The Chianti Fiasco

Without a doubt, one of the most exciting wine-producing regions today is Tuscany–or, to be more specific, Chianti Classico. I know that many of us long-time wine collectors would cock an eyebrow after reading this sentence. The fact is that many of us still recall the days of untamable and overly rustic wines which used to fill the shelves of Italian wine retailers. Then there’s also the famous Chianti Fiasco that will always be remembered for adorning the tables of countless pizzerias and often recycled into ornate candle-holders.

The truth is that Chianti Classico is now at the head of the pack in Italy today. Some of you will ask, what about Brunello and Barolo? Of course these two categories are producing world-class wines, with Barolo enjoying a modern day renaissance and Brunello having achieved a level of “branding” that will keep it firmly at the top of the food chain.

ChiantilandscapeHowever, what Chianti Classico has going for it is that it’s the undiscovered country for “high-quality” Italian wine. Obviously, the region has been producing wine for hundreds of years, but it’s only been in the last two decades that a quality wine revolution has started to take place, and now we are reaping the rewards.

It started as far back as the sixties and seventies, as the parents of many of today’s great wine-makers bought up land in Chianti Classico to use for vacationing and agriculture. Most of them produced wine, but this wasn’t their primary focus. However, as their children grew up surrounded by Tuscan landscapes and with the raw materials for fine wine production under their feet, things began to change.

Galestro (crumbling schistous rock)

Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi is a perfect example of this. In 1979, the Manetti family moved full-time to their property in Tuscany. Giovanni was only 16 at the time, but his interest in Tuscan wine was already well established. The family’s holdings, located at the heart of Chianti Classico in the “Conca d’Oro” (the golden shell), placed him in the ideal place to grow high-quality Sangiovese. The Conca d’Oro is a natural amphitheater of hillside vineyards with soils consisting of Galestro (crumbling schistous rock). Here, the high-altitude vineyards mixed with the warm Tuscan sun creates a push and pull of day and night temperatures, which is perfect for achieving depth and ideal ripening.

fontodi flaccianello
Flaccianello: A 100% Sangiovese pioneer

The catalyst of Fontodi’s fame took place in 1981 with the creation of Flaccianello (a 100% Sangiovese made in an International style). Flaccianello would go on to become one of the top Super Tuscans, and to this day is hunted for by collectors. However, what may end up being remembered as an even bigger move in the company’s history was in 1985 with the creation of the single-vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva, Vigna del Sorbo.

Fontodi was now a force to be reckoned with. The Vigna del Sorbo, which was at the time a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, went on to become a cult classic and one of the greatest values in Chianti. Many producers would have been happy to rest on past laurels, but Giovanni continued to push forward. The first example of this was moving to organic practices (being known for using manure from the family’s own herd of Chianina cattle as fertilizer). What’s more was their avid participation in the Chianti Classico 2000 project (a region-wide movement to identify the best clones for Sangiovese production and replant old vineyards).

Giovanni Manetti: Still testing the limits of Chianti Classico

Quality continued to rise, as did the scores from professional critics, and hence the popularity and scarcity of Flaccianello and Vigna del Sorbo. Still, Giovanni thought he could push forward. His real passion was for Sangiovese and his belief in the exceptional quality of the Sorbo vineyard. In 2008 Fontodi purchased a second parcel of old-vines for Vigna del Sorbo, and quality soared once again. In order to allow the Sangiovese to shine, he then began to dial back the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and toast levels on his barrels. The release of the 2010 Vigna del Sorbo was a perfect example of Giovanni’s understanding of just how great this wine could be and will always be remembered as the vintage that Vigna del Sorbo was declared, by critics around the world, as Fontodi’s new flagship wine. The new Chianti Classico designation of Gran Selezione, saved for a Chianti producer’s top wine, was given to Vigna del Sorbo.

fontodi-villaThis summer, we will see the official release of the 2012 Vigna del Sorbo, a wine that is now 100% Sangiovese. Giovanni couldn’t be more proud of what he’s created, and I believe it’s warranted. Having tasted Vigna del Sorbo in many vintages, the uptick in quality is evident. I still remember my first experience with the 1999, a wine that showed its addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, yet did so with such grace while fontodi_signdemanding your attention. Now as I taste the ’10, ’11 and ’12, I find myself wondering just how much better this can get. The 2010 is epic, the 2011 is seductive and the 2012 is utterly classic.

As I said, Chianti Classico is one of the most exciting wine-producing regions in the world today, and Fontodi, is one of its crowning jewels.

On to the Tasting Notes:

2010 Gran Selezione Fontodi2012 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo – The nose was rich with depths of red fruits, yet there was a bright and lifting quality to the fruit which added alluring contrasts. Cherry, crushed strawberry, minerals and hints of spice wafted up from the glass. On the palate, I found wild berry fruit with hints of herbs and cedar, as a wave of acidity pulsed across the senses. The finish showed tremendous length along with imposing structure, yet the fruit remained rich, intense and ever-present. The 2012 Fontodi VdS is now 100% Sangiovese, and it has firmly found its place as one of the top wines of the region. (EG 94 points) @Morrell

2011 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo – The nose showed deep, dark red fruit with hints dark soil and pine. On the palate, it was rich with silky textures showing ripe black cherry, espresso, spice and minerals, which coated the palate throughout the finish. It was a more immediate wine than the ’10 and ’12 yet extremely enjoyable all the same. (EG 93 points)

2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo – The nose was a lesson in contrasts, as it was rich yet fresh, intense and yet utterly classic and refined. Notes of dark red fruits, herbs, tobacco, cedar, minerals and undergrowth came together in a gorgeous and haunting expression of Sangiovese. On the palate, I found a mix of cherry and strawberry with cedar giving way to gripping tannin with balancing acidity. Balance is the key here, as this came across as painfully youthful but enjoyable on its potential alone. Incredibly concentrated yet focused fruit lingered long on the finish. (EG 96 points)

2008 Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna del Sorbo – It’s amazing how much the 2008 Vigna del Sorbo has changed in the last few years. The bouquet seemed to reach up from the glass, delivering dark red fruit with sweet spice, graphite and herbs. On the palate, it was still firm, yet has gained richness and depth as intense dried cherry, cedar, and herbal mint seemed to saturate the senses. It finished with hints of tannin tugging at the palate, while lingering notes of red fruit and spice slowly faded away. This still requires a few years to come together but is already so enjoyable on its potential alone. (EG 94 points) @Morrell

Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

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