Think of Ricasoli and you think of Chianti Classico. This Tuscan estate is almost synonymous with the region and the wine – being by far the largest estate in Chianti Classico and having an historical association that dates back through over 800 years of winemaking. Under the helm of the 32nd Barone Francesco Ricasoli, however, the estate has been progressing forwards in leaps and bounds with a major soil study, replanting programme and introduction of three Gran Selezione crus producing wines that are arguably the best Chiantis money can buy. Peter Dean tastes and rates the new 2018 vintage of these three wines – Roncicone, Colledilà and CeniPrimo – as well as the estate’s flagship wine, the 2018 Castello di Brolio which, for the first time ever, is being made with 100% pure Sangiovese.
“It’s such a credit to Francesco and his team that in this, only the fourth vintage of the wine, it is already arguably the best Chianti Classico money can buy,” writes Dean about the 2018 CeniPrimo.
Ricasoli is in many ways the archetypal producer in the Chianti Classico area – the Castle Brolio which sits at the centre of the 1,200 hectare estate, is the by far the largest estate in the region, surrounded as it is by 240 hectares of vineyards and 26 hectares of olive groves, biodiversity incarnate. Like all great Italian estates its history harps back centuries and, in this case, almost a thousand years – historical records trace Ricasoli’s origin to 1141 which makes it one of the four oldest wineries in the world.
There are other examples of the very close association between the estate and Chianti both as a wine and a region – a reproduction of the family tree from 1584 has one of the first references to wine in the region and Bettino Ricasoli is credited with being the first person to produce the original Chianti Classico wine in the Nineteenth Century – Sangiovese blended with indigenous varieties Canaiolo and Colorino along with two white varieties, Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia. The whites are no longer allowed, of course, and the wine can now be made with 100% Sangiovese which has paved the way for Ricasoli to make three individual and celebrated crus – Roncicone, Colledilà and CeniPrimo – and the estate’s flagship wine, Castello di Brolio becoming 100% Sangiovese from the ew 2018 vintage.
Under the helm of Bettino’s great-grandson, current owner Francesco Ricasoli who is the 32nd Barone Ricasoli and has been in charge since 1993, the estate has been projected forwards with step-changes of innovation in sustainability, a greater understanding of soil types, the clonal selection of Brolio Sangiovese and a fine-tuning of the portfolio which now numbers 11 wines (including two annata versions, a riserva, the four different Gran Selezione wines, as well as a 100% Merlot named Casalferro), two grappas and a selection of olive oils.
Between 2006 and 2008, Francesco, together with his team, carried out a major zonation project in collaboration with the CRA (Council for Research and experimentation in Agriculture), which led to the identification of 19 different soils within five main soil substrates in the Ricasoli estate, all typical of Chianti Classico. Since 1994 all of the vineyards have been replanted. From there, he made the decision to create the aforementioned pure Sangiovese crus from three vineyards planted on different soils: Colledilà whose first vintage was 2007, Roncicone and Ceniprimo which both started with the 2015 vintage.
So how were the new wines tasting?
The tasting starts with three vintages of Castello di Brolio which is the flagship wine of the estate, which is only produced in the best vintages
Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015, Ricasoli
Light to medium cherry red, almost see-through. A good deal of complexity in the (slightly shy) bouquet: lovely mix of red cherries, plums, dried thyme, balsamic with a hint of vanilla; Medium weight on the palate, elegant, firm but ripe and super-fine tannins, vibrant acidity, dry and nicely balanced with refined dried red cherry, good concentration with a very long tingly finish, an attractive dusty, bitter leatheriness mixed in there too. In a good place right now (although it will age well for a decade) and perfect with a tomato-based dish with plenty of olive oil and fresh herbs.
Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016, Ricasoli
Lovely example of a fruit-forward Chianti Classico Gran Selezione from an outstanding vintage, that more than deserves all the excitement. Medium cherry red in colour; a much more open and floral bouquet than the 2015 (in fact it is very different to the 2015)… you still have the red fruits (strawberry) but there’s also potpourri, dried oregano, a sense of wet clay, hints of smoke and fresh tobacco; Medium weight in the mouth this is so welcoming! – open, fresh and juicy, with the sweet tannins well integrated, but not hidden, dry with tart red cherry notes, red plum, dark spices and that mineral/ zesty tingle on the persistent finish. Beautifully made Chianti.
Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, Ricasoli
The first time that the Castello di Brolio Gran Selezione has been made from 100% Sangiovese, keeping it in line with the three crus (reviewed below). To look at the wine is light to medium cherry red, almost transparent; The wine has a fabulous bouquet, clearly very young but really vinous and vibrant with notes of red cherry, tomato leaf, fresh fig and Tuscan dust; IN the mouth it is medium weight, fresh, open, the structure well balanced by the abundance of fruit – dry but with good balance, attractive tart cherry notes, a twist of citrus with a fine-grained texture. This wine is clearly young and needs more time in the bottle, although you could always be tempted to pair it with a heavy sauce-based pasta – think wild boar ragu – and it would match very well indeed.
Roncicone, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, Ricasoli
Top drawer Chianti Classico Gran Selezione that display its pure, top pedigree from start to finish. To look at the wine is light, ruby-red, transparent; It has a pure and complex nose – serious, savoury and earthy, with hints of walnut skin, Earl Grey, orange peel, dried red fruits, damp earth; Medium weight on the palate, elegant, lithe, structured and high-toned but with ripe, powdery tannins, firm acidity – persistent finish with an attractive dry river stone texture. Drink from 2024 when it will be unstoppable.
Colledilà, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, Ricasoli
Wow this Colledilà is stunning! Light, ruby-red, transparent; on the nose the wine is elegant, refined and amazingly a pointe now – you could easily drink this stunning Chianti Classico Gran Selezione now – although time (2-10 years will reward). On the nose the bouquet is pretty, floral and fruity, precise and detailed with notes of red cherry, cherry tomato, lavender; the light to medium palate is so well balanced – red fruit with meltingly ripe tannins. The finish is a a little abrupt, but this is still a pup. Leave it if you can it be will be fascinating to see how this develops.
CeniPrimo, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, Ricasoli
It’s not for nothing that James Sucking has said of this hedonistic 100-pointer Chianti Classico Gran Selezione that it is “perhaps the greatest Chianti Classico I have ever tasted.” It doesn’t put a foot wrong and is so complete an expression that it is quite mind-blowing. It’s such a credit to Francesco and his team that in this, only the fourth vintage of the wine, it is already arguably the best Chianti Classico money can buy.
To loo at the wine is light, ruby-red, transparent; there is a slightly retiring bouquet but, as it opens, it offers a number of cherry notes, along with sweet tobacco, wet Tuscan clay, red liqourice, raw beef, all simply in harmony; the palate is extraordinary, a perfect balance to the wine with everything in its right place – fruit profile, tannins, structure, texture, acidity, juiciness. It’s like the highest house of cards with not a feather of a wind to put it out of place.
The Ricasoli wines are imported into the UK by Fells.