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I went to the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione tasting this past Monday in Toronto. There were a number of vendors there displaying their best bottled Chianti’s from the recently approved standard of Chianti Classico – Gran Selezione or single vineyard.

Chianti is a well known and appreciated classic Italian wine. People love it for its ability to pair with meaty, fatty, and acidic foods and regional cheeses. There is a certain taste profile people find with Chianti, the most common being red cherry, sometimes olive oil or olive leaf, then tobacco or slight licorice. These are flavours and smells that consumers look for when they buy Chianti, and typically what’s found on the common shelves of the LCBO. In the Vintages section with the Riserva’s there can be more complexity in flavours and profiles of the wine, but the same underlining characteristics are still there.

This new classification of Gran Selezione has raised the quality level of Chianti by creating stricter specifications for the quality of grape used. By wine made from a single vineyard or a selection of an estates best grapes increases the quality level produced. It also showcases the different characteristics of each vineyard and region. Walking around the tasting and trying the different samples available gave full examples of the differences that can be highlighted by such a category.

I tried three 100% Sangiovese Chianti’s each of them providing such a different quality and flavour characteristic of the grape varietal. One, Castello di Gabbiano Bellezza 2011, was full-bodied with a rich meaty quality and heavy tobacco like a Cuban cigar. There was fruit there, but not the bright red cherry one normally expects from the Sangiovese grape, but more of a cherry tobacco flavour. It was surprising to the senses, but wonderfully delicious! Then there was a 100% Sangiovese that was the exact definition of Old World Italy – cherry syrup and pure oxidation like a medicine cabinet. It is one of the things I truly love about Italian wine, how oxidation can be so natural and amazing on the nose, then the palate is always out of this world! This wine didn’t disappoint. The Enrico Baj Macario VI° Filare 2010 was a true beauty, fairly full-bodied, smooth, rounded tannins, wonderfully balanced with flavours of tart cherry and green olive.

Then, as most Chianti’s are a blend, those were presented as well. Most were blended with either Merlot of Cabernet Sauvignon, which each present their own characteristic to the wine. Merlot often softening the tartness and sharpness of the Sangiovese varietal, mellowing the wine; Cabernet Sauvignon can sometimes overpowering the Sangiovese and lending more heavy, rich and full-bodied qualities. Then there are those that are a blend of Sangiovese and other regional varietals.

One wine in particular was a 80% Sangiovese and 20% blended of 5 other grape varietals – Abrusco, Pugnitello, Malvasia Nero, Ciligiolo, Mazzese. What stood out the most of this blend was the nose. The colour was relatively the same, not as dark as blends with Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose on this Il Grigio da San Felice 2010 was of blood orange, orange rind and oak, slightly oxidative in nature but very inviting. The palate was a little overwhelmed with oak, but the fruit shone through, and would be better once aged a little longer.

Vignole Créspine 2009 is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was full-bodied, rich and smooth with just enough Cabernet Sauvignon to add new dimension to the Chianti, but not enough to take away from the Sangiovese. It was true to the classic form of Chianti, with bright cherry fruit and hint of blackberry, vanilla from the oak and the classic olive in the background. A fantastic wine!

There was a unique Sangiovese (85%) and Merlot (15%) blended wine that presented a different nose and palate then most. Luiano Ottantuno 2010 had a unique nose – one of meat pie, date and fig. There was a hint of cherry, but it was more like a cherry demi-glaze served with a leg of lamb (which would probably be a great food pairing for this particular wine!). The palate, however, presented more of a fruit forward sensation of cherry and fruit – like a berry cocktail. It was soft on the palate and smooth, not as rich and heavy, but very balanced. Of all the wines tasted I could picture the meal I would eat with this wine.

I could go on forever about all of the other equally unique and amazing wines I tasted, but I will leave off with this last one – Vigna del Capannino Bibbiano 2010. 100% Sangiovese Grosso (a clone of the Sangiovese varietal) this wine was as rich and balanced as they come. A great nose of crushed berries and cherry tart and a palate that followed through. Great mouth-feel with high acidity and fresh tannins. This wine was made for antipasto, and could easily hold up to a solid meal. It was probably my favourite of the day.

Well, I definitely had fun exploring a small portion of Italy. I hope to explore some other regions soon, and see what I can learn!