Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Barone Ricasoli: The Past & Future of Chianti Classico
Established in 1141, it may be the oldest winery in Italy, the second oldest in the world. In 1141, the family of Barone Ricasoli was granted the Brolio Castle and it became a powerful stronghold for Florence, later helping defend the land against Siena. Wine making was one of their first pursuits and it has continued throughout the centuries. In the late 17th century, their wines were being traded all over Europe. It is easy to say that wine seems to be the sap in their family tree.
The most famous member of this family was Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809 – 1880), also known as the "Iron Baron." In 1861, Bettino became the Prime Minister of the newly formed Italy. Though known as an adept politician, it was his intense research and study of wine that gave him renown. He created the basic formula for the Chianti blend, 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo (to smooth the tannins) and 15% Malvasia bianca (to make it more drinkable when fresh). This basic formula, with some slight revision, was eventually codified into law in 1966. Thus the name Ricasoli is rich with history and reputation, setting a high precedent for future generations. That is a precedent that the current Baron of Brolio intends to live up to and make proud.
The 2011 Torricella IGT ($22-$24) has been a proprietary name for over a century, and used to be made with Malvasia bianca. In 1994, it was changed to Chardonnay and then in the last few years, some Sauvignon Blanc has been added. For this vintage, the blend was 80% Chardonnay and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, and each grape was fermented separately. The wine was fresh and crisp, with prominent grapefruit and citrus flavors and a bit of minerality. It reminded me much more of a Sauvignon Blanc than a Chardonnay, and would be a nice summer wine.
The 2010 Brolio Chianti Classico ($24) is more of a modern style, their "bread and butter" wine. At the winery, we were told the wine is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, though the website states it has 15% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has bright flavors of red fruits, cherry and strawberry, with some vanilla and spice notes. The tannins are smooth and it is a wine with some power, though not overly so, possessing a good balance. Though I prefer a traditional style, this was one of the best modern style Chianti Classicos that I tasted.
My favorite wine of the tasting was the 2008 Colledila Chianti Classico ($50s), a single vineyard Sangiovese produced in a more traditional style. This is only the second vintage of this wine, and Colledila is the name of the vineyard, a small, 7 hectare plot. Only about 14,000 bottles are produced annually. This was a superb wine, elegant, complex and compelling. It has an intriguing melange of flavors, cherry, violets, spice, herbs and a little earthiness. Great acidity and a lengthy, satisfying finish. A perfect wine to accompany a fine meal, from pasta to beef, and I bought a couple bottles to take home with me.
The 2008 Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico ($55) is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is not made every vintage, and they skipped the 2002 and 2009 vintages. It seems to straddle the line between traditional and modern, being both elegant and rustic yet also has more dark fruit flavors, such as ripe plum, with strong vanilla notes and underlying spices. It is more tannic and is definitely a food wine that might benefit from a bit more aging. I enjoyed this wine, though my personal preference is still a more traditional style.