Two Chiantis from San Felice

Hello friends. We had a great response to our Renzo Masi Chianti offer over the summer (we continue, even today, to receive reorder requests for that one), and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Chianti is a terrific value-hunter’s category. One generally has to kiss a lot of frogs to find the princes in that category, but that’s the whole Full Pull model: we kiss the frogs so you don’t have to.

Still burdened by the halcyon days of swill-in-straw-baskets, Chianti is on the rebound in the US, but is still walking the line between fashionable and unfashionable. (A quick reminder: the name for those straw baskets is “fiasco,” which means flask in Italian but which doubles as an accurate description of Chianti marketing in recent decades.)

Fashion or no, we all know that Chianti remains one of the world’s beating hearts of Sangiovese, and I’m always on the lookout for strong bottles from this region. We recently tasted two, both from the same producer, the outstanding San Felice in Castelnuovo Berardenga. I couldn’t decide which of the two to offer, because they’re so stylistically disparate, and yet each provides its own pleasures. Then I remembered that we don’t have to choose; let’s try both:

2010 San Felice Chianti Classico

This is classic Classico for me. The blend of 80% Sangiovese and 10% each Colorino and Pugnitello comes from the calcareous marl soils of Castelnuovo Berardenga in the foothills outside of Siena, and it is aged for a year in large Slavonian oak botti. The nose is an appetizing mix of dried cherry and violet and earthy mushroom, and that profound sense of earthiness continues on the palate, mixed with sour cherry, blood orange, and cocoa powder. The tannins are someplace between rustic and refined (kind of perfect for Sangiovese), and the acidity is as bright as you’d expect. This is clearly a wine that grew up in a region crazy about food. It’s perfect for the dinner table.

Wine Advocate (Monica Larner): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

This wine also just turned up in the #22 slot on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys of 2013:
Wine Enthusiast (Kerin O’Keefe): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2009 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio

A number of differences here. First, this is a selection of some of San Felice’s oldest/best vineyard sites. Second, it comes from a warmer, riper vintage. Third, it’s 100% Sangiovese. And finally, it gets twice as long (24 months) in the traditional Slavonian botti (and a small portion goes into smaller barrel).

All of that adds up to a very different wine indeed. Il Grigio shares the earthy/fungal notes of the regular Classico, but the savory notes continue: braised beef, grilled rosemary; it’s a feast for the nose, intermingled with black cherry fruit that is simultaneously riper and darker than the Classico. In the mouth, this is considerably richer and silkier across the attack and mid-palate, and it contains even chewier tannins on the back end. The structure here is more reminiscent of Brunello di Montalcino than Chianti Classico Reserva actually. In fact, if tasted blind, Brunello is probably what I would have guessed, which is a good thing when you’re paying Chianti tariffs.

Wine Advocate (Monica Larner): “A pure expression of Sangiovese, the 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio shows the inner warmth and richness that is characteristic of the Castelnuovo Berardenga subzone of the famous Tuscan appellation. Balsam herbs and eucalyptus oil appear at first and slowly give way to black fruit, cherry cola, violet and Spanish cedar. It shows an extremely polished feel in the mouth. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2028. 93+pts.”

First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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