Wine notes

Thursday, 24 February 2011


The anteprima, or en primeur, tasting of Chianti Rufina last month can be considered either the very first or the very last of the Italian en primeur tasting season. The event format, showing wines either still in cask or very recently bottled but before their release onto the market, has become very popular in recent years. The various producer consortia throughout Italy seem to believe it is the most effective way to attract the attention of the international wine press, who, in turn, use the events to get a snapshot view of the latest vintage.

The Chianti Rufina anteprima is one of the smallest preview tastings in Italy (it took only a couple of hours to taste the entire selection of wines), reflecting its size within the greater Chianti landscape. It is arguably the only sottozona (subzone), except for Chianti Classico, within the greater Chianti zone which, on the basis of the quality of its wines, truly deserves its DOCG classification.

With 750 ha of registered vineyards producing 3,600,000 bottles, it is the smallest of the seven subzones, although this total will go up to 1,000 ha in the near future due to recent plantings. Although the consorzio states that 25 producers and three bottlers (including a cantina sociale, or co-op) actually bottle the wines, there are also 120 grape growers in the region. And although the total production of Chianti Rufina seems credibly low for 750 ha, the vinous landscape is characterised by several large and very large producer/bottlers, which turn out high volumes of much more modest basic Chianti and bulk wine as well as Chianti Rufina.

The Chianti Rufina slogan is il piu alto frai i Chianti (the highest of the Chiantis), referring to the fact that its vineyards are high up the slopes of the Apennine foothills between 200 and 700 m, higher than the vineyards in Chianti Classico. In fact, quite few vineyards in the Classico zone are between 500 and 600 m, but it is thought that it is Rufina's higher altitudes that are responsible for the wines' trademark acidity, which supposedly sets them apart from their peers, while allowing very long bottle ageing.

Curiously, despite this superior position, the regulations for Chianti Rufina are no more stringent than those for the other subzones (except for the release date of the wines), with production regulations more lenient than for Chianti Classico, especially with regard to varieties permitted: 70% Sangiovese is the minimum, with a generous allowance of 30% of 'authorised' varieties, which can be indigenous, for example Canaiolo, but are much more likely to be Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, while up to 10% white wine grapes are allowed.

The required ageing for the Riserva category is also shorter than for Chianti Classico, with a mandatory seven months in oak and at least three in bottle. All this seems to suggest, perhaps unintentionally, that Sangiovese, a late-ripening variety, cannot entirely stand on its own at these heights. Needless to say, in Rufina there are quite a few producers relying on Sangiovese and Canaiolo only, but the addition of international varieties to the blend is still prevalent.

As Chianti Rufina is known only by the happy few, I asked the current president of the consorzio, Giovanni Busi, who has since departed to become president of the consorzio of Chianti (not to be confused with the consorzio of Chianti Classico), how he felt the wines could be given greater exposure. The key tool according to him is organising events such as the en primeur tasting, aimed specifically at journalists.

This year's tasting was preceded by a seminar presented by Ian d'Agata of the Italian Wine Academy and Jens Priewe, a German journalist with long-standing expertise in Italian wines, comparing the 2007 Burgundy vintage with that of Chianti Rufina, in the company of Jean-Marc Boillot, Bertrand Devillard and Véronique Pages. The differences are, unsurprisingly, more obvious than the similarities, and the comparison seemed somewhat trivial, despite the high-profile guests - although we did learn during the presentation that both Pinot Noir and Sangiovese have low levels of anthocyanins and a notable absence of acyl anthocyanin, combined with high levels of malvidin. (Me neither.)

What was noticeable during the seminar was the continuous emphasis on the role of terroir in the burgundies - so much so that at some point I thought it was meant as a cryptic message to any producer of Rufina present. And terroir, at least to me, seems the key to marketing the Rufina wines. It is here that most of the work needs to be done: in the vineyard. While I did notice the acidity as a structuring element in the Rufina wines, it was not so exceptionally high that it could be used as a convincing style descriptor to set the Rufina wines apart from the rest. Regulations allowing up to 30% other than indigenous varieties, and the amazingly outdated allowance of white grapes in the blend, are a further obstruction to defining Rufina's profile more clearly, while quite a few wines showed a lot of new oak, masking further the potential subtleties of the origin of the wine.

