Last time in Bristol Wine Blog, I said that we had been on a trip to Tuscany to taste some Chianti. We travelled with Arblaster and Clarke (www.winetours.co.uk) in a small group very ably hosted by Master of Wine, Jane Hunt, and stayed in the heart of the Chianti Classico wine region in the hamlet of Fonterutoli, one of the famous names of Chianti and in the same ownership for over 550 years.
Our schedule of wine visits read like a Who’s Who of Chianti’s best producers: Ricasoli, Badia a Coltibuono, Selvapiana and these, together with a number of lesser known estates (but not for long!) did not disappoint. My particular memories? Almost too many to mention, but the glorious countryside of the Tuscan hills – still green after one of the wettest summers on record – showed, once again why this has been a favourite tourist destination for so long.
The passion of the winemakers, too, not least at Castellare, where we were left in no doubt about the importance of preserving the traditions of Chianti – and of their contempt for the new Gran Selezione designation (see my previous Blog). And, tasting their wines over dinner meant that we were enjoying them as they should be enjoyed; Italian wines are meant to be drunk with food.
A ‘vertical tasting’ (no, that’s not a tasting conducted standing up, but one where several different vintages of the same wine are on offer!) at Terrabianca demonstrated just how much climate variation from year to year affects the wines as well as how bottles from 1997 through to 2008 were developing, but the real proof of the longevity of top quality Chianti was shown at Selvapiana, where a bottle from 1969 (the year I left school!) was still fresh, harmonious and beautifully mellow, despite its 45 years.
Sadly, with the airline security rules these days, there was little chance to buy anything from the vineyards, but wines from most of Chianti’s top estates are exported widely. 2 things to bear in mind if you are buying: every producer we spoke to was complaining about the weather this summer, so, when they eventually get to the shops, wines from 2014 are unlikely to be great. And, as I said last time, Chianti can range from the outstanding to the barely drinkable; the outstanding is definitely not cheap and the cheap, I fear, will, more than likely, disappoint.