Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 6

6 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Expectations met can be a wonderful thing. Chianti is one of the world’s truly great wine styles, so such a bottle basically HAS to appear in a calendar like this, no? We had a good showing last year, and I rarely feel disappointed when confronted with vibrant red fruit and pungent savoury herbs coupled with some degree of tannic power. The best of these wines walk a tightrope between force and elegance, erring on the side of varietal fruit character and earth as opposed to sporting a pancake makeup overdose of oak. I prefer those primal Chiantis that speak directly of their native land, even if they are a tad gnarly, like old elementals draped in garrigue and clods of mud. Those that skew more towards the diktats of flying winemakers and a ceaseless push for more concentration rapidly lose my interest. Bigger ain’t always better, particularly with this delicate, rather temperamental grape. This is not a moral pronouncement or a rigidly clasped axiom. You know, it’s just like, my opinion, man. Nature is not perfect… nor is good wine. When everything tastes the same, we lose our ability to be wowed, however hedonistic the benchmark may be.

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Chianti Classico was officially delimited in 1716, although what is now one sub-region among eight initially WAS Chianti, full stop. As the wine became an international star, demand soared and grape-growing expanded into nearby towns and countryside to meet said demand. The moniker “Classico” was eventually added to wines made within the original Chianti area, with the sub-region established as its own DOCG in 1984. This came about largely because producers in Chianti Classico felt that their wines were more historical, distinctive, and ultimately superior to those produced in surrounding areas, perhaps a classic(o) case of “we were here first”. It turns out that the self-styled old guard might have a point, as the DOCG does enjoy more strict rules of production, including longer minimum age requirements compared to the Chianti DOCG (alas, home to many subpar vineyards) and a minimal Sangiovese composition of 80% with no white grapes in the blend. My mind knows that there are other interesting terroirs across the sub-regions, but my heart guides me toward a more conservative approach such that I usually look for the tell-tale black rooster when browsing the Italian section.

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Villa Cafaggio is technically situated in the hamlet of Greve, typically known for full bodied renditions of Sangiovese with concentrated fruit flavours. However, the broader region of Greve itself includes Panzano, a separate village with its own distinctive and long-standing history of wine-making. Yes, even the sub-regions here have sub-regions. I try not to let my head explode. A consortium of Panzano winegrowers are in fact lobbying to have the region separate from Greve entirely. This push has met with no official success to date, yet that has not stopped these intrepid folk, the  Unione Viticoltori Panzano (UVP), from going ahead and forming the first consolidated district for organic wine production in Italy, in which 90 per cent of its vineyards are organically farmed. The government won’t listen? That’s hardly new. We shall simply do our own thing regardless. Some of this sounds strangely familiar. Villa Cafaggio is a proud member of the UVP. Interestingly enough not all Panzano producers are, and defining specific geographical boundaries in a fashion that makes wine-growing sense remains a going concern across the greater Chianti region. Suffice to say, Panzano has staked a claim to its own historical and modern identities. Villa Cafaggio seeks to deliver savoury, perfumed wines that capture this culture.

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The present wine is 100% Sangiovese, not uncommon in Chianti Classico these days, where one can observe a shift from the traditional blend of grapes to offerings that highlight pure varietal character. The grapes themselves hail from various estates that surround the winery, in the heart of the “Conca D’Oro” or “shell of gold”. This is a reference to sprawling wheat fields, a point not lost on regional competitors who remark that “the wheat is good down there” (nudge nudge wink wink… “but the wine sucks”). Sure, there is a lot of fertile clay in Panzano, but some olive green marl limestone and sandstone provide nuance and the south/south-east/south-west exposures suit Sangiovese just fine. The grapes are harvested by hand, pumping over the cap is used, and the wine spends 12 months in 65 hl Slavonian oak barrels, generally a good choice if the intent is to avoid something dominated by wood aromas and flavours.

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Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (I like the font?)

Take a sniff of this ruddy garnet beast and you might imagine yourself strolling through a pine forest. I then conjure up images of cedar cabinetry, freshly asphalted road, pressure-treated railway ties, old leather and cured pelts. This is pretty animalistic, prickly with pomanders and dried Mediterranean herbs (oregano, lavender, thyme, sagebrush), yet embossed with dried red fruits and a touch of black (cranberry, pin cherry, prunes, strawberries that were once glistening in the sun and now have desiccated down to the husk). A huge plume of umami rises up through the untamed woods and urban decay, itself a curious combination, combining with the acidity to somewhat comically bring to mind fancy tomato ketchup (Dijon ketchup?). I do love older Sangiovese, yet some lingering scratchy tannins and all those mercantile notes are leaving me a tad parched. I yearn a little for summer, for something fresh… And I get a brief pulse of just those pristine fruits: red cherries and black plums mostly, before the goji and craisins and old moccasins elbow them back out of the way. Hey, there they are again, lurking in the tar. Oak lingers like a thin smoky haze. I lean back and let things unfold as they will. You know, the acidity has held up quite well, even if the fruits are struggling in the muck. This seems old before its time. I revisit what I like in Sangiovese, and perhaps wine more generally. I realize that I do not yet know, necessarily, and I take some solace in the fact that this “liking” doesn’t have to be set in old stone.

87 points

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