However, it would be wrong to conclude that terroir investigation is something completely unknown here. Crus or special vineyard sites are known, if not to the general public, at least to the locals. D'Agata mentioned several, including Pelago, Monsecco, Cafaggio and Travignoli. When I requested a copy of the original powerpoint sheet with all the cru names, I was told that for copyright reasons the names could not be given out. It seems Rufina's terroir secrets will remain under lock and key, at least for the moment.


Rufina may be cloaked in secrecy but it is well worth discovering, with a handful of producers over-delivering. The most renowned, Frescobaldi and Selvapiana, have the critical mass to get noticed in the international market, and although both estates produce high-quality wines, the former seems perhaps more focused on catering for that international market, with the latter more interested in a genuine expression of origin. There are several smaller operations which tend their vineyards organically, but an overwhelming enthusiasm for this sustainable way of working I did not immediately detect, perhaps due to the large size of some of the producers.

Overall quality is good, much better than for comparable wines from the other subzones, and at still very reasonable prices. However, personally, I would like to see more of that famous acidity.

The first set of wines were tasted during the seminar the day before the official anteprima tasting.

All wine are listed in the order tasted.

Marchesi Gondi, Villa Bossi Riserva 2007 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2010-14
Concentrated deep ruby. Quite immediate and heady nose of cherry and spicy oak and leathery note. A touch port-like. Touch dusty too and perhaps the beginning of tar. Slightly rustic palate. Good cherry fruit definition, stalky, ever so slightly vegetal tannins. Charming in its rusticity and will improve. 13.5% (WS)

Frascole, Riserva 2007 Chianti Rufina 16.5 Drink 2010-16
Deep ruby, just starting to show some age on the rim. Quite sweet and concentrated, almost jammy, cherry pie, but spicy note pulls it up. Concentrated cherry fruit on the palate too, with tannic core, persisting on the finish. International in profile, but very well made. 14.5% (WS)

I Veroni, Riserva 2007 Chianti Rufina 15 Drink 2010-14
Very sweet fruit pie nose with balsamic note. Alcoholic. The alcohol also renders the palate slightly rough. Quite tannic finish. Seems unbalanced. Old school. 13.5% (WS)

Lavacchio, Cedro Riserva 2007 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2010-14
Very deep ruby with purple tinge. Developed, very ripe, dried fruit, even a touch of browning apple. Sweet spice, and a hint of vanilla. Almost liqueur-like opulence. Opulent on the palate too, seems very late harvest. High acidity keeps it lively. Alcoholic cherry liqueur finish. Tries too hard. 14.5% (WS)

Frescobaldi, Montesodi Riserva 2007 Chianti Rufina 17 Drink 2009-16
Very dark, deep, opaque ruby. Posh, sweet and ripe, and quite full-bodied. Generous, almost rich finish, hints of fruit cake. Quite a mouthful, but grainy tannins, and highish acidity giving it life and interest. Very long finish. Flirty and international. 14.5% (WS)

Selvapiana, Bucerchiale Riserva 2007 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2012-18
Concentrated ruby, just beginning to show some age on the rim. Sweet but reluctant nose. Same reluctance on the palate. Alcohol slightly biting. Quite powerful tannic structure. Earthy notes. Acidity almost imperceptible until the finish. Despite surprisingly low acidity level, it has some ageing potential, but the alcohol, at least at this stage, bites. Long finish. 15% (WS)


Stylistically there seem to be two broad styles of wine: one quite rich, concentrated, and one more elegant but more tannic too. Perhaps this is due more to picking date than to vineyard location, and although acidity is perceptible in all wines, it is not necessarily more pronounced than in the better wines from the Classico region. Some wines, especially from the 2008 vintage, are quite jammy, and in this case acidity is required to add much-needed freshness. This more extracted style often has an international edge, with oak being another defining component. The 2009 vintage showed generally fresher and more elegant than the 2008 Riservas.

Vintage 2009 v 2008
The winter preceding the 2009 growing cycle was characterised by very low temperatures and plenty of rain, which replenished the low water tables. Owing to a very hot May, with temperatures shooting up to 30 °C and higher in some places, flowering and fruit set were swiftly completed so that harvest was expected a good 10 days earlier than normal. This optimism was somewhat tempered by a warm and humid July, causing increased fungal pressure on the vines.

