We mentioned on these pages not long ago that just when one thinks they have a firm grasp on the rules & regs…they change the rules! A new designation for Chianti Classico is the latest curveball. The good news is that this is what makes wine interesting; one can never know it all.
We have long thought that great Chianti Classico is among the world’s great wines. The problem is that there is a lot of Chianti Classico (and a whole bunch of Chianti normale) that is less than wonderful, which diffuses their esteem and place in the market. The folks in Chianti know this as well and for years have been working on upgrading production standards, starting way back in 1987 with the very ambitious ‘Chianti Classico 2000 Project’. The CC 2000 project attempted to determine and codify into practice things like the best clones on Sangiovese, the best rootstocks for each clone, matching soils to the right clone, etc., stuff that is now de rigueur for quality wine producers. Of course, since the Chianti zone has been producing wine—using the name Chianti—for almost a millennium there is a mix of just ok, to good, to optimal sites being used to produce wine there. Ditto on clonal materials: growers used to prefer clones that favored quantity over quality. Not to mention there was still much acreage devoted to the insipid white varietals that used to be part of Chianti’s official ‘recipe’.
The next project the Chianti Classico Consorzio focused on was the regionality of the area, i.e., is there a qualitative and/or stylistic differences among the different communes in the Classico zone. After many years of study—and politicking—it has been determined that there is. So…drumroll please: U.G.A.s have arrived. Additional Geographic Units are now authorized—commencing with the 2023 vintage—to be applied to Chianti Classico’s ‘Gran Selezione’* wines only (for now). There are 11 villages or zones (some zones are more than one village) that can be added to the label, ostensibly giving the consumer a greater indication of the style of the wine in the bottle. For those reading this that are lucky enough to have visited Chianti, there are slight but noticeable differences among the zones: tiny U.G.A. Lamole is at a higher altitude and noticeably cooler than say U.G.A. Castellina, so there is some logic in the move. Note please that this is quite different from the M.G.A.s recently added to the nomenclature in Barolo & Barbaresco.
However, though the soils, altitudes and exposures in the area at large are quite varied, that is also the case within any particular commune. Not just among neighbors, but sometimes within a single estate. While this was all being discussed, we had a conversation with the highly esteemed Paolo de Marchi–former proprietor of Isole e Olena—and he essentially said it was silly: “look at my property alone. I have two hills; Olena is warmer and has deeper soils—good in dry years—and the upper part of the hill is beautiful Galestro. Isole is mostly slate & limestone—very different fruit. And I have not yet mentioned if we are talking about the east or west side of the hill…which are completely different! To say that this estate or the village has any ‘uniformity’ of style is simply not so.”
Even if not completely conclusive, we think that the motivation for the U.G.A.s is noble. Any wine zone that devotes decades and millions of dollars on research in an orchestrated way to improve the quality of their wines is travelling the correct path. And, of course, as the tide goes up, ALL boats go up. Savvy wine drinkers will add Chianti Classico to their drinking rotation; the wines will continue to improve and deliver for decades to come.
*this could be a separate piece but commencing in 2014 (with mostly the 2010 vintage) estates can use this term for their best wines, which can be made from only estate vineyards, with a higher minimum content of Sangiovese, and they must pass a tasting panel. We have yet to try a Gran Selezione that wasn’t wonderful.