Thursday, February 27, 2014
Does the world need a new top tier for Chianti Classico?
Last week the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium unveiled the first wines from its new top tier: Gran Selezione. It's not a tiny group of rare wines: the consortium expects 10 percent of the wines in the region to be Gran Selezione, and more than 30 different wineries have already produced one.
The motivation is obvious. Chianti Classico isn't content to battle for the $20 wine drinker; vintners there want to go after the big bucks.
This is more rare than you'd think, simply taking the top wines from a region and saying, "We'll charge more for them," and getting the government to agree. It's as if the US government sanctioned the use of "Reserve" in Kendall Jackson Vintners' Reserve Chardonnay.
The way the wines make the new top tier is unique: it's not by classified vineyards, as in Burgundy, or by amount of time in oak, as in Rioja.
There seem to be only two easy-to-meet requirements. First, the winery must use only its own grapes. Otherwise, the press release says, "In addition to having the chemical and organoleptic characteristics of premium quality wines, Gran Selezione can be marketed only after a minimum 30-month maturation and an obligatory period of bottle refinement."
Essentially, some bureaucrat will make an up-or-down decision on whether the wine tastes like a Gran Selezione. Fortunately bureaucrats are immune to outside influence, especially in Italy, right?
The whole idea was slagged in the wine press a year ago when it was first announced, and has since been ignored. And maybe it should be. But that said, now the wines are out, and I can't wait to taste them.
I feel for Chianti Classico. These are some of my favorite wines in the world. They're very food-friendly, and that is part of the reason they haven't participated in the race to the top price levels of Italy with some other regions that have pursued ultra ripeness, big oak flavors and high critical scores.
It seems like Chianti Classico wants to keep its soul and get higher prices too. That might be possible, if supplies were more limited. This is the problem with getting the government involved: you can't legislate scarcity, because everybody wants to play.
The wines are supposed to be here in May for a tour of US sommeliers and writers, and I look forward to trying them -- and seeing what kind of prices they're posted at. If the wines sell, you might see this scheme tried again.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:00 AM