The beginning of August was dangerously similar to 2003 with very high day-time temperatures almost reaching 40 °C, but September proved to be more unsettled, with heavy rains in the middle of the month presenting producers with the dilemma of whether to start the harvest or take the risk and sit out the rain. Although the beginning of the growing cycle suggested a very early harvest, the last Sangiovese grapes were not picked until 20 Oct, and much more in line with what is considered the norm. Although alcohol levels are up due to high sugar accumulation in the berries, this is paired with quite good acidity levels, and the vintage is considered superior to 2008.

2008 has become known as 'bizarre' due to a very unusual growing cycle and weather pattern. A regular winter with normal rainfall was followed by a very cool and rainy spring, lasting until mid June, not only protracting the growing cycle but also causing much lower yields, in some cases 20% lower than in 2007. These circumstances are beneficial for fungal diseases, and downy mildew in particular kept many producers on their toes throughout the season. At the end of June the weather improved throughout, although August saw hail affecting parts of Tuscany. Harvest started for Sangiovese in the third week of September. Producers who decided to delay harvest as long as they dared were rewarded with a warm and dry September, and October saw practically no rain at all, compensating for the much less promising start to 2008.

Although the straight Chianti Rufina can be released on 1 Sep in the year following the vintage, several wines poured at the anteprima were cask samples.


Colognole 2009 Chianti Rufina 16.5 Drink 2011-15
Cask sample. Oenologist Federico Staderini.
Deep, youthful crimson with purple rim. Concentrated, and quite intense dark fruit nose, with elegant spicy edge. Quite closed at this stage, but enough stuffing. Acidity seems well balanced and with tannic grip on the finish. Needs time to open up. 13.5% (WS)

Frascole 2009 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2011- 13
Cask Sample. Oenologist Federico Staderini. 25,000 bottles produced per year.
Medium concentrated crimson. Lively fruit somewhat suppressed by bell-pepper notes at this stage. Much better on the palate, with lively fruit and stalky tannin. Not for the long haul, but very pleasant and honest. 13.5% (WS)

Il Prato 2009 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-12
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Davide Scorbi.
Deep crimson with violet tinges. Mature, if appealing, with intense cherry pie. Perhaps a touch of cut apple. Elegant palate, if at first not immediately reminiscent of Sangiovese, more in the bramble fruit and raspberry spectrum. Quite a lot of tannin giving it a rustic finish, and perhaps the fruit cannot entirely match this. (WS)

Travignoli 2009 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2011-15
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. 200,000 bottles produced.
Medium deep crimson. Immediate, appealing cherry nose and violets repeated on the palate. Quite stalky tannins, fruit seems to wrestle somewhat with the emphatic structure at this stage. Acidity lifts the fruit flavour on the finish, but makes the tannins more pronounced too. Needs to settle, but there are very good prospects as the finish has real fragrant length. (WS)

Le Coste 2009 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-14
Cask sample. Oenologists Vittorio Pandolfini and Antonio Grati. Bottles produced 100,000.
Impenetrable dark crimson. Ripe, intense forest fruits and cherry confit nose. Quite intense dark fruit on the palate too, but contrasted by high acidity and stalky tannins. Seems much bigger than the 12.5% alcohol indicated. Closes up on the finish, but the concentration suggests ageing potential. 12.5% (WS)

Cantine Sociale VI C A S, Montulico 2009 Chianti Rufina 15 Drink 2010-12
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Paolo Alfonso Garberoglio.
Medium concentrated violet ruby. Quite fruit driven, with the merest hint of farmyard. Pleasant, fragrant fruit, with medium body and juicy acidity. Medium length. Seems ready now. (WS)

Dreolino 2009 Chianti Rufina 15 Drink 2011-13
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Bottler producing 900,000 bottles of Chianti and Chianti Rufina per year.
Deep crimson with violet tinges on the rim. Seems quite developed, with tobacco and hints of tar. Earthy too. Light, violet cherry fruit palate immediately followed by acidity. Could do with more concentration. (WS)

