Tuscany Strikes Back – New Chianti Classico classification

The Chianti Classico revolution: what’s new in the land of the Black Rooster
Press Conference at the ‘Tuscany Strikes Back’ tasting at Somerset House, 23rd April 2013

Albert Eistein, a man who knows a thing or two about the difference between complication and simplicity, once said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” This was brought to my mind on April 23rd, when the great and the good of the wine writing world (and I) gathered in a packed room in Somerset House for a press conference to introduce the ‘Chianti Classico Revolution” at the combattantly named ‘Tuscany Strikes Back’ tasting. Perhaps the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico could take Einstein’s message to heart, too.

Here’s the deal: the old Chianti Classico appellation featured two levels: Chianti Classico, and Chianti Classic Riserva. With the new classification, a head has been added to this quality pyramid: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, so that the hierarchy now looks a lot more like the Rioja format of Rioja, Rioja Reserva, and Rioja Gran Reserva. So far, so simple, and, in my view, a logical step. Here are the descriptions of the three levels:

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione
• Grapes must be grown by the winery itself
• Minimum aging requirements: 30 months, including 3 months of bottle aging
• Stricter chemical and sensory parameters

Chianti Classico Riserva
• Minimum aging requirements: 24 months, inlcuding 3 months of bottle aging
• New chemical and organoleptic parameters

Chianti Classico
• New chemical and organoleptic parameters

Views vary on the usefulness of the new category. On the plus side, it is the first true category in the appellation purposely made for estate-grown wines (plus it provides an attractive point to the pyramid), however, on the minus, there are general concerns about the necessity of a new quality tier. Silvia Fiorentini, who presented the new system for the Consorzio, said “people are confused between Chianti and Chianti Classico,” which, for me, begs the question: “then why make it even more confusing?” I wonder what Einstein would say?

Among some rather grumpy question, was a very pertinent one from Steven Spurrier. Producers will submit their wines for classification 30 months after the vintage (although this date seemed to be slightly fuzzy in the discussion) to a committee. Steven asked: “Who would the committee comprise of?” unfortunately the answer was that it would be that old chestnut ‘industry experts’. “But who exactly would these be?” he continued. The answer that it would be experts from both the region and outside it didn’t seem to dispel the fear that the same conflict of interest issues which have plagued both the Saint Emilion and Cru Bourgeois classifications would pop up here too. Italians, however, from my experience, seem to have a rather different way of dealing with such problems to the French. Rather than arguing (rather expensively, in court) about such things, a little bit of shoulder shrugging takes place, influence is exerted, and another appellation is entered into the books. The French, though, still have the apposite expression: “Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose” (the more it changes, the more it stays the same.)

A tasting of Chianti Classico, conducted by a very nervous looking Andrea Rinaldi followed the presentation. “Would all the wines in the tasting be considered ‘Gran Selezione’ by the committee, in his opinion?” I asked. “Oh yes, of course” was both his, and Silvia Fiorentini’s answer, as expected. I wonder if they will be on the committee?