Chianti Classico On High
Literally the highest. Chianti, that is. Azienda Agricola I Fabbri has vineyards higher than anyone else in Chianti Classico, up to 680 meters, but there's more to know about them than unique geographical factoids. Since 1620, the Grassi family has grown vines in Lamole, and today Susanna Grassi continues the family tradition at I Fabbri, crafting some of the most beautiful and honest wines in Tuscany. There are few wineries we love more than I Fabbri. Their wines are pure joy and relief in a world awash with fakery in the bottle.
We received a Chilean Garnacha this week with an unusual, though plenty welcome, declaration on its back label. It stated that wood shavings and artificial aromas were not used in its production. It is not an inexpensive wine, at $23, so one might think this sort of thing should not need to be stated, but think again. The romance of fine wine is corrupt, the story of pure grapes being transformed into wine by careful artisan vintners is often a farce. This gorgeous Garnacha could boast of its artisanal processes and connection to the land, but there are too many "premium" bottles that have many ingredients other than grapes.
You only really want a few things going into your table wine: grapes, yeast, a little sulfur, maybe an inoffensive fining agent, whatever ambient material that might be imparted by an aging vessel (thinking mainly about oak here). Unfortunately, there's not a lot of transparency in the world of wine, and the contents of too many bottles are far removed from the grapes that informed their beginnings, to the point that one wonders if some labels ought to identify as wine-based beverages, rather than genuine wine. Have no fear, however, there are a great many bottles that are made simply and honestly, and you may often pay less than $20 for them.
With a bottle from I Fabbri, you are getting a raw and untrammeled expression of the famous fruit of Chianti: wine grapes, and most importantly the Sangiovese cultivar. I Fabbri grows a little Canaiolo and Merlot, but the majority of their 9 hectares of certified organic vineyards (practicing biodynamic techniques) are planted to Sangiovese. In addition to vines, they have 24 hectares of wild forest and 2 hectares of olives. When it comes to their wines, I Fabbri is looking for purity and complexity through a simple approach to vinification and aging. One could argue that their wines have just two ingredients: grapes and sulfur. Fermentation happens spontaneously and without inoculation, and use of sulfur is kept to an absolute minimum. When oak is used, its influence is moderate. The resulting wines are always highly aromatic and fresh, with lifted red fruit flavors amid myriad airy nuances of flowers, spices, herbs, stones and soil. They are as pure and classic as Chianti gets.
Located in Lamole, known as the "roof of Chianti", home to the region's highest vineyards, I Fabbri's vineyards extend to greater altitudes than any others in the commune, making them the highest in the Chianti Classico DOCG. Their Chianti Classico 'Lamole' always comes from their most altitudinous plot of vines, and in a warm and sunny vintage like 2017, this site has a huge advantage, the grapes retaining fresh acidity while ripening to sweet maturity.
We've known I Fabbri's 'Lamole' for several vintages, but 2017 might be the very best we've tasted; it is, in any case, the friendliest at such a young stage. Made from 100% Sangiovese, fermented and aged exclusively in concrete tanks, bottled while at a fruity and primary stage, this wine represents Tuscany's most famous grape variety with grace and exuberance. Aromas of red berries, roses, fresh green herbs, licorice and wet stones are followed by a taut and tense palate with vibrant acidity and grippy satin-textured tannins. The finish is all about pure red fruit flavors and minerality, with the tannins turning softer as tart cherry flavors linger. It is head-turner today, but you would be well served to track it for 5+ years; expecting tannins to soften and flavors to deepen, developing savory undertones to complement its resonant red fruit.
I Fabbri's 2017 Chianti Classico 'Lamole' just received tre bicchieri (three glasses) from Gambero Rosso. The highest rating from Italy's most important wine publication, to make the list of tre bicchieri winners is an honor, especially when one considers that a great many of the wines on the list are very expensive (and not always as rare as I Fabbri). Combine this wine's value and distinction with the fact that I Fabbri only makes about 1000 cases of it, and we have a clear case for hoarding... nay, this would be careful collecting!