Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Tuscan Wine Masters Academy, Chianti Classico

The next DOCG we learned about at The Tuscan Wine Masters Academy was the appellation of Chianti Classico. The Chianti Classico region is the oldest and first delimited wine production zone in Italy. Back in 1716 the Medici Grand Duke Cosimo III issued an edict about its boundaries and these have remained virtually unchanged since. Chianti Classico covers about 100 square miles between Florence and Siena. Approximately 40 million bottles of Chianti Classico are produced every year and the U.S. represents 36% of all sales, the most in the world!

The heart and soul of Chianti Classico is the Sangiovese grape and the production regulations for Chianti Classico are very stringent. By DOCG law the wines must contain at least 80% Sangiovese, producers are allowed to blend up to 20% of of indigenous grapes like Canaiolo, Colorino, and outside grapes grown in the region such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Due to recent changes in the laws producers can now use 100% Sangiovese. Hard to believe but up until 2006 the wines could be blended with local white grapes like Trebbiano or Malvasia. Thank goodness that's no longer allowed, it's all red now. Chianti Classico must contain at least 12% alcohol and can not be released until after October 1st of the year following the harvest, 24 months for a Riserva. Some recent top vintages are 2007, 2006 and 2004 so look for these on the shelves at your local wine shop.

The Wines:

Chianti wines are probably the Italian wine that consumers in the U.S. are most familiar with. From the bottle in the wicker basket found on the table at many Italian restaurants all the way up to Chianti Classico Riserva's the pricing and selection can be anywhere from $6 up to $60+ a bottle. To be sure you're getting good quality look for the DOCG label on the neck of the bottle, this will ensure you're getting the good stuff. We tasted 10 different Chianti's during the tasting portion of the class, here's my pick along with a couple Chianti Classico's that I enjoy on a regular basis.

Querceto di Castellina

Chianti Classico L'Aura 2007
90% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo and Merlot
Alcohol 14%, 14 months in Oak.

The Querceto starts with a bit of vanilla on the nose, the oak is present but not overpowering. With this wine being a 2007 it's very young and should come into balance nicely. Nice palate of spice and red fruit. Nice acidity and a fresh and crisp finish. Nice wine. Look to spend $21 to $23 a bottle.

2006 Fattoria di Felsina

Chianti Classico Felsina Berardenga 2006
100% Sangiovese, 12 months in Oak

The Felsina is a regular favorite of ours to go back to every vintage. In addition to the regular Chianti Classico bottling we also drink the Riserva and Felsina's special single vineyard bottling the Rancia. Expect an explosive nose of flowers and fruit. This smells like Italy to me, vanilla, cherries, and leather. Good balance and goes great with any Italian food from a meat and cheese plate to heavy red sauces. You can find all the Felsina wines locally at Binny's or Wine Discount Center.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Tuscan Wine Masters Academy

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to attend a new U.S. education initiative sponsored by the Consorzi of Brunell di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The classes, "The Tuscan Wine Masters Academy" consisted of classroom study and tastings. I'm a big fan of these three prestigious D.O.C.G. Tuscan wine regions and the Sangiovese grape in general, and was very excited to participate! Upon successful completion of the courses I earned professional certification in the wines of Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano! Feel free to hit me up for all your Tuscan wine needs as I'm now a certified Tuscan Wine Master! Special thanks to the Chicago Wine School and M. Young Communications for putting on a fantastic series of classes.

The Venue: BIN36

Our classroom and tasting sessions were held in the loft area at BIN36. If you haven't been to BIN36 before it's a must visit for any wine enthusiast. In addition to great wine and cheese selections they also have a retail store and a wonderful menu too.

Our instructor: Patrick Fegan, Director of the Chicago Wine School Patrick's knowledge of wine is amazing, he' the only Chicagoan to have passed the exam given by London's Institute of Masters of Wine, he's been teaching since 1975. Patrick delivered the material with a good sense of humor and kept the class interesting and entertaining.

We covered a good deal of material so I'm going to break down the classes and tastings into three separate posts by DOCG.

First up is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (VNdiM.) VNdiM has often been described as "the wine of kings" and enjoys DOCG status shared by only 40 other wines in Italy. VNdiM is a blend of Sangiovese known locally as Prugnolo Gentile, and small amounts of other red grape varieties (max of 20%) such as Canaiolo, Colorino, and a few others like Cab Sauv and Merlot. In 2009 about 7.5 million bottles were produced and 18% of that made it into the USA. In 1989 the DOCG relaxed its rules allowing for 100% Sangiovese although many producers contuine to blend a few different grapes. The wine must be at least 70% Sangiovese and must age for 2 years before release, (3 years for a riserva.) If you come across a Rosso di Montepulciano this is a lesser wine grown in the region that is typically newer vines and requires less ageing before release. The Rosso's are more light bodied and ready to drink sooner, their lower price point would also make them a good weeknight wine.

The Wines:

During the tasting portion of the class we tried 6 different VNdiM and 1 Rosso. I'll recommend a few of my favorites.

Le Berne Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2006,
97% Sangiovese and 3% Colorino
14% Alcohol, aged 24 months in oak

The Le Berne is a medium to full bodied and concentrated VNdiM. Nose of black cherry and baking spice, the red fruit carries over to the palate. The wine is powerful and tannic and will no doubt benefit from a year or two in the cellar. An exciting and complex wine. You should be able to find this wine for under $30, let me know if I can help you track it down, I'll take a few bottles for myself.

Lodola Nuova Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2006
95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
14% alcohol, aged 18 months in Oak
The Lodola Nuova was lighter in color, very fragrant and floral nose. Cherry and red fruits on the clean, crisp palate. Light and bright with a 15 second finish. This is much more accessible than the Le Berne and ready to drink now. This should be readily available for around $21 and is a good entry level wine for VNdiM.
That's all for now, stay tuned for notes on Chianti Classico and Brunello coming soon!