Fattoria di Basciano 2009 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-13
Cask sample. Oenologist Paolo Masi. The estate is part of the Cantine Masi Renzo. While the Fattoria produces around 150,000 bottles of Chianti Rufina per year, the Cantine produces in excess of 1,800,000 bottles.
Concentrated dark crimson. Dusty, but very appealing sweet concentrated red fruit nose with hints of spice and cinnamon bark and rhubarb. Ongoing sweet fruit sensation with stalky, dusty tannin. Drying tannins on the finish. A good commercial wine, but tannins demand food. 13.5% (WS)

Fattoria di Grignano 2009 Chianti Rufina 15 Drink 2011-13
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Franco Bernabei. Production is 100,000 bottles per year.
Medium concentrated ruby, seems already maturing. Very vinous, sweet cherry nose. Much more lively on the palate due to a generous dose of acidity. Quite rustic tannins, drying out the finish. Alcoholic bite. (WS)

Il Capitano 2009 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-13
Cask sample. Production of Chianti Rufina circa 50,000 bottles.
Concentrated violet ruby. Sweet nose with fruitcake notes. Fairly simple but refreshing. Modestly fragrant but tannic finish. 13.5% (WS)

Il Lago 2009 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-13
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Fabrizio Moltard. Production 60,000 bottles.
Medium concentrated violet ruby. Fruits of the forest with a hint of cacao powder. With air more perfumed concentrated sweet fruit. Sweet fruit attack too with acidity kicking in immediately. Medium bodied impression, quite appetising but not terribly long. (WS)

Lavacchio, Cedro 2009 Chianti Rufina Drink 14.5 Drink 2011-12
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Dr Federico Staderini. 70,000 bottles produced.
Concentrated crimson. Cherry nose with bell pepper notes. Juicy cherry palate marked by quite drying tannin, which completely dominates the finish. (WS)

Selvapiana 2009 Chianti Rufina 17.5 Drink 2012-16
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Franco Bernabei. 130,000 bottles produced.
Only medium concentrated ruby. Quite serious, stalky fruit nose. Cherry fruit with marzipan-textured tannins. Quite a lot of structure, but very persistent fruit too. Very serious for the category and with ageing potential. Buy and wait. (WS)

Marchesi Gondi, San Giulano 2009 Chianti Rufina 15 Drink 2011-13
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Carlo Corino. 40, 000 bottles of Chianti Rufina produced.
Deep crimson with violet ruby rim. A mixture of savoury, meaty notes with hints of cherry and cassis. Sweet, almost compote like fruit saved by acidity and stalky tannins. Seems unsettled, and ever so slightly artificial. (WS)

Il Pozzo, San Giuliano 2009 Chianti Rufina 15 Drink 2011-13
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Part of the Cantine Bellini operation (see below).
Medium concentrated crimson. Seems reductive and the fruit cannot entirely cover the green notes. This problem repeats itself on the palate. Violet cherry flavours at first, to be followed by unripe acidity and clinging tannins. (WS)


Il Capitano 2008 Chianti Rufina 14 Drink 2010
Very dark ruby. Two samples requested and both show oxidative notes, robbing the nose of freshness. No charm on the palate either. 13.5% (WS)


Colognole, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 16.5 Drink 2012-16
Cask sample. Deep ruby starting to open up on the rim. Sweet, somewhat unfocused at this stage, but with well balanced oak and hint of vanilla. Definitely modern style. Much younger on the palate with very good balance between fruit, grainy tannins and structuring acidity. Closes up on the finish, but concentration is there, and structure is right. Decant or wait. 13.8% (WS)

Frascole, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2011-14
Cask sample. Medium deep ruby with first signs of age on the rim. Jammy cherry and cassis nose. Intense sweet fruit palate. Unashamedly popular. Rich finish matched by persistent, but tasty tannin. 14.5% (WS)

Travignoli, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 17 Drink 2012 -16
Cask sample. Dark ruby with violet tinges. Concentrated dark nose, with hints of saddle and nutmeg. Well balanced palate with fragrant, persistent fruit, knit together by compact tannin. Tannin ever so slightly dominant, but will mellow out. (WS)

