From the latest issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola:
Badia A Coltibuono is one of the older estates in Chianti Classico, and was one of the first to bottle wines -- they still have a very few bottles from the 40s (the occupying Germans drank everything pre-1945), and also bottles from the 50s and 60s. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to a tasting at the Badia that began with the 1946 vintage, so when Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti told me she'd be pouring a number of older vintages this year at Vinitaly, I made plans to attend.
This time she was pouring the 1965, 1970, 1979 and 1995 Chianti Classico Riservas, and before we get to them some background is in order. Like most Tuscan estates, until well after WWII Badia a Coltibuono was farmed through mezzadria, a share cropping system in which the land of the estate was divided into farms, or poderi, each consisting of farm houses and the necessary other buildings (haybarns, stables and such), fields, and vineyards. The poderi were worked by one or more families, and were pretty much self sufficient, producing everything the residents needed to live. But not money, and therefore the mezzadri paid Emanuela's family in kind, with a share of the crops.
This share included wine: The residents of each podere harvested the vineyards they tended, and made the wine in the podere's cellar, under the supervision of someone from the Badia. With the fermentation complete, the Stucchi Prinetti family's share was transferred to the cellars of the Badia, where it went into huge, ancient (centuries old) chestnut casks. And there it stayed: though the family did bottle some Chianti Classico Riserva each year (they didn't begin to bottle Chianti D'Annata until the 1970s), when Maurizio Castelli joined the staff as Badia a Coltibuono's enologist in 1980, he found cask after chestnut cask full of old wine. Good old wine, because the cool dampness of the cellar was such that the wood was in perfect condition, but he had been hired to help modernize the Badia's winemaking, and one of the first orders of business was to replace the old chestnut barrels with oak, which yields wines that are much more approachable. So all of the old vintages were bottled in 1981, and a significant percentage of the bottles went into Badia a Coltibuono's vintage archive.
And now they offer a fascinating look into the past. Everything was different then. Though Sangiovese was the primary varietal, the old wines also contain the white grapes that no longer go into Chianti. Rather than await polyphenolic ripeness (which helps insure concentration), people harvested when sugar concentrations reached a certain level, or -- if they didn't have the tool for measuring grape sweetness -- when the grapes seemed sweet enough to yield about 12% alcohol. There was no destemming and therefore everything went into the fermentation tanks -- seeds, skins, stems (with their vibrantly green tannins) and all. There was no temperature control, and fermentation was empiric. And finally, the wine, which was quite acidic by modern standards, went into chestnut, which -- though the wood was old and therefore didn't contribute much -- yields tannins that have a different, more vegetal feel to them than do the sweet tannins released by oak.
In short, trying to compare the wines made then with those made more recently is rather like trying to compare a one of those beautiful single-cylinder tractors from the 1930s with a modern high-tech tractor with air conditioned cab and living room-worthy stereo system. Yes, they both have four wheels, but... Looking at them for what they are is instead fascinating.
As I said, you will find the latest vertical on Cosa Bolle in Pentola. Here, reprinted, is the last Badia a Coltibuono vertical I was fortunate enough to attend in 2002:
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 1946
This was bottled immediately because the Germans had drunk up everything when they occupied the Badia during the War. It's pale garnet with almandine brick overtones. The bouquet is still very much alive, with an initial rush of leathery balsam that brings an old leather book binding to mind mingled with sea salt and some iodine; swishing brings up dusky cherry fruit and more balsam, while the leather smoothes some, and with time the balsam gains in intensity and hints of spicy tobacco emerge, going hand in had with the balsam. Beautiful, in an elderly key that brings to mind faded lace. On the palate it shoes its age to a greater degree, with rather tart leafy overtones that mingle with sea salt and dust, with considerable very sour cherry tartness that resolves into warm hot steel and saddle leather with tobacco overtones. Interesting; it's not a wine to sip far from the table, and is clearly long on years, but still has a story to tell and will drink well with hearty flavorful stews, for example venison or wild boar. It has held better than many humans of like age. Lots of tannins, in part from the stems -- the fermentation was in the individual homesteads, in upright wooden tanks, with the stems.
