IF CHIANTI Classico is one of the best wine bargains today -- some fine examples are available locally for under $4 a bottle -- it is not because of the little old wine-maker using primitive techniques and cheap labor. Rather, it is largely because many sublimely wealthy industrialists from Milan and elsewhere in Italy have purchased and revitalized prime Chianti property, subsidizing their wine efforts from their personal resources.
One industrialist who literally packed it in to go into wine-making is Raffaele Rossetti, who less than a decade ago was running a lucrative family packaging and plastics business in Rome. Then in 1972 he and his wife, Gabriella, decided that they should live a country gentlemen's existence. They purchased a property, known as Capannelle which was a farm near Gaiole in Chianti with a few vines interspersed among other crops (known as "promiscuous" vines).
Starting with enthusiasm, but no knowledge, Rossetti hired Antonio Mazzoni, a highly respected ecologist. They proceed to tear out everything but a few of the best old vines and replanted in the modern style, in rows. They also installed shiny stainless steel fermentation tanks and new Yugoslavian oak aging vats. Equipment was purchased on one standard -- "the best." The floors, for example, are 1/2-inch thick German terracotta tiles, totally impervious to liquids and so strong a tractor can run over them without making a scratch. Even the storage racks are special -- chestnut shelving held together by stainless steel bolts reinforced by stainless steel rods. All this is in the large area underneath the Rossetti's beautifully renovated 325-year-old house.
By spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment, Rossetti vaulted himself into the select but growing company of Chianti Classico producers who make 20,000 to 30,000 bottles a year of excellent wine. But Rossetti was not satisfied to be one of many or even a few. So he has done something no one else was doing in Chianti -- or apparently anywhere else. He has put out a limited edition of reservas with 18-karat gold or sterling silver labels, each containing 23 grams of metal. They come in bottle (three fourths of a liter) and huge five liter sizes. Depending on the metals market, a gold-labeled bottle costs upwards of $500 while a silver one costs upwards of $60.
In a matter-of-fact and charming way, Rossetti explains that he set out to make the finest wine so decided to have the finest label. Hence, gold and silver. Selling 100 bottles a year of the gold label has been no problem.
Rossetti cheerfully admits that his plan to become a country gentleman fizzled. "Before, I went skiing or to the beach," he explained recently through an interpreter. "Now I don't. I work twice as hard. I'm the slave labor in the vineyard. There's a saying: 'To produce wine one must be a poet or crazy.' I've decided I'm both."
Until this month, Capannelle Chianti Classico sold at four shops -- in Milan, Rome, Florence and Greve in Chianti. By the end of October there will be a fifth. Mayflower wines & Spirits at 2115 M Street, NW, will be selling an excellent 1977 classico and a powerful, balanced and remarkable 1975 reserva .
No, there will not be any gold or silver labels available.