Lastly, we arrive at what Giovanni Manetti calls “the crème de la crème” of Chianti Classico, the Gran Selezione. Manetti is the winemaking director at Fontodi, the most esteemed winery in Panzano, and he is the current president of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico. Less than 2% of the wines in Chianti Classico are destined for the Gran Selezione category, which certainly lends credence to a pyramid when it comes to scarcity. Recent changes to its regulations (outlined below) are also making the category more focused, and I think we will be seeing more Riserva wines shifting to this designation over time.
Chianti Classico Coverage
- Understanding the History of Chianti Classico
- First-Taste Guide to Chianti Classico
- Are Terroir-Driven Wines the Future of Chianti Classico?
- Tasting Report: Chianti Classico Annata
- Tasting Report: Chianti Classico Riserva
- Tasting Report: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione – (you are here)
I will admit to a certain level of skepticism about this category going into my travels. One of the most honest answers I got about the need for Gran Selezione came from Baron Francesco Ricasoli, who told me point blank that the category was designed to address market forces.
“Riserva often — especially in the U.S. — is considered a commodity that has been stuck within a certain price bracket. This was frustrating and limiting. When I state this, I also mean that often our wines — in terms of Chianti Classico and our top wines — were underrated and they were too cheap. So we needed a new box.”
Fair enough. Given Chianti Classico’s reputation through the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s — and given how vastly different these wines are today — I cannot fault the region for fine-tuning its category mix so that their top wines can be considered alongside the likes of Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo.
Top Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Wines
But how do they stack up? Truthfully, the best wines in the region — at least from my rounds and rounds of tasting this year — are in the Riserva category, but that is not because of the “box” they check. It is producer driven. In fact, when you read the regulations on Gran Selezione, there is no reason to believe these wines cannot live up to their “crème de la crème” status, especially since international varieties will no longer be allowed, and oak aging isn’t mandated (bottle aging is). The reputation that Gran Selezione is oaky is entirely producer driven, not baked into the regulations.
As a reminder, here is the category’s requirements pulled from our First Taste Guide:
Chianti Classico Gran Selezione requires a minimum of 30 months of aging, of which a minimum of three months must be in bottle. Additionally, all fruit must be estate fruit, and the blending percentage of Sangiovese must be 90% or higher, rather than the standard 80%. Another positive development: international varieties will no longer be allowed in this category with newly adopted changes. In forthcoming vintages, this will be the only category to allow UGA (i.e. village) labeling.
There were a few very promising examples, and over the next few years, this will be the category to watch if you are passionate about Italian wine. (If you need a refresher on our star-rating system, visit How We Rate Wine).
Top Choice: Ricasoli “Castello di Brolio” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Ricasoli’s wines are all very well made. They have few stray threads, and often times seem as well-mannered and buttoned up as the estate they represent. Sometimes, it can seem like they lack surprise, but in this wine — one of Ricasoli’s four Gran Selezione — I was astonished.
Castello di Brolio is a selection of the best grapes from across the estate, blended together. We often hear this promise in the wine trade, yet rarely see it fulfilled in the glass. However, with the 2018 (★★★★★) I tasted the most delicate, most perfumed and most persistent of any other Gran Selezione I tasted. Its acidity is absolutely on point, but the biggest surprise was how silky the tannins were at such an early stage. This wine is an absolute winner.
Ricasoli also makes three single-vineyard Gran Selezione which are profiled below.
100% Sangiovese (all wines)
Villa Calcinaia “Vigna Bastignano” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2017)
Villa Calcinaia “Vigna Fornace” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Villa Calcinaia “Vigna Contessa Luisa” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Villa Calcinaia appears to be one of the first estates to not only embrace the single-vineyard principle for Gran Selezione, but to offer three cru wines of distinct geological difference for comparison tasting. I honestly could not isolate a favorite, as all three were so precisely made, but individualistic enough to justify their existence. Produced every vintage since 2008, the Vigna Bastignano (★★★★ 3/4) is the most forthcoming aromatically, offering dried berries and a juniper-like, resinous scent to complement the clear-as-day Sangiovese notes. Coming from primarily silty soils, Vigna Bastignano is already beautifully balanced. The Vigna Fornace (★★★★ 3/4) is from sandier soils, and it seems to be the most juicy and persistent of the three, with a finish that seemed endless. Lastly, the Vigna Contessa Luisa (★★★★ 3/4) draws its power and intensity from clay soils, with upfront tannins that need some time to settle. I recommended this trio of wines as the ideal first-taste of Gran Selezione for beginners.
Winemaker Sebastiano Capponi is a very cerebral winemaker. His intuition is not to worry about the market forces, but rather to showcase the terroir of his corner of Chianti Classico, the UGA of Montefioralle. If you are not familiar with these wines, it is time to hunt them down.
100% Sangiovese (all wines)
Tenuta di Lilliano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Lilliano’s 2018 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (★★★★ 3/4) vanquished many of my doubts about the “top of the pyramid” category. Rather than showing overt oakiness, the wine gracefully presents a unique spin on Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, with floral aromatics and a citric tang more akin to grapefruit than orange. The intensity on the palate is never overbearing, and the precise tannins lend a wonderful structure.
