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It took almost 1,000 years

Sleek and intense: San Felice, an ancient Roman hamlet that serves as a town, a hotel and a winery (Photograph supplied)

Finally, in 2020, a special day was created to celebrate a wine that was first produced almost 1,000 years ago in Tuscany, and so we now celebrate National Chianti Day on the first Friday of every September.

In the 1970s, when I first became involved with wine, the rather squat, straw-covered bottles known as fiascos were all the rage and the word chianti could claim to be the most familiar one in our world of red wine.

It started off as a white wine. By 1872 the chianti recipe suggested 70 per cent sangiovese and then two white grapes – canaiolo 15 per cent and malvasia bianca 15 per cent.

Today’s regulations are too complex to discuss in detail but white wine grapes are no longer required and sangiovese must be at least 80 per cent. The rest is pretty much up to the winery, with even French varieties such as merlot being added.

I will give examples of plain chianti, chianti classico, chianti classico reserva and a new category since 2014 called chianti classico gran selezione. They will range from very quaffable everyday, to absolutely beautiful, as stricter and more detailed requirements, such as particular vineyard locations and ageing, come in to play.

The Piccini family winery, founded in 1882, offers a wide range of styles and qualities, but they are particularly known for their entry-level chianti that they produce for the world market demanding pleasant, but inexpensive enjoyment. Wine Enthusiast magazine sums it up well when they comment on the 2019 Piccini Chianti: “Tilled soil and red-berry aromas lead the nose on this bright easygoing red. On the light-bodied palate, fresh acidity and soft tannins delicately support juicy red cherry and a hint of clove. Simple but well made, it's ideal for everyday fare or to pour at large gatherings. 86/100.”

Truthfully, you can always find a few bottles at the ready in our home. The price is a quite remarkable $16.85 (Stock #7961).

Now I am thinking of San Felice, a 1000-year-old Roman hamlet with a winery, a place where you can stay on holiday and one of the finest restaurants that I have ever eaten in. Their extremely talented winemaker, Leonardo, has been our house guest here.

The 2019 San Felice Chianti Classico incorporates the required 80 per cent sangiovese along with colorino and pugitello, the final variety rescued from a single surviving vine by this winery’s extensive research into many ancient, indigenous vines.

Canadian critic Natalie McLean has this to say: “91/100 San Felice 2019 Chianti Classico is a dry, medium-bodied chianti classico produced from mostly sangiovese grapes. Earthy, savoury fragrant with pink florals with a mouthful of tart cherry, savoury herbs and orange zest flavours fresh and silky on the palate. Enjoy with a Margherita pizza. Chianti classico food pairings: bucatini with sausage and peas, roast beef, cheesy pizza, stuffed roasted turkey.” $24.95 (Stock #8974).

Lamole di Lamole 2019 Maggiolo Chianti Classico is an organic wine that hails from the folks that decided to declare this special day for chianti. Kerin O’Keefe of Wine Enthusiast describes it this way: “Made with organically-farmed grapes, this has vinous aromas of just pressed grapes, ground cloves and blue flowers. The medium-bodied palate offers Morello cherry, star anise and mocha alongside polished tannins. Drink through 2024.”

The blend is sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. $30.70 (Stock #8899).

Castello di Volpaia is a magical, walled hamlet that has sat atop the highest hill in Tuscany since 1172. You can stay there, eat there, pray there and of course drink wine there!

Appropriately it was a founding member of the Chianti League in 1250, that is represented on the neck of chianti bottles by a black rooster. Today it is surrounded by almost 1,000 acres of forest, olive groves and vineyards that are farmed organically.

If you do find yourself there, and if you do happen to meet Federica Mascheroni, or her mother, please give them Gay and Michael’s very best wishes from Bermuda. We have not met the son, but these three own this amazing spot.

Wine Spectator rates 2019 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Reserva 94 points and says: “A bright, yet firmly structured chianti classico reserva, with iron, leather, almond and floral accents surrounding a core of cherry fruit. Sleek and intense, with a lingering finish echoing cherry, red berry and mineral notes. Best from 2024 through 2040.”

Decanter writes: “Selected from eight vineyards with yields between 35 and 45 hectolitres per hectare, Castello di Volpaia’s 2019 Riserva is aged in a combination of French and Slavonian oak barrels. It's polished and detailed without sacrificing its tousled charms and grip. Heady cherry blossoms, warm flinty stone and grilled herbs greet the nose. On the palate, crunchy acidity and a clever blood orange lift lend brightness to black cherry and dark earth nuances.” $43.75 (Stock #8966).

We are already in the presence of exceptional wines, but there is one more rung to climb on the ladder, and so I give you 2016 San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. To release a wine in this tier a winery must submit a sample each year to be tasted and approved by a government panel. James Suckling rings in with 96 points and opines: “Smoke, meat, and wet earth to the black fruit. Black truffle, too. Full-bodied, chewy and fruity. Lots of smoky wood. Tight and in need of time to open up, yet it already delivers beautifully polished, caressing tannins. Decant before serving. An amazing wine. Drink now.”

The Wine Enthusiast is just behind with 95/100 and has this to say: “Classic varietal aromas recalling underbrush, blue flower, wild berry and crushed aromatic herb form the nose. Savory and smooth, the elegantly structured palate features juicy black cherry, cassis, dark culinary spice and tobacco alongside taut refined tannins. Fresh acidity keeps it balanced.” $44 (Stock #8972).

Chianti is a good candidate for the “most improved wine during my years in the trade award”. What an exciting journey it has, and is, taking.

• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published September 02, 2022 at 7:30 am (Updated September 02, 2022 at 7:30 am)

It took almost 1,000 years

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