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Planned Obsolescence for Wine Nerds

The Chianti Classico Version

Without going too far down a rabbit hole, in the 50’s and 60’s U.S. auto manufacturers practiced something called ‘planned obsolescence’ where they purposely built cars that were not too durable, thereby causing consumers to replace their cars/parts more quickly than could have been accomplished. As lovers of capitalism, we sort of applaud the audacity. However, when Japan started shipping in better built cars—for less money—the jig was up, and the quality of U.S. built autos soared.

Pertaining to wine, happily many, many in the trade these days pride themselves in having extensive technical and especially geographic knowledge about wine; any sales professional should know as much as possible about the products they sell, and wine is now no different. However, for those of you that have done your due diligence and know everything about wine, we have bad news for you: your expertise is now obsolete. Like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown again and again, just when you have things figured out, they change the rules. Chianti Classico is the latest major wine region to tweak their rules a bit.

The Chianti region—the oldest known delineated wine zone (the 15th century…possibly earlier)—has long had a schizophrenic roster of wines: the best are among the world’s great wines, boasting richness, power, color and complexity. But some versions are thin, pale, tart and insipid…and they are all called Chianti. Even within the Classico Zone (the high-rent district), there are better and worse locales and better and worse winemakers. To highlight and encourage the better wines, the Consorzio created a new sub-category in 2014 called ‘Gran Selezione’, ostensibly to clearly identify the top wines from an estate. The wines must be from the Classico zone only, estate fruit only, and require higher alcohol (power) and additional ageing. By and large though, most wineries just rebranded their Classico Riserva as Gran Selezione and went about business as usual; nothing new but some rules.

Now the Consorzio has implemented a move long discussed by some vintners: Unita Geographiche Aggiuntive, or UGA. This essentially breaks down the Chianti Classico zone into sub-zones, mostly based on specific communes/villages. Ostensibly, this will indicate more specific personality/character for the wines from a smaller zone, so ‘educated’ consumers can look for a Chianti from the Greve area which in theory would taste similar to its neighbors, as opposed to a Chianti from say, Castellina-in-Chianti. However, in the words of one VERY highly regarded Chianti Classico producer when we were visiting a few years ago: ‘Look at this hill. This side slopes to the east; this side slopes to the west. The soil on this side is galestro; on the other side it is more slate & limestone. The wines from the various plots on this hill are quite dissimilar, so giving them the name of our village—as if there is some sort of unanimity—is crazy to me’. The 2020 vintage will be the first permitted use of this new (still proposed) rule.

So, the bad news is that in a year or so, all of your wine books will be obsolete to some degree if one wants to be a nitpicker–though some things never change, ie geography/geology. The good news —and the very best thing about wine and wine study—is that this trail never ends: one can study, learn everything, and that everything is constantly changing, adjusting to reality and whim. It’s the very thing that makes wine itself so fascinating. Geek has been a wine geek for 40 years, and every day, he learns something new. That is the beauty of wine.

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