Chianti, Vino Nobile and Super-Tuscans

As far as 2006 and 2007 are concerned, wine lovers can revel in the knowledge that there probably have not been two better back-to-back vintages in Tuscany since the 1980s. Both 2006 and 2007 have produced many outstanding wines in a range of styles: from those with easy-drinking charm and early accessibility to long-term keepers that will go down in history as some of the best wines Tuscany has ever produced. Another point of interest is that the two vintages have yielded very different types of wine: the 2007s are generally fleshy and forward, while the 2006s are more refined, perhaps even slightly austere, but generally offer better overall balance. The best wines of 2006 will greatly repay cellaring, while the 2007s will be ready sooner—even those wines that usually require cellaring.

Clearly, though, owing to Tuscany’s diverse landscape and myriad vineyard exposures, altitudes and microclimates, it is hard to make blanket vintage statements. For example, 2007, a very warm vintage, is a major success in Chianti, where the usually cooler microclimate doesn’t always allow for optimal ripening of sangiovese, while wines from warmer Tuscan areas will not be as successful, as my numerous tastings of barrel samples and finished wines have already shown. In contrast, 2006 is typically much more successful in Montepulciano, as this is a warmer area than Chianti. In general, 2006 is a better year than 2004, another excellent recent vintage, because the earlier vintage was often characterized by high crop levels, and although many great wines were made, some betray an element of dilution.

The good news for wine lovers is that there have never been so many wonderful wines, especially from Chianti, that clearly showcase the merits of sangiovese, one of the world’s great grape varieties when it is grown in the right sites. I found countless examples of superb wines from the usual suspects, but it was especially encouraging to discover that many other estates never previously known for making sangiovese or sangiovese-based wines of great purity are now coming up with wines that flaunt the lovely sour red cherry, redcurrant, mineral and floral aromas that characterize high-quality examples of this variety. A typical sangiovese should not smell and taste only of dark fruits, tar, black pepper, cedar, graphite and anchovy, especially when it’s from cooler parts of Tuscany such as Chianti.

My hope is that IWC readers who have less experience with wines made wholly with sangiovese (as well as those that include small percentages of local native grapes such as malvasia nera or canaiolo nero) will gain a better understanding and appreciation of the wines it can produce. Certainly the many laughably high scores awarded in recent years by some other English-language publications to sangiovese and sangiovese-based wines that were ridiculously dark, and far removed from anything resembling true sangiovese wines, have done the wines of Chianti and Montepulciano a real disservice.

In fact, most wine lovers complain that it’s hard to understand what a Chianti ought to smell or taste like. This state of affairs is largely due to toothless legislation that aims to please everyone, allowing for up to 20% of grapes as different as syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malvasia nera, colorino and canaiolo nero in the final blend. And Vino Nobile, which deserves to be one of the world’s best-known wines owing to its potentially superb location for sangiovese, must also grapple with an image problem and difficult sales because the prevalence of international grape varieties in most of the wines made there has robbed this historically important, quality-conscious appellation of the “somewhereness” that wine lovers prize. This problem seems to escape many shortsighted politicians and wine producers. (I should point out that this is an altogether different situation from that of Carmignano, where cabernet sauvignon has been always part of the historic blend, and where this variety seems to complement sangiovese rather than dominate it.) In any case, anybody who tries the wines of estates such as Boscarelli, Castell’in Villa, Le Cinciole, Felsina, Monte Vertine, Selvapiana—to name just a few of those covered in this article—will get a true picture of the greatness that sangiovese can achieve.

My Tuscany report focuses on the red wines of Chianti, Montepulciano and a few lesser-known areas such as Cortona, which is quickly gaining recognition as Italy’s best region for syrah. (An in-depth report on Brunello di Montalcino will be published on this site within the next couple weeks.) I have also included notes in this article on Vin Santo, Tuscany’s traditional dessert wine, and a few rosés. Along with famous wines such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico, I also describe the Super-Tuscan wines made by the estates in these areas. (Many more Super-Tuscans will be described in an upcoming report that will be devoted mainly to the Tuscan coast.) Besides the syrahs of Cortona, wine lovers may also want to pay special attention to the often very good but undervalued wines of Carmignano and of the Chianti Rufina, the highest and coolest part of Chianti, a growing area that can produce particularly graceful and ageworthy wines.

Rome-based Ian D’Agata has been writing and lecturing about wine for more than 20 years and is currently the director of the International Wine Academy of Rome. Among his writing credits, he has written parts of several editions of Gambero Rosso’s Italian wine guide and has co-authored a number of wine books, including one on Italy’s native grape varieties. D’Agata’s in-depth reports on the wines of Southern Italy, Northeast Italy and the Tuscan Coast have appeared in past issues of the International Wine Cellar.