John Salvi MW attends Chianti Classico Collection 2020 and crafts his conclusions on the 2019 vintage by digging deep into the factors that have delivered a generous yield of wonderful wines.
A record number of producers turned out at the 2020 edition of Chianti Classico Collection, and more than ever before showed their new vintage – the 2019. There were 56 producers pouring 2019s at the Stazione Leopolda and I managed to taste at 49 of their stands. Giovanni Manetti, chairman of the consorzio, said during his speech on the second day that some 2,500 professionals and 400 journalists had come over this year.
Many producers are nervous about showing their new vintage, which is sometimes not entirely finished and ready, as some journalists without great wine knowledge may not understand why they may taste a little raw and may not fully appreciate them or their potential. In this they are correct, but those of us with the knowledge find them very interesting indeed. Fortunately, I am an oenologist and a winemaker and am perfectly at home tasting new wines. This year it was a real pleasure, and there were also 127 Gran Selezione wines.
Firstly, the yield was somewhat above average (10%) due to very even weather conditions throughout the summer months, leading to well-balanced acidities and tannins, nicely balanced texture and excellent aromas. The market price for a quintal of grapes was 10% higher than in 2018, which was very satisfactory for all concerned. Gran Selezione sales increased by 15%. The top markets in decreasing order were: USA, Domestic, Canada, UK, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland and Japan. Chianti Classico must contain a minimum of 80% Sangiovese.
The D.O.C. is now 96 years old and has 515 members, 354 of whom are wine estates. 144 estates have joined the Gran Selezione programme. 7,200 hectares of vineyards are registered in an area of 70,000 hectares. The turnover for Chianti Classico was €800 million, of which bottled wine accounted for over 400 million. Let us not forget that 2016 was the 300th year of the Gallo Nero, which dates back to 1716. The total production of Chianti Classico in 2019 was 275,000 hectolitres.
Chianti Classico 2019: a real classic
Soil, weather conditions and the hand of man both structure and shape the vintage each year. The soil remains the same, the hand of man does what seems good to him, but the weather is unpredictable and totally beyond our control. Let us look therefore at the weather that made the 2019 vintage and draw some conclusions about it.
Chianti is a very large region, and even if Chianti Classico is the very heart of it, it is, in itself, a large region and weather conditions within it can vary considerably. It is therefore unwise to make dogmatic weather statements, as what may be fine in the north may not be the same in the south and the picking dates in San Casciano may not be the same as in Gaiole. None the less, in this short assessment we are obliged to make generalisations.
Overall, it was a somewhat mild winter with not quite enough cold weather for some growers. A snap of real cold is useful to kill off the bugs and beasties in the vineyard and to make the new wine fall bright.
Spring was mild and budbreak overall occurred at the normal time, which is during the first days of April (1-10). April was a good month and the vines were healthy and vigorous.
May was the weak month. It was cool and wet, with endless rain, which continued into the first days of June. This rain was welcome, even if it slowed down growth somewhat, because it filled up the water table, which would be vital to combat hydric stress had the weather become very hot in summer. It was also good that growth was slowed, because the rains stopped before the vines flowered. There were also some storms, but no damage was done.
The weather during flowering, either side of mid-June, was excellent, warm and dry, and it took place rapidly and under excellent conditions. Because conditions were good there was very little ‘shatter’ (coulure) or ‘chicken and egg’ (millerandage or uneven setting), and there was a plentiful yield potential on the vines.
To show that things were not the same everywhere, Badia A Coltibuono had hail in July, which reduced their yield. Although their yield was small, their quality was excellent. Just one producer who I talked to said he had had the cold snap he needed and had even had some snow. His vineyard was among the highest and in the coldest area, so such conditions are understandable. Castello di Albola said that their vines budded 01/04, but also that they had shatter, mildew and oidium.
