Spotlight on Chianti Classico: San Felice Il Grigio Gran Selezione 2010
Chianti is a land of large producers. Outside of the Classico zone, wines are made in large quantities and mediocre to poor quality. Understandably serious wine drinkers often avoid the large scale production wines. However, certain large producers remain important and, with their top offerings, make wines of distinction and terroir. San Felice, with an annual production around 1 million bottles, is amongst the larger producers in the Classico zone, but their Riserva and this Gran Selezione both offer a good measure of distinction.
Gran Selezione – Yes or No?
What is Gran Selezione? It is the new label created by the Chianti Classico regulator to promote the region’s ‘top’ wines. It requires all the grapes in the wine to be estate grown, must be matured in wood for a minimum of 30 months and then in bottle for at least 3 before release, and finally the wine must be 80-100% Sangiovese. There are many criticisms of the Gran Selezione marker. Firstly, that it does nothing to help consumers understand Chianti’s terroir and diversity, instead serving as a generic stamp of prestige. Producers are not allowed to put the village name on the wine and Gran Selezione does not require bottling from single vineyards. Others argue often Gran Selezione wines can be less appealing than the regular riservas due to the increased prices and increased oak influence. On the other hand, some producers are now downgrading their riservas (which used to see the best fruit) in order to move that fruit to the Gran Selezione bottling that they can sell at a higher price.
My personal opinion is that despite the flaws and the failure to focus on terroir and village, there is a definite boost in marketing presence and ease of consumer comprehension. While not every Gran Selezione will be the best Chianti Classico for everyone’s palate, the fruit quality does tend to be extremely high. Further, the label is an easy to understand indicator that you are going to get the estate’s top wine and that it will be amongst the most interesting Chianti’s you’ve consumed. Thus, I think in the end it will be a boon for Chianti Classico’s prestige. For those in the know, we can spend our time looking at the greatest terroirs and the distinct differences while the rest of the market catches up with the new quality and excitement of Chianti Classico.
Modern, Supple Sangiovese
San Felice is perhaps most famous for its experimental vineyard known as the Vitiarium. Here they study numerous one-off indigenous varieties, and have even turned one long lost variety (Pugnitello) into a fully-fledged high quality fine wine of distinction. The presence of the Vitiarium indicates an intense interest in indigenous varieties and so you will not see the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot blended into the Gran Selezione here. Instead, San Felice blends in Abrusco, Pugnitello, Malvasia Nera, Ciliegiolo and Mazzese.
The spirit of experimentation at San Felice continues with high density planting (8,500 vines per hectare) and use of both guyot and alberello trellising methods – the importance of which I will explore in the next article in this series.
Thus, with San Felice you have a large producer that takes quality and experimentation very seriously. This is why their wines have continued to improve over the years. San Felice is a good value bet for high quality wine in Chianti Classico.
As for this Il Grigio, it is blended from three estate vineyards and expresses itself as a highly polished, classic Tuscan Sangiovese. A nose of cherry nibs and herbs, a soft palate with very fine (but still present) tannin, and a very fruity and forward drinking palate that is obviously delicious. A long finish and overall harmoniousness distinguish this wine from the run of the mill. That said, its modern style and slightly more classic flavours make this far less distinctive than the Bossi Berardo I reviewed in the last article.
On the second day, more interesting characteristics came out from the other indigenous grapes and the wine felt more complete, suggesting this is a good candidate for mid-term ageing.
Very Good + to Excellent
$50 at BLCDB