Le Coste, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 14.5 Drink 2011-13
Deep, maturing ruby. Ripe rich red fruit and hints of cut apple and cocoa powder. Quite high acidity seems unripe. Perhaps the initial signs of oxidation has dried the fruit out. Second sample shows much more freshness, but the unsettling oxidative note is noticeable on the palate, and the acidity looks hard on the finish. A lightweight. 12.5% (WS)

Fratelli Bellini, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-14
Cask sample. Oenologist Paolo Alfonso Garberoglio. Although the total production of the Cantine is 1 million bottles, only a small part of that is Chianti Rufina.
Very deep, youthful ruby. Concentrated, slightly alcoholic nose, with earthy, chalky notes. Fragrant, gentle red fruits and elevated acidity and grainy tannins. Not super concentrated, but succulent and pleasant. 12.5% (WS)

Frescobaldi, Castello di Nipozzano Riserva 2009 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2011-14
Oenologist Nicolò D'Afflitto. 800,000 bottles produced.
Deep ruby. Undeniable international nose of ripe, red and dark fruits and new oak. Allegedly appealing to the masses, it nevertheless seems slightly old-fashioned. The palate is determined by the red fruit and vanilla spiciness recipe. It is well balanced, and has good length, but perhaps the terroir could shine through a bit more. Roast aromas on the finish. 13.5% (WS)

Frescobaldi, Montesodi Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 16.5 Drink 2011-16
Deep ruby, with the beginning of age on the rim. Lifted Christmas spice and cherry fruit nose, but with more complexity than the Nipozzano. Lots of concentrated sweet fruit here, with the right dose of acidity to pull it up and stalky tannins to give it longevity. Again, terroir should be given more chance to shine through and perhaps with less immediate, concentrated fruit. 14.5% (WS)

Castello del Trebbio, Lastricato Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2012-17
Cask sample with no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Luca D'Attoma. Production 300,000 bottles.
Medium deep ruby with the beginning of age on the rim. Slightly backward fruit and with a hint of tobacco leaf and a spur of oak. Needs lots of air. Elegant cherry fruit palate. Slightly rustic, or perhaps unsettled tannin. Fragrant finish with real depth. Fruit closes up and tannins persist. Needs more age, although tannins seem quite big for the fruit. (WS)

Basciano, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-14
Curiously dark, impenetrable. Dusty, savoury and almost meaty opening, only a touch of tobacco leaf. Concentrated and with lots of slightly austere acidity and upfront (oak?) tannin. Has length, but seems unbalanced. 14% (WS)

Fattoria di Grignano, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-14
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Franco Bernabei. Production 100,000 bottles.
Concentrated ruby, with rim just beginning to shed its violet. Jammy nose with baking spice and hints of cherry and dried fruit, cut apple. Fruit-cake impression on the palate counteracted by lively acidity. Vanilla and fruit-cake notes on the finish. Slightly confected, and could do with more genuine fruit flavours. (WS)

I Veroni, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2011-14
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Oenologist Emilo Monechi. Production 10,000 bottles.
Medium deep ruby. Intense cherry on the nose and palate. Modern style, without being overoaked. (WS)

Il Lago, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2011-16
Cask sample, no indication of alcohol. Deep ruby. Dried cherry, strawberry marmalade and spice, and a touch alcoholic. Almost over the top, persistent cherry fruit. Good tannic structure with zippy acidity to keep the cherry opulence in check. (WS)

Lavacchio, Cedro Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 15.5 Drink 2011-15
Cask sample. Impenetrable ruby. Popular and international nose of hugely concentrated red fruit, oak and a hint of leather. Well balanced, but interchangeable. Lots of concentration on the palate too, perhaps even too much. (WS)

Marchesi Gondi, Pian dei Sorbi Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 16 Drink 2011-16
Cask sample no indication of alcohol. Very dark purple ruby. Almost explosive, heady dark fruit compote, hint of Moroccan leather and nutmeg. Very striking contrast with the much more restrained palate, with succulent acidity, and better focus too. (WS)

Il Pozzo, Riserva 2008 Chianti Rufina 17 Drink 2012-16
Cask sample. Deep crimson, very youthful looking. Slow to open up, it starts off with fruit-cake and plummy aromas. Intriguing palate of cherry and orange peel. Seems very young. Quite marked tannin here, but adds to the wine's complexity. Brooding. (WS)