Chianti Classico Gran Selezione : A ban on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

Winemakers and officials have long discussed the classification of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. Now the matter seems to be moving. The new rules will give the wines more profile and a better expression of terroir. However, they are not likely to please everyone.

Chianti Classico wants to exclude international grape varieties from the Gran Selezione category from the 2023 harvest. The minimum content of Sangiovese is to be raised from 80 to 90 percent. International grapes, such as Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet
Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc may no longer be used.

Instead, only Tuscan grape varieties, such as Colorino, Ciliegiolo or Prugnolo, will be allowed as part of the blend. Also, the grapes must come from estate-owned vineyards which the wineries can name (e.g. Castellina or Gaiole) on the label.

What seems like, at first glance, a bit of red tape will mean that big producers can’t mix their wines from different, sometimes distant, estates to easily meet the demand for Gran Selezione. Nor can they blend international varieties. Up to one fifth of a variety like a chubby Merlot or a jammy Syrah can shift the flavour profile far away from an original Chianti.

The producers strive for more terroir identity, the lately rediscovered local varieties adding even more individuality. “In every village there are different characteristics in the wines produced”, cheers Giovanni Manetti, president of Consorzio del Chianti Classico, “this will reinforce the relationship between a wine and a specific place”. This might be yet another nail in the coffin for the international style wines which, driven by the ‘Parkerisation’ of taste, became so popular in the eighties.

The plans for the requirements date back to 2014 and have been much discussed. So far, Gran Selezione is very much like a Riserva with a little more ageing — 30 months instead of 24 — and a named site referred to on the label. Some stakeholders felt that this was not enough and criticised the lack of subzones such as single vineyards that made some wines from regions like Barolo or Burgundy so prestigious.

However, according to Giovanni Manetti, president of Consorzio del Chianti Classico, this is just a beginning. He plans to “expand the place names on the label to the other categories little by little.”

Others pointed a finger at big wineries owning or leasing vineyards all over the denomination. They can still sport the Gran Selezione on the front label, just not the classification Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive (UGA). Eleven of these “additional geographical units” have been defined, mostly along existing boundaries of well-established communes: San Casciano, Greve, Castellina, Radda and Gaiole.

San Donato in Poggio combines Tavarnelle in Val di Pesa, Barberino Val d’Elsa and Poggibonsi. Greve will be divided into the Panzano, Lamole and Montefioralle frazioni. Also, about half of the southernmost commune Castelnuovo Berardenga will be separated as Vagliagli.

The vintage 2019 is scheduled to be the first release of Gran Selezione under the new rules, making the top tier stand out from the vast crowd of Chianti wines and win their share of the premium market. “It is a way to raise the bar for quality”, explained Marco Alessandro Bani, director of the Consorzio Vino Chianti, “and clear any grey areas”, which translates into the markets of China and the USA.

Officially, the final approval of the Ministry of Agriculture is still outstanding. But things seem to be moving. Wineries can apply the new regulations retroactively from 2019. An estimated six percent of the entire production will meet the requirements.

Looking at the market this might be just the right move. In the current Global Fine Wine Report 2022, 26% of almost 1000 business insiders recommend focusing on Tuscany and Piedmont producers.

Matthias Stelzig

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