Note: The 46 was entirely from coltura promiscua (the traditional mixed farming system, with rows of grape vines mixed with other crops), because they were planning to plant vineyards but hadn't yet. The subsequent wines were from specialized vineyards, in other words vineyards planted entirely to vine, without other crops between the rows:
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1959
Deep almandine ruby with Moroccan leather and almandine overtones. The bouquet is rather pungent, with spicy saddle leather that mingles with some iodine and sea salt, and underlying wet leaves; a swish brings up a certain amount of acidity and pleasant minty overtones, while leaf tobacco also emerges. Quite a bit going on. On the palate it's surprisingly graceful, with fairly tart cherry fruit supported by lemony acidity and warm smooth tannic overtones that are rather dusty and lead into a clean dusty tannic finish with bitter brambly graphite overtones. One can taste the tannins from the stems, which provide the bitterness, but the overall effect is graceful and there's still quite a bit of life to it. As with the 46 it's a wine that will drink better with foods than on its own, and indeed will be a nice counterpoint to a flavorful stew. In short, if you find a bottle that has been well kept, enjoy it.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1962
Almandine ruby with black highlights and almandine rim. The bouquet is rather musty, with wet leaves and well soaked leather at first sniff, and also some balsam. Swishing brings up more of the same, with the leather increasing and taking on penetrating smoky spicy overtones, and also some leaf tobacco that gains support from some acidity. On the palate it is faded, with some sour notes but not much fruit, supported by some tannins that have a dusty feel to them and lead into a bitter finish with iodine overtones. Geriatric, but then again it 41 years old.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1966
Almandine with black highlights and almandine leather in the rim. The bouquet is clearly elderly, with pungent smoky spice that mingles with leaf tobacco and some acidity that rises up to tickle the nose. On the palate it's livelier than one might have expected from the nose, with some tart cherry fruit that gives way to balsam and sea salt wit underlying tobacco leaf bitterness, and it all flows into a clean tannic finish with strong bitter India ink overtones -- the stems of the grapes providing their contribution. It's interesting, and though it's not a wine for a casual wine drinker, it does have something to say and will drink well with a hearty stew.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1968
Deep orange almandine with black reflections and Moroccan leather rim. The bouquet is clearly well along in years, with spice and leaf tobacco that mingle some slightly greenish overtones. On the palate it's lighter than some of the others, with sea salt and balsam supported by tobaccoey tannins that lead into a clean bitter finish. Though there isn't as much fruit, it has a certain grace, and also a degree of charm; because it is lighter it will work well with grilled meats.
An Observation: The wines of the late 50s through 60s wines are cut from the same cloth. The 46 is distinct; because of its longer bottle age and its having been produced through coltura promiscua.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1971
A historic vintage. Deep black almandine with black highlights and almandine rim; by comparison with the older wines it's livelier. The bouquet is clean, and delicate, with some lacy berry fruit that mingles with slight balsam and hints of spice and salty leaf tobacco that become stronger with more swishing. Deft, and a fair amount going on; it gives an impression of distance. On the palate it's full and quite rich, surprisingly so considering its age, with delicate slightly sour cherry fruit supported by clean dusty tannins that have warm bitter overtones and lead into a warm clean finish. Elegant, and though it's obviously not a young wine it still has quite a bit to say, and will work well with a steak or light stew. If you find a bottle, do enjoy it.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1976
A dreadful vintage, and since Ingegner Stucchi had the best cask set aside every year to bottle as riserva, theirs was the only Riserva made in all of Chianti Classico. The Consorzio had to special order the Galli for them. The wine is almandine with pale black highlights and Moroccan leather rim paling to white. The bouquet is tired, and this cones as no surprise considering the vintage, with musty slightly smoky penetrating leaf tobacco mingled with damp underbrush and underlying saltiness. On the palate it's thin, with hints of cherry fruit supported by bitter rather evanescent tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish with slight sour cherry fruit overtones and alcoholic notes that rise up into the back of the throat. It has, to put it simply, faded, though the way it has faded shows that there was something there to begin with.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1977
Almandine with pale ruby notes and black highlights, Moroccan leather rim. The bouquet is unusual, with a rush of menthol at first sniff that brings Vicks Vaporub to mind underlain by balsam and sea salt; swishing brings forth more mint and some leaf tobacco, but the mint remains paramount. On the palate it's full, and surprisingly smooth, with delicate cherry fruit that has slight tart raspberry overtones and is supported by smooth sweet tannins that have slight minty overtones and lead into a clean warm cherry laced finish with (again) balsam and mint. All this talk of mint may seem off-putting, but the wine manages considerable grace, albeit in an elderly, lacy key, and will drink nicely with succulent white meats.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1980
Deep black almandine ruby with black highlights and Moroccan leather rim. The bouquet is a bit off, with old wet leather that has been soaking for a long time mingled with sea salt and some cedar, hints of acidity, and slightly sour leaf tobacco. No fruit to speak of, and not much depth. On the palate it's mouthfilling, though oddly flat; there's a presence that expands off the tongue to press against the cheeks, but there isn't much in the way of fruit to it, and it's all supported by clean balsam laced bitter tannins that lead into a warm, balsamic finish. It feels like the soul is missing, in a way. Maurizio says the grapes didn't ripen.
