I started with Chianti Classico, like many other Italian wine lovers, I’m sure. It’s simply the most likely of all Italian wines to be placed in front of you throughout your life. Whether it was at a pizza restaurant growing up or a friend’s table when you were just getting old enough to want to move beyond beer and wine coolers–Chianti was there for us all.
However, not all Chianti is created equal, as we’ve all learned the hard way. And what’s more, wine writers have only just started to broach the topic of the many different expressions and diverse terroir of Chianti. I for one look forward to this new renaissance of Italy’s favorite wine.
Over the years, I’ve written hundreds of tasting notes on Chianti Classico, and I have probably tasted a thousand more that didn’t move me to pick up my pen. Through it all, there have been a handful of wines that have stood out as the pinnacle of what the region and its producers are capable of. These are the wines that thrill us in their youth but also have the potential to age, which isn’t a trait that many people associate with Chianti. I can count these producers on one hand, but within that group, you will always find Fontodi and their top Chianti Classico, Vigna del Sorbo.
Vigna del Sorbo has come a long way since it’s inception in 1985. In the beginning, it resembled the best qualities that Chianti had to offer at the time, with sangiovese at its core (as Chianti Classico requires), a healthy dose of Cabernet Sauvignon and aging in new wood. Yet what set Vigna del Sorbo apart, and is only just starting to be talked about today in Tuscany, is terroir. That term that we see over and over again, yet don’t think for a moment that the word’s overuse should ever take away from its importance–as Vigna del Sorbo is a perfect example of just how important terroir is.
Vigna del Sorbo was the brainchild of Giovanni Manetti, the man behind the scenes at Fontodi. It was his passion for Sangiovese which drove him to experiment and finally arrive at the elevated position which his winery enjoys today. You see, even going as far back as the 1985, Giovanni wanted to show the world that a 100% expression of Sangiovese could create a world-class wine. It’s because of this that he created the well-received Super Tuscan, Flaccianello. However, it took time for Giovanni to realize what Vigna del Sorbo was truly capable of.
A recent tasting of thirteen vintages followed Vigna del Sorbo from it’s deep roots in modern-Chianti (of the time) with the 1995, through the growing pains of the early to mid 2000s, and right up to the truly epic (100% Sangiovese) 2012 vintage.
It was amazing to witness not only the vintage characteristics, but also how Fontodi has tinkered with and refined their style. I was lucky to be sitting with a longtime friend and great resource of Chianti knowledge, Gregory dal Piaz (who happens to be in the middle of writing a book on the topic of Chianti). Greg’s insights on each vintage were priceless.
However, what became apparent to me throughout the evening was that no matter the winemaking style of Fontodi at any given time, the abilities of its winemaker and the prestige of the sight also shone through. The ‘95 was classic, as was the ‘99. They made me question how anyone would choose to change this formula. However, all doubts faded away when tasting the ‘10 and ‘12, because they were as beautiful an expression of Vigna del Sorbo that we could ever hope for.
Watching as the percentage of international varieties faded from the 2008 through 2012 Vigna del Sorbo was an eye-opening experience. Some would say that this decision had a lot to do with global warming and how it became difficult to keep alcohol levels down with the addition of Cabernet. The word from Giovanni himself is that he was able to acquire a second parcel of Vigna del Sorbo, one which contained significantly older vines. The addition of this fruit is what Giovanni believes makes the current vintages as good as they are.
No matter what the reason, what this tasting proved to me without a doubt is that Vigna del Sorbo is a world-class wine, which I would place against the best of the best. I’m happy to have many of these vintages in my cellar, and I look forward to adding many more.
