The hills are alive, and they’re calling my name. The hills of Tuscany that is, and in particular the area around San Casciano Val di Pesa. Tuscany is full of rolling hills, rivers, and thermal baths, which is why it is such a great wine-growing region, in particular for reds – all those dead volcanoes! We know Sangiovese is king around here (and whether you call it Brunello or Prugnolo Gentile, a grape by any other name… is still Sangiovese!)
But as you get into Chianti subzones, geography matters. Pop quiz: How many Tuscan rivers can you name? Hint: lots of them lend their names to valleys or bridges or towns (wink wink, nod nod). Of course there’s the Arno, and the Pesa. There’s the Val d’Elsa, so the Elsa is a river. Pontedera is a town, and the Era is a river with a bridge over it. Pontassieve tells us that the Sieve is another river with a bridge over it. But there’s also the Greve river, the Ema. And then if you get out of the Chianti area, further to the north at the Ligurian border there is the Magra (Bocca di Magra is the town where the river’s mouth pours into the Mediterranean).
Or to the south, the Cornia (home to Val di Cornia DOCG and Suvereto DOCG), the Ombrone, the Orcia –who doesn’t love the Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO site, with its fabulous world-famous tree-lined hills?
All this to say: I need to start understanding these natural boundaries better, because more than a difference in the wine, they make the difference in the appellation.
So in the areas outlying the town of San Casciano, we can easily find both Chianti DOCG Colli Fiorentini and its more prestigious cousin, Chianti Classico DOCG. What’s the difference, you ask? Geography. Because on THIS side of the Pesa river, we’ve got Chianti DOCG and on THAT side, we’ve got Chianti Classico DOCG.
Visiting the La Sala winery gave me yet another perspective: a small, boutique Chianti Classico winery. Here it is all about quality and devotion to terroir. The numbers are small:
Four labels: Chianti Classico, C.C. Riserva, C.C. Gran Selezione Il Torriano, Campo all’albero IGT
Three grape varieties: Sangiovese (what else?), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Two estates: Il Torriano and La Sala in the San Casciano Val di Pesa area
One family: Rossi Ferrini, who bought the estate in 2014 from the heirs of Laura Baronti
Good wine comes in small casks, or so they say!
The Rossi Ferrini philosophy is to focus on quality: 33 hectares (20 at Il Torriano and 12 at La Sala), small parcels, maintain the characteristics of that vineyard, let the grape do the talking (yes, that means untoasted wood!)
Everything about the place is magical, including the whimsical poster by Hollywood poster designer (and family friend) Nano Campeggi, whose work graces the Il Torriano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione bottle, 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard.
While I don’t often report tasting notes, here I really want to share some insider’s views on what I had that day.
The 2016 Chianti Classico has 5% Merlot, and is a much bigger Chianti than you might expect. Beautiful ruby red color, the Mon Cheri roundness mixed with that woodsy quality just make you wish a steak was on hand.
The 2016 Riserva complements the Sangiovese with 10% Cabernet and does some time in barrique, so you can imagine the body on this one. Just a baby, it could do another 20 years in that bottle.
The Gran Selezione 2016 stole my heart though, with a blast of complex aromas, from violets to forest to vanilla, and on the palate fig jam and some leather, with velvety tannins. Maximum expression of the Sangiovese grape.
What can I say about the IGT Campo all’albero 2017? A 50-50 Cab-Merlot blend that spends 2 years in barrique, they tell me I wouldn’t be the first person to compare it to something out of Ornellaia. I am partial to the Super Tuscan Bordeaux-style reds, so don’t mind me…
But the winner is: the Gran Selezione. It is just so beautifully representative of everything a Chianti can aspire to be.
While small is beautiful, these people think big. One new project on the way is a 100% Pugnitello in amphora. Looking forward to that! And getting to know every nook and cranny corner of that marvelous region that is Tuscany!