Note: From here on, the wines are Sangiovese in purezza
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1982
Deep black almandine ruby with black highlights, some ruby highlights, and almandine rim with Moroccan leather overtones. The bouquet is unexpected, with hot steel and hints of balsam that mingle with wood smoke; with time some cherry fruit emerges too. On the palate it feels stripped bare, much like the 1980, though in this case there's a little more cherry fruit, supported by tannins that have faded into thinness, though they feel as if they once had a burr, and flow into a balsamic finish with cherry overtones. It's gives an impression of thinness, though this is an effect of age -- it obviously had considerable grace to start out with, and has evolved into laciness with time. Graceful, but requires thought.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1985
Deep black almandine ruby with almandine ruby that has some orange overtones in the rim. The bouquet is clean, with cut leaf tobacco and bitter underbrush; not much fruit on the nose, though there is some underlying cherry that provides depth and direction. Also considerable graphite shavings. With time the fruit opens and becomes stronger. On the palate it's full and quite smooth, with powerful dusty cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean sweet cherry laced finish with lots of dust and some bitter cedary notes. Pleasing, and fully mature; because of the bitter dustiness it won't do well as a sipping wine, but it will instead work quite well with hearty stews or succulent grilled meats, especially steaks. Quite nice and worth seeking out.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1986
1985 and 1988 were both great vintages, and the 86, which is sandwiched between them, has always gotten short shrift that is perhaps undeserved. Black almandine with almandine rim. The bouquet is delicate, with leaf tobacco and balsamic notes supported by underlying bitterness and sea salt, with hints of sour cherry fruit that provide direction. Also peppery spice, slight mint and pencil shavings. On the palate it's full, and quite smooth, with delicate slightly tart cherry and forest berry fruit supported by velvety tannins that still display a slight burr, and flow into a clean cherry laced dusty finish. It is better that its reputation, though it doesn't have the power of the 85-88 set, and will work nicely with red meats or stews. Has lived its life and is coming down.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1988
Deep black almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim; gives an impression of vibrancy. The bouquet at first sniff is more delicate than one might have expected, with slightly sour cherry fruit supported by balsam and hints of bitter sea salt with underlying leaf tobacco; more swishing brings forth stronger tobaccoey spice that takes on a reddish cast from the underlying berry fruit, and gains life from some acidity. On the palate it's full and warm, with pleasing sour cherry fruit supported by smooth warm tannins that lead into a warm clean tannic finish with sour cherry overtones; though it doesn't flow over the tongue exuberantly, and indeed shows a degree of restraint, it is graceful, and will work quite nicely with foods, for example a platter of mixed grilled meats. You may wish you had a second bottle.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1990
Deep black almandine ruby with hints of Moroccan leather in the rim. By comparison with the 88 it's slightly more shifted towards brick. The bouquet is clean, with delicate spice and sour cherry that mingle with some mint, warmth, and slight brandied cherries; it's quite nice and there's a lot to plumb. On the palate it's full, though not huge, and to be frank is more about finesse than opulence, with delicate balsam-laced slightly bitter cherry fruit that has leaf tobacco overtones and is supported by clean dusty tannins that lead into a long warm balsamic finish with considerable warmth and some fruit that gain definition from bitter pencil shavings. By comparison with the 88 it displays more finesse, though a little less power.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1993
Deep cherry ruby with almandine in the rim. The bouquet is unusual, with peat smoke and cherry fruit that mingle with peppery spice; with more swishing the fruit comes to the fore. On the palate it's medium bodied, with a thin feeling to it that is the vintage at work, and pleasing cherry fruit that is supported by smooth sweet tannins. To be frank it's not a great wine -- a month of rains beginning just before the harvest preclude greatness -- but it does display considerable grace and will drink quite well with succulent red meats. In short, how to draw a success from an adverse situation.
