Italy > Chianti Rufina > Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva

Country: Italy
Region: Chianti Rufina
Producer: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi
Grape variety: 90% Sangiovese / 10% Others (Malvasia Nera, Colorino, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon)
Vintage: 2008
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquorstore, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $17.99 – $21.69

About the region: A few weeks ago, we visited Tuscany and described the rise of the Super Tuscans in response to stringent wine legislation and below-par quality standards in Chianti. Thankfully, practices have improved drastically in Chianti over the past several decades. In the vineyard, grape growers started looking for Sangiovese clones that would provide higher quality as opposed to higher volumes. Legislation also changed to allow any red grape variety to be added to the blend (at up to 20%) and local white varieties are now no longer allowed in the blend. In the winery, modern winemaking equipment was introduced.

Since so many different grape varieties are allowed to make up 20% of the blend, Chianti comes in a wide variety of styles. Winemaking practices contribute to the variety of styles as well: some producers still use the large, old wooden casks (known as botti), which are usually made of Slavonian oak, while other producers that are looking for a more modern, concentrated style are using smaller (225 litre) barrels made from French oak (known as barriques).

Most Super Tuscans display an international style of wine: that is, many aren’t necessarily an expression of Chianti’s unique qualities, but instead show characteristics that we find across the globe. Chianti, carried by 80-100% Sangiovese, will typically show blueberry, cherry, and savoury flavours with high acidity and tannins.

About the wine: The Frescobaldi family initially made their fortune in banking, after having moved to Florence at the end of the 11th century. Around 1300, the Frescobaldi’s inherited some vineyards and started producing wine, which soon got picked up by England’s royal family and others belonging to Europe’s upper echelon. Over the course of the next several centuries, the family continued to combine their winemaking business with other commercial activities, which ensured a distribution network that included the pope, Henry the VIII, King of England, and Donatello (the artist; not the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle).

The Castello di Nipozzano was built in 1000 as a defensive fortress, but at the start of the 16th century the Frescobaldi family converted it into a residence and winery, where it produces and cask-ages its red Chianti Rufina wines even until the present day.

The Chianti Rufina Riserva is one of those wines. It’s made in a modern style, spending 24 months in barriques and another 3 months in bottle before being released. There is blueberry, red cherry, black pepper, and cedar notes. Well-balanced, with some solid acidity holding it up and smooth tannins. It receives rave reviews year after year and regularly appears in Wine Spectator’s Top 100.

In Susanne’s words: I have loved this wine for years.

Italy > Tuscany > Villa Antinori

Villa Antinori

Country: Italy
Region: Tuscany
Producer: Marchesi Antinori
Grape variety: Sangiovese (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Merlot (15%), Syrah (5%)
Vintage: 2008
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquor Store, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $17.99 – $22.99

About the region: Wine is grown all over Italy: from the top of the boot to the tip of its toe. Annual production sits at nearly 5 billion litres, so it’s no surprise that local wine stores usually carry a generous selection of Italian wines. The Italian wine landscape can be difficult to navigate though: instead of the more common international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz, we are served with hundreds of native grape varieties like nebbiolo, corvina, sangiovese, and primitivo (if they are even mentioned on the label). This is also what makes Italian wines so exciting though: they’re often unique and will taste different from wines you find anywhere else. Their uniqueness can be further explained by winemaking methods varying widely across different regions, often based on centuries of winemaking traditions.

Those traditions have not always benefited the quality of Italian wines though. A classic example is Chianti, in Tuscany’s heartland: in 1872 Barone di Ricasoli noted that Sangiovese (Chianti’s principal black grape variety) would be more drinkable when blended with local white grape varieties. As an influential winemaker, this then became common practice, which meant that when wine regulations were put in place in 1967, these honoured the local winemaking tradition by stipulating that in order for a wine to be considered Chianti, it had to be a Sangiovese-based blend plus 10-30% white grape varieties. In reality, the large amount of white grape varieties further diluted an already less-than-stellar wine, since many winemakers were simply trying to produce as much Chianti as they could to meet demand, without paying much attention to quality, resulting in some pretty horrible plonk.

In the 1970’s, a group of winemakers came onto the scene, who were more quality-focussed than their predecessors. They were faced with a rather large dilemma though: make sub-par wines within the current regulations and be allowed to call the wine Chianti (which despite its declining quality still had some remnant of a brand name), or ignore the regulations and no longer be allowed to refer to the wine as Chianti: ignoring the rules meant that the wine would have to be marketed as a simple “table wine” without any reference to the region it came from. That dilemma brings us to the producer of today’s wine.

About the wine: In the late 1960’s, Piero Antinori started tinkering with the traditional Chianti recipe, which in 1971 led to his Tignanello being blended with Cabernet Sauvignon instead of the required white grape varieties. This in turn led to a visit from the local wine regulators, who made sure that there were no references to “Chianti” anywhere on the wine label, so Antinori had to market his wine as a simple “table wine”. His wine became an instant hit with wine critics though, who soon started to coin the term “Super Tuscans” to describe this category of wines that Antinori (and others who soon followed suit) produced. As a result of its popularity, Tignanello steadily increased in price over the following decades and now usually retails for just over $100.

Thankfully, Antinori also produces an entry-level Super Tuscan, which is the Villa Antinori. Similar to the Tignanello, the Villa Antinori was originally produced using the classic Chianti recipe (starting in 1928), but in 2001, Piero Antinori increased the percentage of international grape varieties, thereby moving it from the Chianti to the Super Tuscan category. It’s a beautiful wine, the 2008 being somewhat fuller bodied than previous vintages, with lots of dark fruit, well-integrated oak, some spice notes, and medium acidity. Very well balanced, making you want to come back for more.

Note that the wine regulators came around eventually and created a new category for these wines, now known as “Toscana IGT”, which explains why Villa Antinori’s label is able to reference this designation.

In Susanne’s words: goes really well with dinner.