make in an effort to showcase their finest efforts. These wines must come from vineyards, within the Chianti Classico appellation, owned by each winery. The composition of the wines remains the same as for Chianti Classico, allowing for a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, though all estate grown, with the remaining 20% being allowable varieties. Yields remain the same, though both levels of dry extract and alcohol are required to meet new minimums. Dry extract must be a minimum of 26 grams per liter, as opposed to 25 for Chianti Classico Riserva and 24 for Chianti Classico. Alcohol minimums are 13% as opposed to 12.5% for Chianti Classico Riserva and 12% for Chianti Classico.
 
While these numbers sound good on paper they are simply minimums and the truth is that virtually all producers have routinely exceeded these minimums for years. The final piece of the puzzle that distinguishes Chianti Classico gran Selezione from the two lower categories of Chianti Classico is their ageing requirements. While none of the wine require barrel ageing, Gran Selezione wines are only allowed to be sold after 30 months of ageing, in contrast to 24 months for Riservas and one year from the vintage for Chianti Classico. While these regulations are in place there is little within them that ensures that Gran Selezione wine will differ in any significant way from the Riservas already in the marketplace. 
 
To ensure that the Gran Selezione wines meets some sort of a high quality standard they are to be subjected to a sensory analysis by a panel of experts. The wines are judged on how well they represent the character of great Sangiovese based wines. Structure, aromas, and taste are all considered before a wine can be awarded the Gran Selezione denomination. In the past these sorts of tasting panels have tended to be perfunctory at best, rejecting few wines and some wines having been rejected for specious reasons.  At least on this front here is cause for hope; the first round of Gran Selezione tastings saw a rejection rate of nearly 50%. 
 
Whether this is a sign of things to come or simply an effort to lenf early credibility to the process is yet to be seen. Even with this 50% rejection rate the gran Selezione wines are poised to account for 10% of Chianti Classico’s production, a not inconsequential amount, and an amount that gives one pause. Is 10% of Chianti Classico’s production actually worthy of being considered to be ‘better’ wine. And if so won’t this creation of a new tier of wines have a deleterious effect on the remains 90% of the wines, particularly those that had previously been at the top of their class and from which this top level juice most likely has been drawn from?

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Top Chianti Classico Gran Selezione tasted 3/14

1.
Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2010)
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2.
Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2010)
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3.
Castello di Leccia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Bruciagna (2010)
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4.
Tenuta di Lilliano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2010)
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5.
Fattoria Viticcio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Beatrice (2011)
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6.
Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna Bastignano (2010)
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Comments

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 5,777

    "Adding complexity where it is not necessary seems to be something the Italians excel at"

    Continue that kind of writing, Greg, and Hosemaster will start subcontracting to you.

    Thank you for an interesting article. Like a lot of people, I'm not sure I understand everything I know about this, but, little by little, I'll get it surrounded.

    May 01, 2014 at 7:28 PM


  • Snooth User: smroush
    1290316 28

    Personally I find these ratings pretty useless without some price info.

    May 01, 2014 at 7:39 PM


  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 203

    Thanks, Greg. Very enlightening, and puts Gran S's in perspective. I was sorry to see that no new restrictions on yield or barrel regimen were imposed. Likely a brilliant marketing move by the Chianti Classico DOCG zone, and it will really be interesting to see if the other 6 Chianti zones follow suit. If this movement succeeds in creating a higher-value marketing tier for essentially the same juice that has been produced currently (plus another year of aging before release), I'm sure that the others will follow suit.

    May 01, 2014 at 7:46 PM


  • While I get what the producers are trying to accomplish, my sense is that (and as a Sangiovese fan) there's a very small base of consumers willing to pay Brunello money for Chianti.

    May 02, 2014 at 8:59 AM


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