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?
Obviously there are questions left to be answered, chief among them to many minds is why this new classification isn’t bound to terroir, as the  classifications of the greatest wines such as Burgundy’s and Piedmont’s have been for decades, if not longer. While there is an argument to be made that the best Chianti Classico may very well be one that represents the fruit of the entire region, increasingly consumers associate quality with distinctiveness, and distinctiveness with a specific village or vineyard.  Great Chianti Classico has already been produced at the Riserva level. Wines that typify what the region can excel at. Adding another level with some minor technical adjustments seems to be more of a marketing decision to my mind. Giving this legislation real teeth by require the fruit for each wine to come from either a specific village, to be identified on the label, or requiring that they be single-vineyard wines would seem to be a more logical step towards creating a true hierarchy of quality for the region. Word is that this step is in the works, but for the moment origin of the fruit is not part of the Gran Selezione vetting process.
 
So what are we left with? An opportunity for producer to showcase their best work and have it identified as such through the use of the Gran Selezione denomination. But at the same time this opens the door for producers to simply relabel their existing riservas, and keep them in their cellars for an additional six months,  and then charge an unwitting public more for them. I do not see anyway in which this can be prevented and would hope that the Consorzio works towards more narrowly defining the criteria from gran Selezione wines to make them more distinctive and a true selection of what makes the region great: great vineyards.
 
Of course the truth is in the bottle, and great producers will work tirelessly to ensure that their gran Selezione wines do indeed represent the pinnacle of their work. There will be a price to pay of course, and that price will not be limited to higher prices on the shelf. Confusion in the marketplace, products not worthy of the Gran Selezione title, and the impact on other wines in a producer’s portfolio will have to be watched closely to gauge the ultimate success of this program. 
 
From this very modest introduction to the Gran Selezione wines I can see one additional issue arising. The efforts of producers to bottle something special may result in wines that do not need the expectations of the consumer, or perhaps exceed the expectations might be a more appropriate way of saying this. These wines, at least these first releases, are tending towards big, statement making wines. Wines that will be best after several additional years in the bottle. Perhaps not what consumers are looking for from their Chianti, a wine so typically purchased for it’s friendly demeanor and accessibility. Time will tell of course, and while the media seems to be fawning over these wines, they have often misread the market as badly as the marketers who push these sorts of agendas. 
 
There is no doubt that, as a group, these are impressive wines and the best of them are fabulous and I look forward to trying them down the road when the gain additional nuance in the bottle. These are Chianti Classico’s built for the cellar, though as tends to be the case with Chianti in general they do offer lots of early appeal as well.  On this final point another question is raised. Is there enough room in collector’s cellars for another set of Sangiovese based wines? We are left with too many questions and not enough answers at this point. To be expected at such an early stage of the roll out of such a significant change to one of the world’s most popular wines. The only answers that we can glean for certain today is whether we like the wines that have been released or not. For me that is a mixed bag, which is to be fully expected since Chianti is blessed with a remarkable diversity of producers, regions, and styles. 
 
I’ve only just begun to taste the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines, and I urge you to d o the same. Watch out for opportunities to try these newly released wines. They offer a new interpretation of a time tested classic and I am interested in hearing your opinions of the wines, as well as this change to the Chianti Classico classification scheme. Yea or Nay? What do you say?
 
One final thought here. While the prices for these wines are yet to be determined they will likely not be inexpensive. Many seemed destined for the $50 price point, give or take. While the price of a wine does generally have some loose correlation to the quality, the fact that these all seemed to be priced roughly the same, and well above each winery’s Chianti Classico Riserva pricing I should add, does seem to reinforce the notion that this effort was undertaken as much to shake up the rather stagnant pricing consumers have enjoyed with Chianti Classico as much as it was to identify the region’s top wine. Call me a cynic, but when a region undertakes an effort that results in a whole classification of more expensive wines I have to think that that was  part of the motivation to begin with. 
 
