badia to the b-b-bone

Thursday, August 06, 2009

In the summer of 1995, while on vacation in Tuscany, I stumbled upon a wine shop in the heart of Chianti and found a treasure trove of dusty bins in a back corner. Each was marked with a vintage year, and haphazardly stacked with a mixed assortment of bottles. As I searched back through the years, there were fewer and fewer bottles in each bin, and they looked as if they hadn't been moved since the winery that produced them had trucked them over to the little shop.

Chianti is one of my favorite wines, despite its rather low-class reputation (especially back then). I noticed that the prices on these older bottles weren't really any higher than the prices on the new bottles, and I thought what the heck – I'll give it a try. So I fished around in a bin marked 1964, found a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva (I think it was Castello di Verrazzano – I remember that the label bore a picture of a guy who looked like one of the Three Musketeers) and took it back to my apartment. I popped the cork that evening, and found, to my delight, that 30-year-old Chianti, despite all admonitions to the contrary, could age quite gracefully. That wine delivered as much pleasure over the course of a full hour as any wine I've ever had.

Last night, while pulling a few bottles up from the cellar to try with a simple dinner of home-made chicken tenders and a broccoli/bean salad, I grabbed a 1999 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico. Not a riserva, but a very fine vintage from a good producer. Reading the back label, I was surprised to see this advice:

“Produced from sangiovese and canaiolo grapes grown in our own vineyards, aged 8 months in oak casks, this wine is ready to drink when released and can age in bottle 4-5 years.”

Here was one of the benchmark wines from a great vintage and they were giving it a life expectancy of 4-5 years! I mean, jeez, any bottle of Washington lemberger gets at least that. Well, the wine drank beautifully. It needed a good half hour to breathe open, and showed best not in a Riedel chianti glass, but in a pinot noir glass, that broadened the aromas and fleshed out the mouth. Would it go another 20 years? I wouldn’t rule it out. But I do wish that Chianti producers would stop selling their wines short.

Interesting postscript – the following year (2000) was the year that the winery began converting its vineyards to organic farming (it was officially certified in 2003). What the impact of that decision might be on the long term aging capabilities of the wines would be an interesting question to explore. Any thoughts?

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at some Washington sangios, and how they do or don’t compare.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's amazing, I was just at that same winery this summer! In fact I was considering buying a 64 as that is my birth year, but I had already bought too much and thought I should pass on a novelty. I did buy some 03 that are quite good.

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