Barone Ricasoli: a Brief History of Chianti Classico

Only in Italy do you have the opportunity to get a tour of a Medieval castle which has been producing wine for hundreds of years. The winery tour of Barone Ricasoli is a great one to do if you are looking for a little bit of everything, you get the old castle, the modern winery and latest equipment, and a lovely wine tasting. There is also a really good restaurant on the premises where you can have lunch (and they are very accommodating to food allergies). First of all, this is the winery where they invented Chianti Classico, so obviously it is a must-see if you are at all interested in Chianti.

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In the mid 1500s the estate started to produce wine and by the 1600s they were exporting to places all over the world! Baron Bettino Ricasoli is the man credited with inventing Chianti Classico in the mid 1800s. He was interested in many different intellectual pursuits, chief among them was formulating the best wine. Obviously tastes have changed a decent amount since the 1800s, and the blend we now think of as Chianti Classico is a slightly different variation of what the Baron originally came up with. The original blend consisted of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Malvasia. Now, in order for a wine to earn the designation of Chianti Classico, it must be made up of 80% Sangiovese, and while some still use the Malvasia and Canaiolo for the remaining 20%, you will see some use Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or even occasionally Cabernet Franc.

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Now onto the exciting part, the tasting. We were able to taste three different wines in the official tasting (we tried a few others after, but we will focus on the official tasting in this post) a Chardonnay blend, a Chianti Classico, and a Super Tuscan. IMG_7178It was interesting to taste a white wine that came from a region so well known for their reds. IMG_7160The Torricella Toscana IGT, 2013, was surprisingly light, with a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, there are prominent notes of citrus and green apple with minerally undertones. It is a very crisp refreshing white, it is partially oak aged which gives it a good amount of depth and complexity for a white while not being overly oaky, which can sometimes be too overpowering for a lighter wine, in my opinion. Overall, a very nice white blend.

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IMG_7161The second wine of the tasting was the Brolio Riserva 2013 Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva. Obviously when you are at the estate that invented the Chianti Classico you are going to have to taste one or two! This bottle is the required 80% Sangiovese, but the remaining 20% has veered from the original formulation, containing 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. It is a deep ruby red color, with a palate of red cherry, plum, blackberry, and raspberry. There are hints of vanilla and the finish is fairly long with notes of licorice. It is a fairly astringent wine, typical of Sangiovese, yet still soft and flexible. The tannins and the acidity balance well, and would be delicious with a grilled steak, alas we did not have any steak on hand at the tasting.

 

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The final wine of the tasting trio was a surprise. We were told that it was a single grape wine, from one single vineyard on the estate, and asked to guess what the grape was. Before actually putting the glass to our lips we would have guessed it was Sangiovese, because that would be the logical guess given our location. IMG_7168And a few people did guess that, however it did not have the typical Sangiovese astringency to the inside of your lips, nor did it have the prominent red cherry flavor. The answer to the question was 100% Merlot, despite being one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, I was surprised to find the French varietal so celebrated in the heart of Tuscany. We were told that the soil of the vineyard in which the grapes were grown was very rocky, therefore the intense minerality of the wine was no surprise. There are hints of cherry notes, more of a cherry liqueur than a fresh cherry, though. The prominent flavors are more earthy, chocolate, leather, and tobacco. The tannins are soft and well blended. This surprising, yet delicious Super Tuscan was by far my favorite wine of the tasting. For a winery specializing in Chianti Classico this wine is just one exhibit of their diverse array.

 

I would like to conclude by mentioning the restaurant, Osteria del Castello, on the premises of the estate. As someone with a limited diet (due to celiac disease) I am always slightly nervous to travel because I have no idea how accommodating I will find restaurants at my destination. Italy, being the land of bread and pasta, is a particularly concerning destination for someone with a very strict gluten free diet. Not only did this restaurant have allergies labeled on their menu, they also had numerous options from gluten free pasta to gluten free bread. I opted for the Ossobuco, the name refers to the bone marrow which is traditionally left in the bone and served with the dish. The significance of this dish is that it is one of the first recipes I ever learned to make as a child, despite being slightly ambitions. While my version of the recipe is a more modern one, containing a tomato sauce and gremolata, while the more traditional Italian version does not have the tomato sauce. The Ossobuco was made with a thin gravy and served with swiss chard and cannellini beans (which were served with practically every dish we had while in Tuscany), and it was delicious. 10 out of 10 would recommend this restaurant for lunch if you ever find yourself at Barone Ricasoli winery. Just so you can see how delicious it was, I have included a picture!

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