Banville Wine Merchants organized a tasting recently featuring the relatively new Chianti Classico UGA (Additional Geographic Units) classifications. I was very happy to attend since Chianti Classico has always been one of my favorite wines and I am interested in the ways in which the producers are trying to improve these wines.
The speaker was the renowned Italian cartographer, Alessandro Masnaghetti. I had heard him speak on the same topic last spring along with Giovanni Manetti, President of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and owner of Fontodi. What follows is a composite of the two events.
The “old” Classification
Masnaghetti explained how the project developed and how the UGAs reflect defined expressions of the Chianti Classico territory. The UGA classification system differentiates and highlights the differences in climate and soil type of 11 villages of the Chianti Classico region.
The “new” classification system, approved in June 2021, for now applies only to the Gran Selezione (GS) category of wines which are the only ones allowed to add the specific UGA mention on the label. The 11 villages were identified based on specific criteria such as oenological recognizability, historical authenticity, renown, and significance in terms of volumes produced: San Casciano, Greve, Montefioralle, Lamole, Panzano, Radda, Gaiole, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Vagliagli, Castellina, San Donato in Poggio.
Masnaghetti said variations in soil composition, elevation exposure, and slope steepness can result in distinctive wines even within a small geographical boundary and Chianti Classico’s new UGA’s are a way for wine makers to express this.
In Barolo they passed a similar measure resulting in 181 new MGA’s (Mention Geografica Aggiuntive) in a region only 5 percent of Chianti Classico’s size.
Masnaghetti said that the phrase, “the territory makes the difference”, has always been a favorite motto. Chianti Classico is a truly unique territory covered two-thirds by woodland and only one-tenth is devoted to wine growing, with more than 50% dedicated to organic farming (52.5% of the area under vine). The wines with UGA names will be limited to Gran Selezione, one of the three types of Chianti Classico: the other two being annata (vintage) and riserva. Any Gran Selezione that will include a UGA on the label must contain a minimum of 90 percent Sangiovese (currently, that minimum is 80 percent); international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot will not be permitted in these Gran Selezione wines, as only indigenous varieties including Canaiolo, Colorino and Mammolo will be allowed as a maximum of 10 percent of the blend.
The introduction of the UGA’s represents an epochal turning point for the denomination, a change of perspective that leads producers and their wines to be no longer single actors, but expressions of a territory in relation to each other.
These changes will enhance the understanding of Chianti Classico wines and the terroir from which it is derived. I personally applaud the elimination of international grape varieties in Gran Selezione Chianti Classico and the exclusive use of indigenous grapes.
Masnaghetti presented 5 wines and discussed the difference between them to show that the new classification was justified.
Fattoria Cigliano di Sopra 2020 San Casciano made from 100% Sangiovese from the 0.3 hectare vineyard planted in 1982. The exposure is south-east and elevation is 250 meters. Vallone vineyard planted in 2004 with a western exposure at 260 meters. The soil composition is a mix of clay and sand rich in limestone and alberese rocks. There are 5,000 plants per hectare and the training system is headed-spur cordon. Grapes are picked by hand and de-stemmed gently, fermentation happens with wild yeasts naturally present on the berry skins in open top steel tanks. During the fermentation long pump overs are done twice a day in the first half and reduced in duration and frequency going towards the end. At the end of the fermentation and during the maceration, punch downs are done to extract gently phenolic and aromatic compounds from the grape skins. Fermentation and maceration process lasted for about 25 days. The free run juice and a small part of the press wine is transferred into large French oak barrels, 20% new, where the malolactic fermentation take place naturally. The aging lasts for 14 months, racking is done just when necessary to let the lees present at the bottom of the barrels continue to nourish the wine during the aging process. After aging the wine is racked gently taking care to remove all the lees and transferred for a brief period into steel tanks before bottling. No filtration or fining is done before bottling and the usage of sulphur during the whole process is kept to a strict minimum. The wine has hints of pomegranate, cherry, with a touch of black cherry and a note of violets. The winery is located in the northern most part of the Chianti Classico area. $35
I Fabbri “Lamole” 2020 Lamole made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso di Lamole with vineyards at 630 meters which are organic. Wild yeast is used. The wine is not filtered or fined. Aging is in cement tanks for 12 months and then for 3 months in bottle. The wine has hints of red fruit, cherry and pomegranate.
Fattoria Le Masse 2020 San Donato in Poggio made from 100% Sangiovese. Manual harvest takes place in the middle of October. Fermentation with indigenous yeasts is between 35 and 45 days of maceration on the skins in small steel tanks without temperature control, manual stirring and without the use of pumps and sulfites. Aging is for one year in 2,25 hL and 5hl barrels where spontaneous malolactic fermentation takes place. The wine matures on the lees which are in suspension by batonnage for the first 5 months. The wine remains in bottle for a minimum of 8 months before release.
Tolaini “Mello” 2020 Gaile made from 100% Sangiovese single vineyard at 700 meters. Soil is Macigno del Chianti non- calcareous sandstone. There are 5,000 vines per hectare and they were planted in 2001. Manual harvest takes place the second half of October. The grapes are stemmed and the best are selected by an optical sorting. Whole berries are put in bronco-conic Austrian oak tanks and terracotta Amphorae. Fermentation is with natural yeasts and the musts are kept in contact with the skins for 45 days. Gentle punch downs are done in the first 10 days of skin contact. Aging is in 25HL Austrian oak casks for 18 months of which 6 months are on the lees. The wine remains in bottle for 8 months before release. This is a medium bodied wine with hints of raspberries, red cherry and violets.
Francesco Rosi the enologist of Tolaini spoke about the winery. I was very impressed by the wines
Tolaini Vallenuova 2020 Cantelnuovo Berardenga made from 95%Sanviovese and 5% Canaiolo. The soil is silty clay, rich in limestone with a high percentage of stones. There are 7,350 plants per hectare planted in 2000. Grapes are first selected during harvest in the vineyard and then by an optical sorter when they arrive at the winery; they are destemmed and the whole berries are immediately placed in stainless steel tanks. Fermentation is temperature controlled, and the must is kept in contact with the skins for 20 days. The wine matures for 10 months in a mix of Tuscan, Slavonian, and Austrian oak casks. The wine has hints of black cherry, tobacco, a touch of licorice and a note of spice.
We also received a copy of Masnaghetti’s book CHIANTI CLASSICO: The Atlas of the Vineyards and the UGA’s.
I do not know when all of this will go into effect for the Gran Selezione, or when and if it will include the other Chianti Classico wines.
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