Powerful, pure and complex on the nose with rich aromas of leather, a bit of meatiness, stones, and rich red fruits. Elegant and yet powerful in the mouth with light fresh fruit framed with mossy edges and flecks of mineral earth This is really making a statement that power is not the end all with its gorgeous purity of red berry fruit, fine tannins, and real acid driven energy in the mouth. The finish is long and shows a hint of dried fruit, almost prune like complexity along with hints of leather and tobacco. A gorgeous wine. 94pts
 
 
Deep, earthy, herbal and slightly medicinal aromas of spicy fruit dominate the nose with hints of  tobacco and briar adding great complexity and detail with a minty accent emerging with air. On the palate this is moderately  rich, a little soft perhaps, but transparent with great purity to the fruit which is fairly ripe with blue and blackberry details. Silky in the mouth this has a fine palate impression but lacks a little detail, particularly in the moderately long finish. 92pts
 
 
Minty, mossy and high toned on the nose with a whisper of volatility enlivening  very lively, cool, crunchy fruit. Bright, precise, and transparent, this is all fresh red fruit and nervous acids in the mouth. Showing shows a faint blueberry shadings on the palate, along with that core of bright raspberry fruit, this is clean, if slightly rustic with great, crisp  tannins and a moderately long, complex finish featuring hints of minerals, old books, and a touch of dried leather.  Could be a bit longer but really very attractive and totally in my wheelhouse. 92pts
 
 
Deep with wild berry, laurel, dried leather and nutty oak aromas on the nose that come off as being a bit stern but layered and fresh. Ripe and open in the mouth, immediately showing a really fine blend of power and transparency. The tannins are rather fine and subtle, making this very supple and drinkable with nuanced nutty oak and fresh raspberry and dark cherry fruit coming together on the palate and lingering through the long, juicy finish. A touch simple perhaps but eminently drinkable. 91pts
 
 
A fine blend of subtle oak tones and floral, almost woodsy spice notes accent the red cherry fruit on the nose. In the mouth this is fairly taut with an underlying base of wood tannins supporting bright, slightly earthy and fresh red berry fruit. The bright acidity handles the moderately rich fruit well and offers contrast to the slightly woody sweetness that extends through the long finish. Already quite open, this should improve as the oak continues to integrate. 90pts
 
Modern and dark on the nose with slick oak and  anonymous fruit enlivened by leather and dried herbs.  On entry this is rather smooth, polished, and fancy wine feeling  but then the Sangiovese comes through on the palate, edgy, lean and sappy, and providing nice cut on the backend This needs some time but this should age quite well, if remaining on the modern side of things. The finish shows some of the tannic heft here, a touch clipped and dry though with plenty of fruit to keep things covered and well rounded. 89pts
 
 
Leather, herbs, granite and  blackcurrant come together on a beautiful nose with lots of spice accents and a bit of wood that feels out of place here Smooth and polished in the mouth with some very deep, sIightly extracted dark berry fruit showing red currant notes up front and on the palate then this lightens up nicely
with more red cherry fruit that is  showing a bit of astringency on the backend before wrapping up in a short finish. The wood is just slightly distracting here though this shows lovely fruit. 89pts
 
 
Vanilla and sweet oak greet the nose, obscuring the fruit for the moment. In the mouth this is big, smooth, sleek and powerful, very modern but hasn't lost it's typicity, though it’s  more a monument to what could be as opposed to what it should be. The finish is drying very hot cocoa, chocolate tinged with plenty of oak influence and wood tannins. there seems to be plenty of fruit here but today this wears its oak on its sleeve. 89pts 
 
 
Antiseptic and floral notes greet the nose, which gains Merlot like notes of dark chocolate and dried green herbs with air along with lots of underlying oak. Light bodied on entry, this shows nice zesty astringent red fruit in the mouth. Quite refreshing with fine tannins and brights acids supporting modestly scaled raspberry fruit on the palate and through the moderately long if slightly drying finish. 88pts
 
 
Deep slightly inky and ashy on the nose, coming off as a bit petite sirah style. Inky and pencil lead on entry lead to a soft, big, not very interesting mouthfeel. While this is packed with lots of fruit, a bit dark with notes of boysenberry,  and shows some good mineral tones in the mouth, though this lacks a bit of liveliness on the palate. Seems atypical. 87pts
 
 
Earthy, leathery and a bit minty and almost malty on the nose with lots of dried floral notes coming of as quite complex and traditional. Soft, big, rich and powerful in the mouth with not a lot of detail but a surprisingly bright and zesty feel. This  could show more detail and dries out on the finish but remains interesting, though with a weird dried herbal bouillon cube note on the finish. 86pts
 
 
Aromas of old wood, which is earthy, funky, and medicinal and gains huge old leather and dried herbal accents with air. While rather rich this is soft and formless in the mouth while showing well aged notes of brown spices and leather in the mouth layered over slight red berry fruit and finishing up with some tough tannins on the modest finish.  83pts