What was more thrilling was the cask sample I tasted of what is to come with the 2020, an as-yet-to-be-named single-vineyard wine that will be Lilliano’s second Gran Selezione. “It was quite the iconic year to come up with a new wine,” proprietor Alessandro Ruspoli noted to me, in reference to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vineyard has more limestone than the other Lilliano holdings, and that seems to transmit into this forthcoming wine’s lean, elegant profile of strawberry-like fruit with meaty and peppercorn edges. Look for it in late 2023, if not 2024.
Ricasoli “Colledilá” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Ricasoli “Roncicone” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Ricasoli “Ceniprimo” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Like Villa Calcinaia, Ricasoli is utilizing the Gran Selezione category to offer a comparison of single-vineyard sites of distinction: Colledilá, Roncicone and Ceniprimo. As a result, I’m lumping those three together here. Each one has an amazing label, depicting a portion of an artistic family tree drawn in 1584 (this family never lets you forget their incredible history, nor should they). To reduce the complex geology down to its simplest form, Colledilá is primarily clay-based soil, Roncicone is sandy, while Ceniprimo is more silty.
The best wine I tasted was Colledilá (★★★★ 3/4), which seemed to convey Sangiovese’s most beautiful characteristics in the most heightened of ways. Its satin tannins were surprisingly well integrated given the wine’s youth and stature. Roncicone (★★★★ 1/2) had more austere tannins and a looser fitting acidity, but beautiful aromas of cherry, orange, leather and petrichor. Lastly, Ceniprimo (★★★★ 1/2) presented more fruit, more body and more spice, and seemed to be the better people-pleaser in the crowd. A distracting tinge of vanilla on the finish kept me from ranking these wines higher.
100% Sangiovese (all wines)
Other Notable Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Wines
Fontodi “Vigna del Sorbo” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Long a critical darling, Fontodi is among Chianti Classico’s biggest names. When the Gran Selezione category came about, the esteemed single-vineyard wine “Vigna del Sorbo” easily transitioned into the role for the estate. Some of the vines in this vineyard are nearing 60 years of age, which is considerably old for Sangiovese. The power and concentration you’d expect from such a heritage is certainly present in the 2018 (★★★★ 1/2), but so is a Bordeaux-esque spirit from the use of oak. Potent and astringent at times, the wine needs several years to come into form, but unlike many oaky Chianti wines, the savory quality of Sangiovese has not been smothered over. Black cherries, leather and vanilla leave their mark on the finish.
Fèlsina “Colonia” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2018)
Another Gran Selezione wine that leads drinkers to believe the category is about oak, is Fèlsina’s “Colonia.” I tasted the 2018 vintage (★★★★ 1/4), and while I really wanted to love this wine (after the goodness of Fèlsina’s annata and remarkable sparkling Sangiovese), I just couldn’t warm up to it. There is a nice floral quality and a sweetness that has broad appeal, but it lacks the heartiness and savory edges that make Chianti Classico worth pursuing. A very plush and internationally styled wine, despite the absence of international varieties.
Querceto di Castellina “Sei” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2019)
Another Gran Selezione that stood out to me was Querceto di Castellina’s 2019 called “Sei” (★★★★ 1/2). Like other Castellina wines, it shows a distinctly different citric profile to its acidity that seems more bracing and active than other Chianti Classico villages. To find this in the Gran Selezione was a pleasant surprise, for these wines are not known for their juiciness. The wine is very savory — a tenor like smoked meat — with berry and floral aromatics that add nice touches. However, the finish is a smidge too oaky for my tastes.
Image captions (all images ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle): The vineyards at Villa Calcinaia (top); wines of Ricasoli; Sebastiano Capponi of Villa Calcinaia; Villa Calcinaia’s “Vigna Contessa Luisa” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione; Villa Calcinaia; the famed Conca d’Oro vineyards of Panzano; Alessandro Ruspoli of Tenuta di Lilliano; Tenuta di Lilliano’s 2004 Riserva, which would be classified as Gran Selezione today; Fontodi’s wines; Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi; the rare breed of Chianina cattle raised on-site at Fontodi; Fèlsina’s “Colonia” Gran Selezione.
Note: My travels through the Chianti Classico region were greatly supported logistically and financially by the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, who transported me to each winery and covered accommodation costs. Without that support, the trip would have never happened. However, the wineries were selected by me out of editorial consideration, and no compensation was involved for any of this work. Opinions are exclusively my own. Learn more about our editorial policy.
FWIW, I’ve been enjoying Querceto di Castellina wines for many years. I’ve always found their Chianti Classico, called L’Aura, to be better than their GS. I’m not good with wine words, but L’Aura is fresher and more vibrant. Just one persons opinion, but that’s what I think.
“Fresher and more vibrant” pertains to a lot of the Chianti Classico entry-level wines for sure, and you are not alone in preferring them. They can be a real joy, and a great value too.