Sunday, March 2, 2014

Inconsistent quality in Chianti wines

As I'm always singing the praises of Chianti wines, I think it would be coherent to mention what's not so good too. However nothing that will make me lose my love for one of the best dining wines in the world.

There are approximately 570 estates in the Chianti Classico appellation, ranging in size from tiny landowners  to large corporate concerns. Of these 350 actually produce a bottled wine with an official Chianti label, while the the others grow grapes. Chianti has eight production zones, and experts generally concur that wines from the Chianti Classico zone are those that offer the highest standards of quality, along  with Rufina. Look out for these words on the bottle, it does make a difference.
Chianti bottles bearing the official logo and D.O.C.G. seal
Chianti has come a long way in the last twenty years, and the vast majority of estates offer a high quality product. Even the corporate wineries  have improved their offering, some  reaching high degrees of excellence. However others are still geared to producing cheaper average wines for bulk sales. Consequently one of the criticisms moved towards Chianti is that quality is inconsistent, and unfortunately it’s true. Though I care to add the wines are never bad.

The reason is simple; the making of Chianti is governed by a set of rules called a disciplinary. It defines the minimum, but not maximum standards for wine to be called Chianti. Defining minimum legal standards is a good thing, it ensures the consumer he’s drinking an authentic wine. A wine can only bear the name Chianti, if it’s made to disciplinary standards. It will also have the D.O.C.G. acronym on the label. However a wine made to the minimum requirements will never be a top wine. It certainly won’t be bad, but not excellent either.

The problem is political and economic. The disciplinary is defined by a consortium of producers, and industrial wholesalers (non producers) where the large commercial concerns have more voting weight when defining the rules. Large producers and wholesalers are primarily interested in quantity and low prices. The small boutique wineries who produce quality wines have less weight financially, and due to the political structure of the consortium, their opinions and votes have less importance too. 

As producing cheap wine isn't economically rewarding for the boutique wineries, they’re often in heated contrast with the consortium as they advocate far higher standards. They have nothing to gain by producing cheap wine (they make money only if the prices of their limited production is higher), and they make it a matter of pride too. For them wine making is art, love and passion. They take far more care in the three important phases of wine production; viticulture, cellar techniques and ageing. This of course increases costs, but they  produce wines that rival with the world’s best. Just read a few reviews in the press to see scores of 90+ being given to wines from Chianti Classico, a thing unheard of twenty years ago

So there you have it, cheap average wines on one side, while on the other, top quality and 90+ scores. How do you find the better wines? Well trial and error basically, though reviews in the press can be helpful. Despite the legitimate suspect that reviewers can be biased, I've found they don't give high scores to average wines. I'd stick to Chiantis from the areas of Classico and Rufina too, (you'll find the names on the bottle) which are almost always of the highest quality. Alternatively you could take a tour with me and try the wines for yourself, look here:

Sergio Ceccherini