Last summer, the famed chianti classico wine-producing region in Italy's Tuscany became the fifth area to receive the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), Italy's most rigid recognition of wine quality.
Previously, the two northern Piedmontese wine-producing regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, and the twin tiny wine hamlets in Tuscany called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino, received the much sought-after recognition. DOCG is similar to France's wine quality control known as the appellation contro le'e.
In both countries, these regulations are aimed at insuring the quality and authenticity of a wine. Under such laws, the grape varieties planted are restricted to only proven types for that region, the yield per acre is limited to prevent overcropping, and under the DOCG regulations, wine cannot be sold in bulk, but only in the bottle. Lastly, the DOCG imposes an even more strict requirement on the chianti classico producer in that the producer's wine must be submitted to a tasting panel for a quality evaluation prior to being given official DOCG status and offered for sale to the consumer.
For chianti classico, the most famous of the chianti wine-producing regions, the regulations should improve quality measurably.
First, the frequently frail color of many chianti classicos and the washed out flavors should be less of a problem in the future.
Why? Well, the yield of grapes produced per acre has been restricted by a whopping 35 percent. This will no doubt prevent greedy and careless growers from overcropping, and thereby diluting the personality and character of the wine.
Secondly, the new DOCG regulations restrict the percentage of white wine used in the blend for making red chianti classico from an existing 10 to 30 percent to a new minimum of 2 percent, but no more than 5 percent.
In addition, a grower in chianti classico can now use up to 10 percent of a grape variety not previously permitted to be planted in the chianti classico zone. For those producers who have successfully experimented with grapes like cabernet sauvignon and merlot, such a change is seen as giving the wines more character, complexity and personality.
In theory, the new rules should ostensibly improve the quality of the chianti classico wines. Over the past few years, more and more of the top quality chianti producers have begun to produce wines with much higher percentages of sangiovese, the major red wine grape of chianti, than permitted by law.
Additionally, they have also gone outside of the law to blend in their wine such unofficial and unrecognized grape varieties as the cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The most notable and successful of these wines (the sassicaia from San Guido, the grifi from Avignonesi, the pergole torte from Monte Vertine, the tignanello from Antinori, the coltassala from the Castello di Volpaia and the monte antico) have all been pricey examples of such wines that have had connoisseurs queuing up to purchase them at well over $10 a bottle.
Their unquestioned success, as well as high quality, has had many Italian wine enthusiasts up in arms about how archaic the former laws for producing chianti are. No doubt, the new regulations passed last summer have created a great degree of optimism and hope for chianti's most meticulous producers.
However, the real truth and ultimate test for an improved quality of wine from chianti classico will be in 1985 when the first wines made under the new regulations appear on the market. Wine Briefs
Few of us get the opportunity to purchase mature, savory, complex vintages of wine. One of chianti classico's best producers, the firm of Fossi, generally well-known to local wine enthusiasists for its reasonably priced, well-made chianti classicos, is one of the few producers of this region to keep extensive stocks of older wines in its wine library. The firm has just released a significant number of its old wines. They are deliciously mature, complex chianti classicos and are available for sale at prices that are remarkably fair.
At a recent tasting of these Fossi wines from virtually every vintage between 1958 and 1979, my favorites included the excellent 1966 ($11.29), the 1964 ($13.49), the 1962 ($15.79), the 1959 ($17.99), and the 1971 ($10.50). All of the aforementioned wines exhibited the spicy, leathery, ripe fruity aromas of a top-notch, mature chianti as well as an excellent concentration of fruit and a robust, full-bodied texture that gives the sensation of dust particles in the mouth.
Those who have followed French wine prices for comparable bordeaux and burgundy of a similar age, certainly realize that the above Italian chiantis from Fossi are one-third the price of a similar French bordeaux or burgundy. These wines are distributed locally by the Kronheim Co., which claims the availability is quite good.