The summer could be described as ‘Classic’ and had none of the intense heat and drought of the 2017 vintage. It was hot, occasionally very hot in August, but never for long periods and there was also rainfall during the second half of August that staved off any serious drought or hydric stress. The vine loved this restraint and moderation, decided to give its best, and developed serenely and regularly throughout July and August with virtually no hydric stress. Bunches were not so compact and good aeration forestalled any possible onset of rot. Wind at the end of August helped concentration.
September had continued good weather with very considerable variation between day and night temperatures. The Riecine winery stresses this as a very positive feature of the year. This is very important to develop flavour compounds. Vegetative growth stopped before colour change, which is another vital factor for great wine. Vintage time arrived with grapes that were in fine health, with no rot or other malady, and whose alcoholic strength was fully adequate but not too high. The acidity was fresh and crisp and above all phenolics (tannins) were ripe. The juice was concentrated and the skins relatively thin, but full of colour. The alcohol content was kept slightly lower than usual because of the slightly slower than usual development and the lack of extreme heat and this was indeed welcome. As in many other vineyards throughout the world, alcoholic strengths have been climbing steadily and reaching higher than ideal levels for elegance and finesse.
Sangiovese, depending upon location and many other factors, was picked from late September through most of October.
The consorzio puts it very neatly in its statement by saying: “An excellent vintage year that will enhance the characteristic features of the Sangiovese grape and the many facets of such a widely varied area in soil diversity and microclimates as Gallo Nero. The future Chianti Classico 2019 wines have highly unique and concentrated extract, anthocyanins, polyphenols and varietal aromas.” Conte Guiccardini was almost ecstatic saying: “For once exactly the right weather at the right time and very little need for sprays or treatments.”
Quantities also were positive almost everywhere and Principe Corsini said, “I have both quality and volume. I do not ask for more.” Carlo Ferrini is supposed to have told him, “the best vintage I have seen in an age”. Nittardi said, “for once global warming took a back seat”.
40% of Chianti Classico is now certified organic. Galestro and Albarese soils are those preferred.
Perhaps generality is not the right word, but something that was much discussed this year was the decision by Chianti to copy Chianti Classico and produce a Gran Selezione. Some producers were very angry about it, whilst others were fatalistic and said that it was inevitable. While it may be a nuisance for Chianti Classico, Chianti could hardly be blamed once they discovered that unfortunately Classico were unable to register it as a copyright and it was open to them to follow suit. Marco Pallanti, who introduced Gran Selezione while he was president of the consorzio, was one of the fatalistic ones. “Our quality will show the difference and the fact that we are the leaders of the field,” he said.
The well-used and much-loved system was used again this year with the difference being that the producers were behind their tables on both days. If one chose to sit at the tables and use sommelier service, there were 480 wines to be tasted, covering Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. If one chose to walk round and taste at the producers’ tables then there were over 200 producers waiting to receive. It was also here that the new 2019 vintage was available to taste from those producers who had the courage and confidence to show it. Any reluctance is understandable as some of them were still working.
As always hospitality was generous. A fine lunch was served each day in the Stazione Leopolda, and the first evening we were all invited to different restaurants with the producers. My dinner was at the Golden View and I was seated next to Conte Bernardo Guiccardini. We drank some very fine wines.
There was also a highly professional tasting of eight Vin Santo wines by Filippo Bartolotta at which I learned a great deal about a wine that I have always loved.
Chianti Classico Collection is a vital and indispensable part of the year’s wine calendar. That is why I was so grateful to be invited. The event was highly successful and the 2019 a MUST for all buyers who take Chianti seriously. Thank you, Silvia Fiorentini, thank you Chianti Classico.
I am dedicating this article expressly to Silvia Fiorentini and the Chianti Classico Collection, who had the courtesy, the kindness, the faith and the generosity, knowing that I always write knowledgeable and serious articles, to invite me personally this year, when the other consorzi decided that I was no longer useful to them and could be discarded like a worn-out shoe!