January 5, Rachel Kau-Taylor
The first thing we learned on day 4 was that trying to write while riding on the bus is a terrible idea. The roads in Chianti are curvy and busses cause car sickness in the best of conditions. Looking down at your notebook is a sure way to become nauseous. That we made it to our first winery with no vomiting was a miracle. Our first winery was Castello di Verrazzano, which is a bit like the Berringer of Chianti Classico. Chianti Classico is one of those things that I find beginning wine drinkers have a very hard time understanding. Often they believe that it is a special kind of Chianti and in certain respects it is, they also have been led to believe that the black rooster on the bottle stands for quality and in certain respects it does. This is where their knowledge usually ends. Chianti Classico is not a kind of wine but a region that stretches from Florence south to Sienna. Chianti Classico is made from the Sangiovese grape, but is not always 100% Sangiovese. It must be at least 80% but the rest of the wine can come from any number of other grapes. The owner of Verranzzano spoke only Italian so our tour guide translated for him, but in a number of ways his winery was one of the most international in its marketing style. The winery had a complete story which included regional history, climate, discussion of the soil, and wine tasting. In some ways it was very much like the big wineries in Napa and Sonoma where the hospitality is gracious and effusive and creating good memories for the public is part of the marketing strategy. We got to try two wines here, one was what the owner called a Mini-Tuscan, rather than a Super-Tuscan, the blend was Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Merlot, and Trebbiano, harvested in 2010. This is an older style since white grapes like Trebbiano are no longer allowed in Chianti Classico. The wine retails for 7€ which allows the winery to have an “everyday relationship with customers.” My tasting notes were sour cherry, violets, great with food. We also tried Verranzano’s 2008 Chianti Classico Reserva which spends 18 months in wood. My notes were cherry, raspberries, truffles, sour cherry on the palate, medium + tannin, delicious.
Our second winery of the day was Badia Coltibuono which was less of a circus than Verranzzano. We met the owner out in his vineyard where he told us that he is completely organic and dry farmed. This is something that most folks in California can’t manage, but he seemed to think it was super easy. This winery was full of revelations for me. First I discovered why sometimes I love Chianti and sometimes it tastes like I’m drinking tree sap mixed with acid. It turns out that Sangiovese stems are very brittle and tend to break when the grapes are being destemed. If you don’t find a way to get all the little bits of stem out of your wine the wine will taste like stems. This happens with some of the less expensive Chiantis that get exported to the US. My second revelation was about Sulfites. I’ve been in wine retail sales for quite some time now, and it seems like every time our customers come back from trips to Italy they tell the same story. “I get headaches when I drink red wine, but I didn’t get any headaches while I was in Italy. It’s because they don’t put sulfites in their wine over there. Do you have any sulfite free wine?” Next I have to patiently explain to them that no wine is sulfite free and that if they really have an allergy their best bet is organic red wine from California. At Badia Coltibuono all of my suspicions were proven. First I learned that Italian wine has sulfites in it, a lot of sulfites. In fact the regulations for organic wine in Italy are much less strict than ours. Here in California you can only have 10ppm in your wine if you want to say your wine is organic. In Italy it’s 100ppm. I have come to believe that the reason people don’t get headaches from Italian wine is that Italian wine is lower in alcohol than our gigantic 15% Zins and Syrahs. We tried three wines at Coltibuono, wine one was a 2009 Chianti Classico my notes were sour cherry, dusty, soapy, cinnamon. Wine two was a 2008 Chianti Classico Reserva which was meaty, leathery, sour cherry, violet with firmer tannin than wine one. Wine three was called Sangiovetto di Toscana which is their 100% Sangiovese IGT. The 2009 was very aromatic and full of purple flowers, and more sour cherry fruit. It left the palate very cleanly, I remember loving this wine. I made a note for myself to see if I could get these wines at home.