We attended one of the wine events of the year in an old Italian railway station

Christine Austin goes in search of savoury as she takes a seat for the Chianti Classico Collection 2024 tastings in the grand setting of Florence’s old Leopolda railway station.

There must have been a thousand bottles of wine stretching down the length of the old Leopolda station in Florence during the Chianti Classico Collection 2024 tastings.

This is the event of the year, when Tuscan producers present their new vintages of Chianti Classico together with some of their older wines to be appraised. Journalists fly in from Japan, China, Europe, Canada and the USA to claim one of the coveted seats in this grand old building which no longer has trains but still has the tracks in the floor where they used to run.

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To avoid the usual crush around the tables when a bunch of journalists try to find the particular bottle they want, the whole event is under the control of a cohort of Italian sommeliers who are, in my opinion, the most highly trained sommeliers in the world.

A thousand Chianti Classico wines, open and ready for tastingA thousand Chianti Classico wines, open and ready for tasting
A thousand Chianti Classico wines, open and ready for tasting

While the journalists sit in their places with a set of six glasses and notepads, the sommeliers seek and find each particular bottle requested, and bring it, quietly, efficiently and with absolutely no running, back to the writer, then pour exactly the right amount into a glass. The whole wine selection is online, so over two days, the process of asking for certain wines, then tasting and note taking takes place in almost silence.

And that is how I managed to taste a significant number of those thousand bottles of Chianti Classico. My main objective in going to Florence was to evaluate the 2022 vintage which is now released and making its way into shops while I also wanted to check out older vintages.

This was also a chance to compare a number of Gran Selezione wines which are rarely lined up against each other. This is a category that was first approved 10 years ago, but it has taken some time to establish its place on the shelves.

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Just in case the word Chianti has you thinking of straw-covered flasks and fairly cheap, cheerful wine, then you have missed out on a whole lot of legislation and quality improvement. Just like many wine regions of Italy, there is a heartland where some of the best land, hillsides and vines produce the best wines.

Chianti Clasico is the heartland of the regionChianti Clasico is the heartland of the region
Chianti Clasico is the heartland of the region

This is Chianti Classico which lies between Florence and Siena. Surrounding this region there are significant producers of wines that can attach their own particular geographic name to Chianti, such as Chianti Colli Fiorentini and Chianti Rufina. These regions also make good and sometimes excellent wines.

Within Chianti Classico, Sangiovese must make up 80% of the wine with local and international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon permitted in the mix although there is a steady trend towards 100% Sangiovese. This is the grape that gives Chianti Classico its characteristic plump, ripe cherry fruit with a gentle backbone and fresh, food-friendly acidity.

As it ages it develops savoury, almost truffle notes which add complexity to the wine and make it a perfect match with roast meats or any dish where there are mushrooms on the plate.

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Chianti Classico must be aged for at least a year before being sold, Riserva wines must spend a total of two years aging, mainly in wood with a final three months in bottle before being released to the market. Moving up the scale is Gran Selezione which must be made from at least 90% Sangiovese and aged for 30 months, with all grapes coming from a single estate.

Sitting down for the first day of tasting I called in dozens of the 2022 wines, some of which are relevant to our merchants in Yorkshire, plus some more from properties that I particularly like. The early summer of 2022 was hot and very dry, but then rains arrived in August, giving valuable water to the vines and preventing the grapes from becoming over-ripe.

Acidity levels were remarkably good, with fruit to the fore and a satisfying roundness of flavour. I then moved on through the various vintages and classifications on offer. These are the best I found.

Top wines from the 2022 vintage

Banfi Chianti Classico 2022: With 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot filling in any gaps in the Sangiovese profile, this has bright, juicy fruit and terrific palate weight. Bon Coeur has stocks of the 2020 vintage at £21.34.

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Principe Corsini Le Corti Chianti Classico 2022: 95% Sangiovese gives this wine a suppleness and freshness of flavour while still packing some power and tannins that will wait a few years. Field and Fawcett have the 2019 vintage at £20.75.

Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2022: 90% Sangiovese with 10% Merlot in the mix gives this a lovely depth of flavour with enough grip to develop well. The Wine Society has the Volpaia 2021 at £20.

Other top wines from 2022 include: The elegant Felsina Beradenga, the robust Riecine and the deep-flavoured Tregole.

Top wines from the 2021 vintage

Fontodi Filetta di Lamole Chianti Classico 2021: Immediate grip that just melts away into supple fruit with layers of fruit and savoury notes. The Wine Society has the 2019 vintage at £24.

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Dievole Petrignano Chianti Classico 2021: It is so good to see this property show well after the massive renovations of vineyard and winery. Dark fruits, almost chunky. Premier Cru has the 2019 vintage at £26.19.

Querciabella Chianti Classico 2021: 100% Sangiovese grapes in this elegant, concentrated, balanced wine. This estate continues to produce excellent wines. Hic! Wine Merchants has the 2019 vintage. Go snap it up.

Other top wines from 2021 include: Isole e Olena, Badia a Coltibuono and Pruneto.

Top Gran Selezione wines

Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione, 2021: Still much too young with positive, concentrated fruit and a thread of firm, ripe tannins across the palate. Roberts and Speight have the 2018 vintage at £49.99.

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Querceto di Castellina, Sei, Gran Selezione 2020: Silky and gentle initially with power coming through on the palate and a savoury finish. Not yet available in Yorkshire.

Principe Corsini Don Tommaso Gran Selezione 2020: Good to see this ancient property score so well. Balanced, firm and will develop well.

Frescobaldi Rialzi Gran Selezione 2019: 100% Sangiovese and meticulous winemaking gives this wine a structure and silkiness that will last and develop for several more years.

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