Spotlight on Chianti Classico: Castello di Bossi Riserva Berardo 2007
Discussion of the fine wines of Tuscany has been dominated by two categories: super-tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino. The Bordeaux blends of Maremma satisfy those seeking super-prestige bottlings and very high scores, the IGTs of Chianti excite those who look for innovation, and the crown of Brunello has been a battleground between the modernists who like creamy, high scoring wines and the traditionalists who fight for Sangiovese Grosso’s finesse. But, the fine wine debates have largely bypassed the core of Tuscany – Chianti Classico. The reason is a long history of poor quality, bad regulation, and internationalization. This aversion is no longer warranted.
In this spotlight I will argue that Chianti Classico is the most exciting region in central Italy today and holds the key to Tuscany’s potential for greatness in terroir. The possibilities are only beginning to be explored, but the quality has reached a level where anyone serious about the great terroir driven regions of the world needs to take notice. The great wines of Chianti Classico – the original Chianti zone and first demarcated wine region in Europe – offer tremendous variety, distinction and character. And even the very best Riservas tend to cost a fraction of their IGT and Brunello competition, at least for now.
Chianti Classico: The Basics
First off, Chianti Classico is a large area traversing the distance from Florence in the north to Siena in the south. Elevations from 250 to 800 metres above sea level generally range within the ideal for Sangiovese, which does best between 200 and 500 metres. As Sangiovese thrives with long exposure to light, the best vineyards in Chianti Classico are south or mostly south facing. Additionally, the best sites are on hill tops where winds protect against fungus and rot and drainage is best. The most common soil type in the region is the famed galestro, which is a crumbly soil consisting of schist, clay and mark.
While much progress has been made in the last 10 years, producers are still discovering the best sites in the region and the best clones for each particular site. Many of the best producers in Chianti Classico are thus scientifically minded and perform chemical analyses on the soils to assist in determining the precise clones for particular places. The fact that there is still so much to learn means Chianti Classico is really only in the early phases of its journey to premium quality terroir-based wines.
Another key factor necessary to understand Chianti Classico, though many grapes are now allowed into the final blend, the best wines must and will always get their true brilliance from Sangiovese. And, Sangiovese is one of the most difficult grapes to grow well. It is fickle and unpredictable, it can be highly variable even in the same vineyards. It takes dedication and research to control the grape and consistently produce something great from it – an indication that the best producers in Chianti Classico must, like the great Burgundian winemakers, dedicate themselves to a deep understanding of this one single most important influence on wine quality: Sangiovese.
The Diversity of Terroir
If quality starts with a focus on understanding Sangiovese, then terroir gets its meaning from coaxing the greatest potential from the grape with particular choices in siting, clones, rootstock, and farming. The still nascent potential of the region means that any claims about terroir are in a very early phase and could easily change. But the best wines are very seriously starting to show distinct characters in certain places. This is in my mind the most exciting aspect of Chianti Classico today.
Chianti Classico hosts several villages, four of which are completely within the DOCG, with several others straddling the borders. The most important, classic, villages are Castellina, Gaiole, Greve and Radda. The vineyards surrounding Castellina are known to make elegant wines at high elevations and rich, heavy wines at low elevations. Gaiole, a wooded area, is home to one of the highest quality sub-regions called Monti. Greve has considerable variation and includes the famous Panzano site, also considered a great terroir. Radda is rocky and hilly and wines from here don’t age as long as the other three key villages, but they are also known for elegance and perfume.
This is a mere survey that scratches the surface of the variation. I hope with this spotlight to take you along with me in discovery of the true variation in expression and style but consistency in quality that the best wines of Chianti Classico offer.
Castello di Bossi: A Wine of Contrast
The old estate of Castello di Bossi is in the southeastern part of Chianti Classico near the village of Castelnuovo Berardenga. The wines from this area are known to be powerful rather than subtle and I think the Berardo Riserva is a good example of this power.
Though the estate is quite old (at least as old as 1500), its reputation for quality did not begin until the mid 1990’s due to the efforts of Marco Bacci who completely revamped the winery to focus on quality from vineyards to the cellar. Bossi has no issue with modern approaches and makes a well respected 100% merlot. This classic Chianti Classico Riserva, made from 100% Sangiovese, is also a show-stopper and very respectful of ‘terroir’.
The approach here is all barrique, but the winery keeps the toast levels low, which reduces the intensity of the oak’s impact on the wine. The 2007 is a good example of this deft use of oak, giving the wine authority and structure but not imprinting an ugly mark.
The wine itself is very dark, with black cherry fruit and earth. There is plenty of tannin in this wine which helps the rich fruit from the warm 2007 vintage feel alive and ready for grilled steak without being opulent. The length is superb.
Drinking this reminded me how well Italians understand contrasts – sweet and bitter, fruit and tannin, power and acidity. This is why a great Sangiovese based wine like this annihilates most California wines for pairing with charred, grilled meats and a general symbiosis with the table.
~$60 at Kits Wine