Monday, March 31, 2008

The Chianti Challenge: Three Decades of Frescobaldi

Anyone who’s read Blanc de Noir for long knows we’re both huge fans of Italian wines. There’s just something about the diversity, quality, and sheer fun factor of Italian wines – whether it’s a casual summer patio sipper or a robust vintage to accompany a big, festive dinner or one of the meditative Amarones that are still way up there on our list of favourites.

So when BC Wine Appreciation Society decided to add a couple of Italian wines to an educational tasting scheduled just prior to the 2008 Playhouse International Wine Festival – the theme country for this year’s festival was, after all, Italy – Frank and our illustrious BCWAS leader, Tim Ellison, decided to add a twist to the event. How about putting up a couple of Italian wines with the usual BC vintages? Frank, however, took the concept one step farther.

Here’s the deal. From BC: three sparklers, four Pinot Grigios, two Pinot Noirs, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Merlot. From Italy: three Chiantis – just three and all from Frescobaldi, one of Italy’s most respected winemakers (multi-generations shown above).

Here’s the catch. The Chiantis were bottled in 2004, 1982, and 1975. No, it’s not a typo. The last two came from the collection of Italian wines Frank recently acquired – one of those fantastic opportunities that come about from being in the right place and the right time and having way more patience than most when it comes to negotiating.

Alas, on the night of the event, Frank was sick with flu, but you can bet eyes went wide as people realized what he’d sent.

The 2004 was, pretty much as expected, dark purple with lots of fruit and tannins that were more “in your face” than makes for a good sipping wine unless you’re eating. But truth is, few people spent much time with that particular wine since they were all eager to try the two older offerings.

Immediately apparent was the change in colour – now tawny with a much larger rim than the 2004. Controversy was plentiful and several people found neither one was “quite my thing” as one member put it in an attempt to be diplomatic. The level of oxidization, especially in the 1975, caused raised eyebrows among half the folks there. It was virtually unanimous that the ’82 needs to be drunk now and the ’75 is clearly a bit past its prime – although not a soul suggested it should be tossed.

However wide ranging the evening’s opinions were, one thing we all did agree on. These are wines made with love and benefit from patience.

Frank’s Tasting Notes:

Castello di Nipozzano Riserva 1982

This wine has aged well, probably because it is a Riserva. After more than a quarter of a century there’s still lots of fruit left – black cherry and dark fruits with a note of white truffles in the background. The tannins have smoothed right out so they are now a little silky, and the finish is fairly long. This wine shows just how well age can improve a Chianti. Alcohol 12.5%. All the bottles for both these wines are numbered – I have 10 left, all around 84,960 series out of 293,600 bottles produced in 1982.

Castello di Nipozzano Chianti Rufina 1975
Sadly just a little past its prime but still drinkable as the acidity has helped this one hold up. Wide orange rim, brick red colour. Truffles leave sherry undertones. This vintage has shown a lot of bottle variation – the fruit showed up a little more in this one than the first one we tried. Alcohol 12.7%. The last bottle I have left is number 74324 of 80,000 bottles produced.

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