Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: Quality Quells Critics

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: Quality Quells Critics
Sergio Zingarelli, President of the Chianti Classico Consorzio

In February 2014, the Chianti Classico Consorzio officially debuted the newest category of Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione—touted as the crowning glory in the denomination’s revamped quality pyramid. The launch came amid a mixture of fanfare, doubts and sharp criticism from journalists, buyers and even local producers.

One of the main points of contention is the name itself: not only is there already so much confusion over the various names connected with the term Chianti (such as Chianti Classico, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, etc.) but most consumers—as well as a surprising number of wine writers and others in the trade—still don’t realize that Chianti Classico and Chianti are actually two separate wines with different production regulations. This leaves many asking, why would anyone want to add another mystifying layer to Chianti Classico?

Other critics of Gran Selezione say that rather than create a new category of wine, the consorzio and its producers should focus instead on officially delimiting its varied growing area. They feel, and rightly so, that authorized subzones would help consumers begin to understand the differences in the wines hailing from the denomination’s nine townships, all of which boast an array of different soils and vineyard altitudes.

Gran Selezione has been in the US market for about a year now, and the wine’s overall high quality has silenced or converted many of its original critics. “When we launched in early 2014, there were only 30 labels. Now there are over 90 labels of Gran Selezione, and the number is growing. Even some producers who initially spoke out against Gran Selezione are now making one or planning on doing so,” says Sergio Zingarelli, president of the consorzio and owner of the Rocca delle Macìe estate.

One of those skeptics, Paolo De Marchi, owner of Isole e Olena, is perhaps the most high profile convert, but he’s by no means 100% satisfied with the new classification. “If a producer is going to make a Gran Selezione, it should at least be a new, different wine. It shouldn’t just be a firm’s former Chianti Classico Riserva that’s had an extra six months aging, or a wine that used to be labeled as an IGT,” claims De Marchi. His limited production 2006 Gran Selezione, made with 80% Sangiovese, 8% Syrah and 12% Cabernet Franc and released last year, is just such a wine. Made to honor the 50th anniversary of when his father bought the estate in 1956 and to mark his own 30th anniversary of when he joined the firm, De Marchi wanted to combine the “elegance and drinkability of Chianti Classico with the structure of a Super Tuscan”. It was originally destined solely for his family’s enjoyment.  According to De Marchi,  “I’ll make a Gran Selezione only in truly exceptional years. My next one—2010—won’t be released until 2018 because it needs at least four years bottle aging.”

Laura Bianchi of the Castello di Monsanto estate asked for and received authorization to convert her next vintage of the firm’s iconic Il Poggio Riserva to a Gran Selezione, but is still undecided if she’ll actually label the wine a Gran Selezione. “Gran Selezione has been a success in terms of marketing and getting people to talk about Chianti Classico. But it doesn’t promote the role of terroir. My family has been making Il Poggio, a single vineyard Riserva, for 50 years, and in my opinion Gran Selezione should be regulated to highlight the importance of a single vineyard and not merely a wine made with estate grapes or grapes from a leased vineyard.”

Despite the criticism, Gran Selezione is definitely a big step up in the Chianti Classico quality pyramid and in my opinion, it deserves its lofty position above the straight Chianti Classico and Riserva. Besides its mandatory 30-month aging period before release, it’s also the first—and so far only—Italian wine that by law must be made solely with estate grapes (or with grapes from vineyards leased by the same firm that vinifies and bottles the wine). This cuts out the large wine merchants who buy and bottle bulk wine that is so often of inferior quality, a practice that over the years has greatly damaged Chianti Classico’s reputation.

There’s definitely room for improvement in the Gran Selezione regulations, and while I hope Chianti Classico will follow Barolo and Barbaresco’s example of delimiting its growing zone, in the end what counts is what’s in the bottle. And my recent reviews of 75 Gran Selezione—51 of which I gave 90 points or higher—have demonstrated that the quality in general is downright fantastic, with many wines boasting an enviable combination of structure, finesse and complexity.

Check out my reviews of Gran Selezione here.

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Published on June 18, 2015
Topics: ChiantiEditor SpeakItaly