This takes care of Chianti Classico. This year at Vintialy Emanuela had another vertical as well, of Sangioveto, a barrique aged 100% Sangiovese they introduced in 1980, calling it Sangioveto to increase worldwide awareness of the Sangiovese grape, which was then relatively unknown.
At the time Chianti Classico required the addition of white grapes, so they labeled it as a Vino da Tavola, or table wine (where it joined the ranks of other now classic Tuscan wines including Tignanello and Le Pergole Torte).
With the changes that have taken place in the regulations governing Chianti production, Sangioveto could now qualify as Chianti Classico, if it weren't for the name -- the regulations prohibit the use of grape names. So Sangioveto has gone from being a Vino Da Tavola to being an IGT Toscana.
Badia A Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana VDT 1994
Deep black almandine with almandine rim. Deft bouquet, with warmth, some tart leather, acidity, and hints of woodsmoke mingled with savory accents, and, as it opens, sour berry fruit and some dried flowers. Nice depth. On the palate it's full and rich, with clean berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and a fair amount of warmth that flow into a clean fresh berry fruit finish. Pleasant, rich, and rather seductive; by comparison with the Chianti Classico it's curvier -- a more international style -- and in this context is a fine interpretation of Sangiovese, with much to say to those who will listen.
Badia A Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana IGT 1995
Deep brick ruby with brownish reflections and almandine rim. Looks older than the 94. The bouquet is fairly rich, with warm spice and some green leather , underbrush, savory accents, and some dried flowers, with underlying sea salt and smoke. On the palate it's full, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and warmth that flow into a clean fairly tart berry fruit finish. Deft and much alive; by comparison with the 95 Riserva it's rounder and smoother, with less acidity and not as bright on the finish. Pleasant, but I found myself preferring the Riserva -- a question of personal taste.
Badia A Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana IGT 1997
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is powerful, with berry fruit and spice mingled with green leather, alcohol, tar, and warmth; there's a vibrancy to it, and it has quite a bit to say. On the palate it's full, with powerful berry fruit supported by smooth rich sweet tannins and moderate acidity that is sufficient to provide direction and depth, though it's not as bright as what one finds in the Riserva; it's also elegant in a rounder key, though not as tight as the wines that are aged in larger wood. It has in any case aged beautifully, and displaying great depth. From my personal standpoint it's not as light on its toes as a traditional wine aged in large as opposed to small wood would be, and this has more to do with the style of the wine than its quality, which is impressive.
Badia A Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana IGT 1999
Deep almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is bright, with berry fruit supported by some cedar and tart underlying acidity; it's more graceful and less charged than the 97. On the palate it's full, with bright berry fruit supported by fairly rich raspberry acidity and by cedar-laced tannins that flow into a clean tart fairly dry cedar finish. It seems to represent a change of pace with respect to the older wines; it's brasher and a bit simpler.
Note: Maurizio Castelli has returned as enologist for this one:
Badia A Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana IGT 2004
Almandine with black reflections; Maurizio has begun to experiment with long maceration times. The bouquet is fairly rich, with red berry fruit supported by spice and warmth, and by a fair amount of alcohol as well. On the palate it's full and rich, with deft cherry fruit supported by moderate acidity and by smooth sweet vanilla laced tannins that flow into a clean bright berry fruit finish with lasting warmth. Pleasant, and will drink well with rich meats; it displays considerable depth but is clearly still climbing.
With respect to the Chianti Classico Riserva, the Sangioveto is smoother, softer, and a bit more seductive, and this is an effect of its being aged in barriques as opposed to large oak casks. If you are more traditionally minded you will find the Chianti Classico Riserva more to your tastes, whereas if you are more modern, you will likely prefer the Sangioveto.
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