Wine Review: 2011 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva

30 09 2015

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Barone Ricasoli holds itself out as the oldest winery in Italy.  Its history certainly marches in lockstep with that of its region, Chianti:  the winery’s eponymous founder was the man who first suggested the modern “recipe” for the standard Chianti blend — largely Sangiovese, blended with indigenous varieties Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Colorino — in a letter in 1872.  That mix has expanded and adapted since then, but Ricasoli has remained a constant in the area, producing Chianti at all price and quality points, from the entry level to the sublime.

This particular bottle is from the sub-zone of Chianti Classico, the traditional Chianti heartland at the centre of the region encompassing the original lands upon which that name was bestowed.  Chianti has now expanded significantly beyond that area, some might say for largely economic reasons and to the detriment of its reputation, as the lands surrounding Classico often do not quite live up to its hallmarks of quality.  The symbol of Chianti Classico, emblazoned proudly on this bottle in multiple places, is the black rooster, the gallo nero.  Why?  Legend has it that, back when the provinces of Florence (in the north) and Siena (in the south) were fighting over the territory of Chianti (right in the middle), they settled on a contest to determine their mutual border:  they would each pick their best knight, who would ride from his city towards his opponent as fast as his horse could take him once the rooster crowed, and wherever they met would mark the new edge of each province’s lands.  The Florentines had a black rooster, and before the date of the contest they kept it locked up in a box with no food, so that when it was finally released on the day of the race, it crowed much, much earlier than dawn, giving Florence’s knight a massive head start.  The Florentine met the Sienese knight just outside of Siena’s walls and thus scooped all of Chianti for Florence, giving the black rooster mythical status in the process.  This is the best part about wine:  everything has a story.  You just have to find it.

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This wine confuses me a little, as the Ricasoli website says that it was aged after fermentation for 16 months in a mixture of barriques (small oak barrels) and tonneaux (bigger oak barrels, providing less oak flavour transference) and then another 3 months in bottle before release.  However, it is labelled as a Riserva, and Italy is one of the few countries where that word actually means something.  In Chianti Classico, it means that the wine needs to be aged for at least 2 years, with at least 3 months of this time being in bottle.  By my count, the official account of this Riserva’s maturation is 5 months short; guessing there’s a typo somewhere.

Cork Rating:  7/10 (You don't see an Italian cork with a French motto often.  "Rein Sans Peine" -- "Nothing Without Struggle".)

Cork Rating: 7/10 (You don’t see an Italian cork with a French motto often. “Rein Sans Peine” — “Nothing Without Struggle”.)

You may wonder at times why wine reviews like this take account of each’s wine’s colour, since it has less to do with the sensory enjoyment of the bottle than the smell or taste.  Well, at times, colour can tell you things about the wine if you look carefully, and this bottle was a great example of that.  It was a thicker, bloodier, purple-r ruby colour than most Chianti, which (reflective of its primary grape, Sangiovese), is usually a more translucent garnet-red.  Based on this initial visual information, without having tried the wine, my first notes on it were:  “Is there Cab/Merlot in here?”  The answer:  YES!  By law, Sangiovese has to make up at least 80% of a Chianti Classico blend, but in addition to the indigenous grapes mentioned above, now Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are permitted by the region be a part of the remaining 20%.  Both of these international grapes have bolder, deeper, darker colour than Sangiovese does, and sure enough, the 2011 Brolio Riserva is 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cab.  Sometimes it pays to look.

Gallo Nero.  Now you know.

Gallo Nero. Now you know.

Now that you know Cab and Merlot are involved in this Classico, its aromas start to fall in place too.  In addition to Sangiovese’s sweet cherry, oregano, sunbaked earth (my quintessential Italian wine smell), leather belts and terracotta, the Brolio’s nose is given an electric jolt by lush dark currant, raspberry, mint and cinnamon, like a boost to an Old World battery.  There is an immediate broad, easy appeal on the palate thanks to the wine’s silky, creamy body and plush billowing flavours, reined in at the last moment by refined, powdery tannins.  The acid is not prominent in this Classico but is sufficiently present to keep the wine feeling juicy instead of flat.

Darker and fuller than your textbook traditional Chianti (again thanks in part to its international partners in crime, although 2011 in Chianti also featured a hot summer that promoted riper wines), and made with a more modern audience in mind, the Brolio still stays centred amidst swirls of blackberry, blueberry, violets, dark chocolate and clove, its lushness controlled by a hint of bell pepper and char and by a surprisingly dry finish of incense and parchment.  Some Chiantis can be on the thin and bitter side; this one ensures that if it’s going to err, it will be on the opposite side of the spectrum.  But I don’t think it does, staying balanced throughout and pairing its hedonism with a lingering sense of tradition.  It will make you re-evaluate any personal stereotypes of Chianti.

89+ points

$30 to $35 CDN

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