Monteraponi Chianti Classico Riserva “Baron’ Ugo” 2009

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photoChianti is too often viewed as a monolithic brand rather than a region with variation and terroir. The fault lies with the history of poor quality, cheap wines and the massive expansion of the Chianti DOCG. But since 1996, regulators have shipped Chianti Classico (the smaller, original region) back into shape, allowing 100% Sangiovese based wines and wines made without any of the traditional white varieties. Until then, if you wanted 100% Sangiovese (vs. Sangiovese blended with white grapes) from Chianti Classico you had to buy ‘Super Tuscan’ wines. Now the renaissance has renewed.

Searching for Terroir in Chianti Classico

In many ways Chianti Classico as a high quality region is quite young. Though famous for fine wine in the 18th and 19th centuries, the 20th century saw huge dilution of quality and brand. The Super Tuscan leaders helped renew the region, but the best vine material only started to be planted in the 1980’s. Further, it was not until 2000 that the Chianti Classico consorzio isolated the best quality clones for replanting. As vines take several years to be productive and even longer to be at peak quality, we are only very recently seeing the best of Chianti Classico. Quality has improved so much that in many cases a winery’s top Chianti Classico Riserva bests their Super Tuscan.

Beyond the vast improvement in vine material, producers are now starting to focus on terroir expression within the Classico DOCG zone. Not all Chianti Classico is the same. The region consists of several towns and many hills, the most important of which offer quite distinct expressions of Sangiovese. This is where the consorzio has failed as it has not provided any vineyard delimitation or classification along the lines of premier or grand cru. The consorzio’s recent introduction of the ‘Gran Seleccione’ has been much critiqued as failing to focus in any way on terroir. This puts the consumer who seeks terroir in a difficult spot, requiring extensive research and knowledge, much of which is not available in English.

The key villages include Greve, Barberino, Panzano, Radda, Castellina and Gaiole. Each has a distinct character. For example, Greve is known to be quite open and filled with red berry fruit, Panzano for wines with higher acids and Gaiole for minerally and tannic wines. Soils vary from sandy alluvial soils at lower altitudes to limestone and schist-like soils called galestro at the higher altitudes. Speaking of altitude, it varies from 150 to 500 metres above sea level across the region. Clearly there is a lot of differentiation to be found in Chianti Classico! Sadly, you will not find the village name listed on the label of any Chianti Classico.

Further, despite this great terroir diversity, some of the biggest producers have been accused of making more style-driven rather than site-driven wines, including Fontodi (whose style has been changing away from a terroir focus) and Barone Ricasoli.

The Wine: Delicate Terroir

Monteraponi is a respected producer, well known in Europe, but far less so in North America. It makes very classic wines – they strike directly into the heart of Chianti Classico terroir. Located in the village of the same name in the commune of Radda, the winery’s 10 hectares of vineyards lie at 470 metres above sea level on rocky limestone and galestro soils. All the Chianti Classico wines are blends of the three traditional red grapes of Chianti Classico: Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo. Vines are farmed organically and fermentation is completed in concrete vats with natural yeasts and no additions. The maceration is always long (30 days for the Baron’ Ugo) and ageing is all in large Slavonian oak. This approach commenced in 2006 when Michele Bragante took over and completely revamped the estate from a more traditional approach to a hands off, organic one.

The Baron’ Ugo is made using vines around 40 years old in a vineyard that sits 570 metres above sea level – one of the highest in Chianti Classico. The blend is 90% Sangiovese 7% Canaiolo and 3% Colorino. It ages 3 years in Slavonian oak.

If there could only be one example of Sangiovese’s ability to combine delicacy and terroir like great red Burgundy, Monteraponi would be it. This garnet wine has a highly expressive, traditional nose that smells like a dusty old cherry. It is fine and delicate, though once you take a sip the elegance leads into powerful fruit – the combination being a trademark of Chianti Classico from Radda. The 2009 vintage clearly offers a lot of softness that makes the wine drink very well right now, but there is a lot of structure too. This is full flavoured, medium bodied wine with explosive cherry, leather, herbs, and sweet tobacco smoke. The tannins are supple and fine.

If there could be ‘perfect’ Chianti Classico, this wine would be a candidate. The Monteraponi Baron’ Ugo is a wonderful way to experience the truth of Chianti Classico terroir. Very highly recommended.

Excellent to Excellent+
$75 at Marquis

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