On to the tasting notes:
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1995 – The bouquet had me the second I put my nose to the glass. Here I found a perfectly mature display of crushed black cherry, floral undergrowth, dusty dry spices and hints of musk. On the palate, it displayed a perfect balance of acidity and mature red fruits, which were fleshy and vibrant next to the wine’s integrated tannin. It finished long with dried floral and earth tones. What a great way to start our tasting, as the ‘95 was perfectly mature and holding strong. (94 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1997 – The nose was dark and slightly muddled with ripe black cherry and sweet herbal tones. On the palate, I found soft textures and brisk acidity with red fruits, yet there’s a serious lack of depth here. The finish was clipped and a bit simple. Like most ‘97s, the wine ultimately came across as fading, with a decline in purity of fruit and leaning toward a dank and unbalanced place. (87 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1998 – The ‘98 is drinking beautifully, and it suffered only from being placed so close to the ‘95 and ‘99. On any other day, I believe this wine would be turning heads with its dark and earthy bouquet of ripe strawberry, florals and cedar. On the palate, I found soft textures with spicy, dark red fruits and hints of mushroom. With time in the glass, it lost some of its persistence on the palate, yet still showed strong, finishing long on dried cherry and hints of earthy funk. (93 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1999 – The ‘99 is classic in every sense of the word. Today it still comes across as young, yet there is a balance of fruit, tannin and acid that makes it seductive and easily enjoyable. The bouquet was pure class, showing haunting dark floral aromatics followed by black cherry, strawberry, spice and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, I found fleshy textures, with a core of sweet tannin and brisk acidity lending vibrancy. Black cherry, spice, and minerals were all on display in this perfectly balanced beauty. It finished long and intense, still showing youthful structure and promising years of development down the road. (96-97 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2000 – The nose showed undergrowth and moist soil up front, followed by blackberry and minerals. On the palate, I found pliant, juicy textures, yet lacking the fruit concentration of other vintages. This finish was pleasant yet a bit short with mature strawberry and cherry notes. I don’t see much of a future for the 2000, yet it’s drinking perfectly well today. (90 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2001 – While some other tasters felt the ‘01 lagged behind, I found it to be youthful yet truly classic with vibrant fruit and sweet tannin. The nose showed rich cherry with dusty florals, spice and fresh-turned soil. On the palate, it was still youthfully tight with gripping tannins slightly restraining its bright red fruits. A core of minerality added further depth and lasted throughout the finish along with dried cherry and spice. This wine is in need of another five or more years before entering its early drinking window. (95 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2004 – The nose was earthy with dusty soil, leather, dried flowers and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found angular textures with gripping tannin, giving way to tart cherry and brisk acidity. Tannin coated the palate throughout the finish, drying the senses and the wine’s otherwise beautiful fruit. I hope to be wrong one day about the 2004, as on this night it seemed as if the wood tannin may outlive the fruit. At the moment, it’s a hard wine to like. (91-94 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2006 – flawed
(Tasting Notes from 10-27-15) This is dark and brooding, still a black hole of a wine, and in need of time. The nose displayed floral perfumes of mint, cedar and savory herbs, followed by dark red fruit and hints of dusty spice. On the palate, angular textures gave way to youthful tannin, bitter black cherry and wood tones. It was dry on the finish, but youthfully so, with a core of concentrated red fruit that wouldn’t relent. This may be a classic in the making, but in need of 5-10 years in the cellar. (94 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2007 – Big, fleshy, racy and hot may work in Napa, but it’s hard to pull off in Tuscany. The nose was large-scaled with ripe black cherry, espresso bean and intense sweet spice. On the palate, I found weighty textures with densely packed red fruits wrapped in a mix of sweet, sweet tannin and spice. It finished on dried cherry, cheek-puckering tannin and a hint of heat. There’s an audience for the 2007, but it’s not with a group of Chianti lovers. (93 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2008 – The nose show masses of dark fruit, olive brine, espresso and savory spices. On the palate, it was large-scaled and monolithic with a wave of dark fruits and murky, almost moldy notes. It finished clipped, with remnants of undergrowth and funk. The 2008 came across as either being in a very odd stage or having been too fruit-concentrated and oaked-influenced at the winery. (NA)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2010 – The 2010 is a classic in the making with a perfect balance of intense yet pure fruits and sweet tannin. On the nose, I found sweet, dusty spices along with ripe cherry and cedar. On the palate, it was polished, refined and perfectly balanced, as intense red fruit and minerals coated the palate, followed by a wave of sweet tannin and spice. The finish was structured, yet its persistent fruit continued to resonate. I see this aging into something resembling the amazing ‘99. (96 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2011 – The nose showed dark red fruits, black olive and hints of pepper. On the palate, I found blackberry, cherry and licorice with hints of savory herbs. It finished with big, gruff tannin, feeling rich yet unbalanced. This was another hard wine to judge among its present company. However, as much as I’d like to think it was just outclassed, the ‘11 came across as dark, beastly and lacking balance. (91 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2012 – The 2012 took all the the classicism of 2010, but it added an airy, almost ethereal quality, which in the end was quite attractive. The nose showed bright cherry with sweet floral tones and dusty spice. It was lively and intense on the palate, with focused acidity ushering along a core of concentrated red fruit, minerals and spice. This was like a freight train across the palate in its youthful state, yet it still finished long and refined with a classic coating of sweet tannin. This is even better than the last time I tasted it, and it’s another one to put in the cellar to love for a long time. (96 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine
Just for fun, I’ve added Fontodi’s Dino. Giovanni’s tribute to ancient wine making techniques.
Fontodi Dino 2013 – The nose opened with exotic floral tones, ripe cherry, dark soil, minerals, and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, it displayed racy textures with sweet strawberry fruit, a hint of tropical citrus, spice and tantalizing acidity. The finish was fresh with vibrant acidity dancing on the senses. Simply gorgeous. Dino is one of the most balanced and enjoyable Amphora wines that I’ve tasted from Tuscany. (94 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine
Article, tasting notes, and photos by: Eric Guido