Chianti: what's it to you? A place of glorious bucolic splendor, where many of Italy's finest red wines are grown? A bottle with a basket woven around the base? The spiritual home of Sangiovese? Future UNESCO World Heritage Site? It's all those things... and more, or less, depending on who you are. In any case, if you know Chianti, you must know that the hilly Chianti Classico zone is the area that long ago put the region on the wine map, the area where the vast majority of iconic wines of the region are grown, and the area that continues to bolster the position of all wine bearing any form of the Chianti name. Let's have a closer look at wines grown at some of the higher altitudes in the Chianti Classico zone.
I Fabbri Chianti Classico 'Lamole' 2016
Known as "the roof of Chianti", Lamole, a frazione of the famed comune of Greve, is home to Chianti Classico's highest vineyards. Located between 550 and 650 meters, I Fabbri's biodynamically cultivated vineyards are the highest in Lamole. The fruit of I Fabbri's highest sites is reserved for their wine dubbed "Lamole"; always 100% Sangiovese, fermented and aged exclusively in stainless steel tanks, it represents a pure and unadulterated expression of the most altitudinous vines of Chianti Classico. The 2016 vintage was awesome for Chianti Classico: plenty of sunshine through the summer and autumn, but rarely very warm, with cooler temperatures allowing the grapes to hang longer, developing aromas and flavors without accumulating too much sugar or losing acidity. We haven't had a ton from 2016 yet, but the balance of the best entry-level wines is superb, and we can't to see how some of these humble wines develop in the cellar. I Fabbri's 2016 Lamole shows lots of small red berry fruit, distinctive notes of flowers, mint and green herbs, touches of spice and licorice, with firm acids and tannins carrying its flavors through a dry and classically fresh finish. Nothing at I Fabbri is made in large quantities, the 'Lamole' is their largest cuvee, and in 2016 about 7,000 bottles were made. We poured a very tasty 2008 on Saturday, attesting to this 2016's potential to improve and hold for many years, but who will witness that? You'll have to hide some, because it is the kind of wine that disappears very quickly. Certainly a bottle to have at the ready for all sorts of hearty fare. Lasagne per favore!
I Fabbri Chianti Classico Riserva 2013
Always composed of a selection of fruit from their lower vineyards, I Fabbri's Chianti Classico Riserva can be a powerful and ripe expression of the house style. The 2013 vintage was on the cooler side, the harvest was late, and I Fabbri's 2013 riserva, while richer than the wine above, is a model of restraint and elegance. In 2013, it is a blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Canaiolo, the Canaiolo likely helping to add a little fruitiness, soften tannins and perhaps adding to aroma. You won't catch a whiff of compote or new oak here, and we would be quick to call it "old school", though some might just call it rustic (we don't mind). Its aromas are at once rich and delicate, lifted and complex, while unabashed tannins and acids grip and ravish the senses through the tart, tightly knit and tense finish. Flavors of tobacco, spice and dried fruit evince its elevage in large oak barrels (500 liter tonneaux) and late release, but it must be considered still young, and one should expect its finest performances to be a few years ahead. For now, one might think of it as the right choice for a thick t-bone. Like the wine above, it is made in very small quantities, about 4,000 bottles in 2013.
Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico Riserva 'Giuliano' 2014
A 180 hectare estate with 20 hectares of organically cultivated vineyards between 300 and 500 meters, Castello la Leccia is certainly influenced by altitude. That being said, the style here is quite different from the Lamole wines of I Fabbri featured above. In fact, this 2014 riserva, from a notoriously wet and cold vintage, is a plush wine, with significant early appeal and polished tannins, not what one expects from a difficult year, but the team at la Leccia was willing to sacrifice quantity in the name of quality; only 4,000 bottles were made. The wines of Castello la Leccia always feature intensely pure fruitiness and fine-grained tannins, avoiding the hard edges that define so much Sangiovese. Their 2014 Riserva 'Giuliano' is a paragon of their style, with supple tannins and layers of fresh fruit flavors. Juicy and open-knit, there is a deft interplay of fruit flavors both soft and crunchy, sweet and tart, as well as subtle spice notes from well-judged new oak. It'll certainly age well (at least another 5 years) but one might just ask "what's the point?"... Try it soon with a slow-braised exotically-spiced shank of meat.