On the Trail

Classic Chianti

Greg St. Clair

While most of the work I've done in Tuscany over my career at K&L has been rooted in Montalcino, where Sangiovese is also king, that doesn't mean we're giving Chianti the cold shoulder. Chianti has always been the bigger draw to the wider Italian wine drinking audience, so it's a more competitive market as a result (which is why we've worked out our own niche in Montalcino). That being said, there are two new wines from Chianti that just hit our shelves that I find quite exciting. I'd like to tell you about them.

Lamole is a tiny hamlet not far from the town of Greve in the heart of Chianti Classico. I visited this estate twenty-five years ago and had always been impressed with the raw product and he potential of the wines produced at this estate. The soil and vineyards just had something unique, a special aromatic about them, but unfortunately the rest of the winemaking was a bit sketchy. Shortly thereafter, the Santa Margherita Group—yes, the folks that bring you the Pinot Grigio—bought the estate, and instead of turning it into a winery making oceans of mass produced swill they kept the winery small, spending time and money rebuilding the terraces (which you can see in the above photo) holding the vineyards up on the hills. They refurbished the cellar, brought in new cooperage (much needed) and began to make real wine, with depth and character, but the types of distribution needed for these two different wineries are hard to combine and the brand has languished a bit as the winery was rebuilding its products.

I love this new 2013 “Blue Label” Chianti Classico because they have really captured that uniqueness I saw in this area so many years ago. The nose is full of stone, spice, leather, violet, wild cherry, dried plums with hints of smoke and earth; it is a complex cauldron of flavors. On the palate the wine has a breadth, a depth of richness and a supple power that is really amazing for a wine in this price range. The flavors grow (I would decant this an hour or two ahead of time), develop and bring the leather, cherry and violet together to form a fascinating expression of Sangiovese, complex and vibrant. The finish has so much going on, a pooling of the spice; plum and leather come together in a long and memorable finish. This isn’t so much a Pasta wine as it is a red meat wine, a T-Bone would do well or grilled leg of lamb. Sensational wine, you shouldn’t wait!

Antinori is not an unknown name in Italian wine, they are one of the largest and highest quality producers in Italy. Many years ago, when I first started in this business, there were two names that stood for Italy, through whose tireless efforts brought a new age of quality Italian wine to America, they were Angelo Gaja and Piero Antinori, each year they would spend months crisscrossing the country doing presentation after presentation. Gaja’s flamboyant bravado earned fans everywhere; his wines weren’t so bad either, but it was Piero Antinori’s graceful elegance, understated presence and his ability to present wines to both the connoisseur and the common man that made his voice so resonant.

This new Péppoli Chianti Classico is a beautiful representation of what Sangiovese expresses in this micro-climate of Chianti Classico’s northwest. The nose of this wine is pure Sangiovese, but to use more of a musical metaphor there’s a lot more treble in this voice, long, pure, elegant. A cleaner, wild cherry aromatic that is very focused is what comes out of the glass followed by delicate threads of spice and earth but is that Sangiovese solo that is the dominant expression. On the palate that same linear characteristic is articulated, faceted, and lets the 10% portion of Syrah and Merlot flesh out the mid palate adding a bit of meaty richness. The dominant flavors are the cherry, with hints of stone fruit, earth and spice. This wine reminds me of Audrey Hepburn: restrained, elegant, and lean, but so much focus, energy and lift, you can tell it has breeding. This wine’s elegant, linear character makes it the perfect match for richer pasta dishes; whether you choose what my choice would be a sausage and cream with penne rigate, if you’re an Alfredo fan this would work too, or if a traditional ragu is your choice just remember to go heavier on the oil or cheese, you don’t want a tomato dominant dish. A brief decanting always helps Sangiovese, but this wine will drink well over the next five to eight years.

-Greg St. Clair