As a wine writer there are perks to the job. One of the obvious ones is that you get to attend wine tastings. Some snobbier critics may call this “work” or “part of the job” but I call them perks. To me tasting and evaluating wine will always be enjoyable and I consider myself fortunate everytime I get invited to attend these sessions. This is especially true when your tasting the Tuscan classics from Chianti. Let me remind you that back in March I declared Sangiovese to be my third favourite grape variety (read that entire post here) and Sangiovese is the epitome of Chianti and the noble grape of red wines produced there. To add to it this tasting was hosted by Gabbiano, one of the largest and most respected producers of classic Tuscan wines.
The history of the region is amazing. It is actually one of the oldest known wine appellations, with Chianti being recognized as a wine producing area as early as the beginning of the 18th century. Gabbiano epitomizes this with a castle at the heart of their property which dates back to 1124. To this day visitors to the Gabbiano estate can still stay in rooms in that castle.
For starters the evening was memorable for where the tasting was hosted. Everything was held at the Vintage Conservatory and though I don’t think I am legally allowed to publicize the address, it’s one of these private cellar rental spaces in Toronto. People with a bit too much money, or too much quality and age worthy wine, can rent cellar space at this place to store their wine. I admit the concept is cool, because along with the storage space you get a membership into the club which includes the usage of their facilities including tasting room and lounge area. Though I left a bit underwhelmed as there was no secret handshake or anything before you got in.
As far as the wine is concerned I was far from underwhelmed. Folks you heard it here first. While some Gabbiano is available now it will be HUGE in a few years. A wine you will come to know and love and one that will be prominently displayed on LCBO shelves everywhere. The wine is good right from the low end to the high end, and all along the way it provides exceptional value. For starters take the Chianti Classico DOCG, an LCBO general list at $16.95. You will be very had pressed to find a comparable Chianti Classico of DOCG status at that price point. If you do please send it to me.
We also got the pleasure of meeting winemaker Federico Cerelli who was a wonderful man to talk to and a passionate man about wine and the Chianti region. He declared “we produce grapes first and make wine second” showing his commitment to terroir and the old world Chianti values. But beyond the grapes, Gabbiano is blessed to have the passionate and talented Federico at the helm whose resume in Italy (he even did a stint with the famous Antinori) I imagine places him as one the most coveted winemakers around. His talents are on full display at Gabbiano showing some of the best classic expressions of Sangiovese.
3 wines sampled which are available at the LCBO:
The 2010 Pinot Grigio IGT (#77990, $12.95), the 2011 Chianti DOCG (#78006, $13.95), and the 2009 Chianti Classico DOCG (#219808, 16.95) were the three we tried that are available at the LCBO. The first was the Pinot Gris which was as expected. A simple white wine, rich with lemon and ripe acidity. It would make a great summer wine. At $12.95 there are many comparable Pinot Gris out there, but this one is no slouch. Secondly the Chianti was a bit green with aromas of tomato sauce, bay leaf, and basil, and since it is aged in large barrels there is almost no oak in the wine. To be honest this was likely my least favourite of the bunch but that’s more a testament to the lineup then a knock on this particular wine. Third we tried the Chianti Classico. At $16.95 this is a steal and easily my favourite of those available at the LCBO. Aged 15 months in oak this wine shows much more pepper and earthiness than the aforementioned Chianti. The tannins were soft and manageable and the acid was still very noticeable meaning you could easily enjoy this wine now or lay it down for 2-3 more years.
4 wines sampled which are available on consignment:
Naturally as we moved into the wines which were only available on consignment (meaning you buy by the case directly from the import agency) we sampled some of the best. First the Chianti Classico Riserva was slightly better quality than the Chianti Classico referenced above. Made with 100% Sangiovese it was a great expression of the grape. Then the 2009 Bellezza (another Riserva Chianti Classico) was likely the wine of the night. Hints of chocolate, oak, pepper, and black cherry, the wine had tremendous mouthfeel and a impressively long finish. Then we got into a couple interesting wines in the Solatio IGT and the Alleanza IGT. Both are made with what Italy considers to be foreign grape varieties. The Soatio being a syrah, merlot, cab sauv blend resulting in a wine which was a fruit forward, very ripe wine, meant to be consumed young. Federico even called it a “baby supertuscan” paying homage to the legendary Tuscan classics while at the same time recognizing his wines shortcomings. However that made his Alleanza his “supertuscan” and rightfully so. A blend of 60% merlot and 40% cab sauv this wine could easily sit in a cellar for 5-10 years and improve over that time. Too bad you have to order a case at $39.95/bottle, though I would argue a single bottle or two would be worth that price.
1 bonus Rose sampled:
I love when winemakers serve a bonus wine, because as many know I am never one to turn down more wine. In this case we were treated to their Rose which is also made from the Sangiovese grape variety. Though Rose in colour it was almost pure red wine in taste. Easily one of the best Rose’s I have ever had and I wish it was available in the LCBO. Like many others we tried on Monday night I hope that Treasury Wine Estates (Gabbiano’s importing agency) can find a way to get more available in the LCBO.
Chianti has always been on my list of places to visit, now Gabbiano will provide me a place to stay when I do. If you find yourself fortunate enough to visit this region of Italy I can stand behind the wine at Gabbino. If you do go, say hi to Frederico… if he hasn’t been poached by another winery or isn’t running his own by then.
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman