So, Chianti Classico is the first appellation in Italian viticultural history to apply a new quality tier to it’s wine. As of now, the term ‘Gran Selezione’, which slides in above ‘Riserva’ will be the benchmark label for the DOCG’s premium wines. Following last month’s approval by the shareholders of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, last year’s decision to introduce a new premium tier to the DOCG pyramid has come to fruition. Over 600 members voted in favour of the changes which they hope will spearhead a revolution in how the appellation’s great wines are perceived by the international consumer.
We shall wait and see I suppose. Supporters of the changes claim the move to be an important and innovative step in addressing how consumers engage with the top wines of Chianti Classico. The appellation is notoriously confusing to the uninitiated. Basic Chianti (actually a different appellation), which covers the six sub zones of Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina are not only radically different in style, they are ludicrously inconsistent in quality. The key to buying Chianti has always been to follow trusted producers or risk the perilous road of trial and error.
Chianti Classico though is different. Quality has never been as high as it has over the last few years and random buying will throw up far more treats than disappointments. Despite the trusted presence of the black rooster proudly gracing the bottles of Classico wines, the Chianti message has never been fully communicated. Ask the average punter in the UK and most will say Chianti is Chianti, Classico or not. Perhaps what is needed is a greater understanding of the terroirs that make Chianti Classico better than the rest. . . . and perhaps ‘Gran Selezione’ will help do that?
Critics of the ‘Gran Selezione’ tier, of which there is little shortage, have dismissed the idea as mainly marketing propaganda. Although the term can be applied to wines that are produced exclusively from estate grown fruit and released only after 30 months maturation, there have been suggestions that the concept is not far reaching enough. Many would like to see greater analysis of the variations which make some villages and even vineyards more ‘premium’ than others, not unlike a Burgundy Grand Cru and Premier Cru system.
Although the term Gran Selezione will only cover around 10% of the appellation’s wines I believe the move is a positive step. Any change to the rigid system of DOC and DOCGs has to been seen as progressive and will almost certainly provide precedent for other governing bodies to look at their own systems and ask whether they are truly the best vehicles with which to communicate the geographical and climatical intricacies of their wines. I can think of more than a few appellations around Italy that could do with tidying up.
The 2014 collection roadshow has begun though, starting in the impressive Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence and will go on to showcase the new wines at Pro-Wein in March, the U.S. in May, Canada in June and will conclude with a tour of the major Asian markets of China, South Korea and Japan.
I expect an endorsing reaction.