The SOMM Journal

June / July 2017

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Page 71 of 124

{ }  71 I got some that first evening. Just as the day of travel caught up with me, I ran into freelance wine writer Lauren Mowery in the lobby, and joined her for a quiet din - ner in Villa la Massa's restaurant. I deferred to Lauren, who studied the wine list and chose the 2009 Chianti Classico from Fontodi, producer of the stalwart Super Tuscan Flaccianello della Pieve. The Fontodi was perfectly dense and integrated; a bright and silky 100 percent Sangiovese whose richness first made me assume that some Bordeaux variety was rounding out the blend. We savored the wine as our server sliced up a T-bone the size of a throw pillow, and I sleepwalked up to my room after a glass of 2006 Vin Santo. That is what we do when we travel with wine in mind: Peruse lists for bottles we don't see at home, and sip them on their own turf. It is selective wine tourism, like hustling through the Louvre, passing up thousands of portraits before finally sigh - ing before the Winged Victory. But there is always more to a place's wine culture than what we study from afar. The next day as we walked through Florence, we noticed a Cronut-level furor around a particular sandwich shop. Hungry and intrigued but not willing to waste away in the queue, we walked down the block to a place we reasoned would be nearly as good with none of the wait. I requested a red wine with my pecorino and prosciutto sandwich, and the pro - prietor returned with a glass of a supple Sangiovese blended with the teinturier Alicante Bouschet, a libation that tacked one measly Euro onto my check. This was not a wine of contemplation. This was the other side of European drinking: an anony - mous wine and a moment of streetside bliss that makes obsessing over oak treatment and sun exposure seem just the tiniest bit silly. But we are professionals—we obsess, compare, rate and rank. On my third day in Tuscany, we ventured to the Gretole estate to taste five vintages of Riserva Ducale Oro, the flagship Chianti Classico Riserva that Ruffino has produced since 1947. We began with the 1977 and finished with 2012. The oldest wines—the 1977 and 1988— revealed their age differently: the '77 with a nose of balsamic and tomato ketchup, and the '88 with raisins, sun-dried tomato and leather. There was quite a bit of pleasure left in the '88. It was like a sharp-witted old man; the '77 was more like a centenarian you'd congratulate just for being coherent. Both shamelessly rustic, these wines were crafted before white varieties were ban - ished from Chianti Classico. The 2010 and 2012 wines were excel- lent: The nose was perfumed and slightly animale, with barrique aging showing in a strong whiff of oak. They had finely-woven but stiff tannins, due to a healthy dose of Cabernet Sauvignon; these were made in the world of wine points after all (the 2012 earned 95 from James Suckling). These younger wines' estate provenance and aging designate them as Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, a mantle that was adopted in 2014 and allows for retroactive labeling of qualifying older wines. Many professionals find the Gran Selezione designation baffling and question its necessity. Wine Director Jane Lopes of Melbourne's Attica wrote a fine article on Chianti Classico at that elucidates this attempt to add a lofty level to a DOCG that struggles just to remain afloat in the fine wine market. Rather than a new category, perhaps a simpler and broader message—that stately wines like the Fontodi and the Riserva Ducale Oro deserve a place alongside Brunello di Montalcino—would serve Chianti Classico better than a new designation. One dusk, we snacked on a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano and sipped Prosecco looking out over Ruffino's Montemasso estate. It was a scene that would inspire two normal people to kiss—but it just inspired us to talk about residual sugar. Wine and travel writers (me too) can be insufferable, talking shop and scribbling notes and arguing over which hotel has the mintiest pillow candies. But a profound moment can keep us in the present—like talking American politics over brick-rimmed glasses of Brunello at a Florence cafe. Or the peasant lunch at the villa at Santedame, where ribollita and red wine nourished us as a pleasant breeze washed over the hilltop. After an espresso, I walked outside and had one last thought as I put my feet up, pulled my hat down and dozed off on the terrace overlooking the vineyards. Maybe the Tuscany I imagined isn't too far from reality. Villa la Massa at dawn. Tasting five vintages of Ruffino's Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico.

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