Gran Selezione – a point for the Chianti Classico pyramid?

Chianti Classico and black rooster

The Chianti Classico Consorzio has created a new classification – Gran Selezione – to sit at the top of its hierarchy. Once the Italian Ministry of Agriculture gives its approval the new law will come into effect later this year and wines from the 2010 vintage – not yet sold – can qualify for the title.

In essence a designation for single-estate wines (much prized in the wine world), products in this new category must be crafted solely from grapes grown by the proprietor (i.e. not bought on the spot market or from contract growers), cannot be sold within 30 months of the harvest (6 months longer than Riserva) so as to allow time for Sangiovese’s classic astringency to resolve, and must receive at least three months’ pre-sale bottle maturation. Yields are kept at 52.5 hectolitres per hectare, the same as for regular Riserva.

The idea isn’t to eclipse what was until now the DOCG’s flagship band, Chianti Classico Riserva, but to highlight an especially-deserving subset of these wines. The quality of Chianti Classico, of which 78% is exported, has never been higher – 60% of the vineyards have been replanted with superior clones over the past fifteen years – and this latest measure is an attempt to further raise the bar for producers and for the prestigious DOCG to differentiate itself from its less celebrated sibling, Chianti. Estates expect to be able to charge a significant premium for their Gran Selezione offerings too.

Reaction has been mixed with some big names like Piero Antinori heralding the new measure as a major improvement: “Chianti Classico bought in bulk and bottled by wine merchants won’t be allowed to use Gran Selezione on the label”, he notes approvingly. Some are not sure, with one bet-hedging producer saying he didn’t know if Gran Selezione was going to be a “Gran Successo (a big success) or just a Gran Casino (a big mess)”.

Others have outright dismissed the new category as mere “bureaucratic tinkering” that doesn’t add any value to Chianti Classico or do anything to shine a spotlight on the region’s choicest terroirs.

One of the most valid criticisms levelled at Gran Selezione is that the typical consumer is already unsure or unaware of the difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico (answer: the latter represents the historical heartland of the production zone, must adhere to stricter production laws, and has to be at least 80% Sangiovese, as opposed to 70% for the standard version) and that introducing new terminology will only muddy these waters even more.

If drinkers understand the Chianti / Classico distinction then they have to get their head around what Riserva means as well (answer: the wine has been aged for an extended and legally-defined period of time). It is easy to imagine that only the most involved wine drinkers will go to the trouble of comprehending all of this and then trying to assimilate the details of Gran Selezione too.

And as if all that wasn’t enough to absorb, in a side measure the Consorzio decided that the trademark black rooster logo that graces the necks of all Chianti Classicos is to be redesigned. No one said it’s easy trying to keep on top of the Italian wine world.


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Note: Image sourced from the official Chianti Classico website.

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