Chianti: Reviving a classic

It’s a similar story at Corney & Barrow where sales are “steady” and Hargrove is quick to remark that the Chianti market operates on a couple of levels. “In one sense it’s a bit like Chablis and Sancerre in that it battles on price in the category to tick a box,” he says. “But on the other side – which we get more involved in – there are wines that we actually want to stand behind. It’s not a default choice for some people but once you get people on to it, it can be something that they do follow.”

On top of concerns about the perceived lack of difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico, Watson – who buys all Italian wine for Armit – is frustrated that the Consorzio that regulates the region’s wines and wine laws does not recognise Chianti’s individual communes for labelling purposes. This, she argues, makes it hard for premium producers making wines from individual parcels and vineyards to market and sell their very best products for the correct price.

“Essentially there is no classification system that differentiates between a single-site wine (as in Barolo) or a blend of the whole Chianti Classico zone,” says Watson. “Querciabella has made three ‘single commune’ wines but it is adamant that they will not be made commercially available until they can be rightfully classified with their individual commune, hence Querciabella’s Riserva, which is a blend of these three ‘crus’.”

She believes that if the Consorzio looks at this issues and the confusion that still surrounds the Gran Selezione label then, in fine wine terms, there’s a great opportunity for Chianti Classico.

One of the region’s historic Chianti and Chianti Classico producers is Frescobaldi, which has been making wine in Tuscany for 30 generations and still holds bottles of its benchmark Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva from 1864 in the family cellar.

As well as celebrating its (and the region’s) history and traditions, Frescobaldi is one of many Tuscan producers to push the envelope in terms of new products and marketing in the hope of injecting more interest into the category and attracting different (and younger) consumers.

“With the 2014 vintage [of Nipozzano] we released a limited number of golden bottles to celebrate the 150 years since the oldest bottles were available,” says Frescobaldi’s export director, Giuseppe Pariani. “It proved a success, particularly in Russia and the Middle East,” he adds.

This October in the UK Frescobaldi brought two new wines to market, a Chianti Classico and a Chianti Classico Riserva from the Tenuta Perano estate which was bought last year. There are plans to release a third – a Gran Selezione Chianti – in spring 2019.

It’s clear that Chianti, especially within the coveted Classico category, still has plenty of muscles to flex, especially on the international stage where brands such as Frescobaldi, Fontodi, Selvapiana and Felsina continue to attract significant attention, especially in America and the Far East.

China and Singapore are growing markets for Corney & Barrow, which trades from Hong Kong as well as the UK, and has seen growing interest in quality Italian wine across the board in recent years, including the Chianti and Super-Tuscan sectors.