Revisiting a Classic Chianti
In my October column on 50 of the classic wines of the world, I singled out Castello di Monsanto's renowned Il Poggio bottling as a defining example of Chianti. So it was good fortune, or weird coincidence, or something, that Monsanto's Laura Bianchi happened to swing through town today to do a short retrospective tasting of three decades of Il Poggio.
I'll give her the prefatory remark: "What's important is that the style of the wine does not change. We believe in what my father started forty years ago, and we always try to improve the quality but not change the style."
That seems to me a good approach, if you've got a wine in your portfolio that is as exemplary as Il Poggio. It comes from a single five-and-a-half hectare vineyard on the Monsanto property, and is a blend of 90% Sangiovese with roughly equal parts Colorino and Canaiolo, aged for 18 months in new and one-year-old French oak. And, as this tasting proved (yet again; I've tasted this wine a lot over the years) it ages beautifully.
We tasted five vintages—2004, 2003, 1997, 1982, and 1977—and all of them were in admirable shape, with the '04 and the '82 the standouts of the group. 1997 and 2003 were both hot years, and that showed in both wines' black cherry fruit (more dried black cherries in the '97, and shading to plum paste in the '03) and a dark-roast coffee character in the '97 as well. Yet, even in vintages like these, it's worth noting that superripe for Chianti would still be considered somewhat astringent and austere in, say, Napa or Barossa. That's one lovely thing about good Chianti—even from a hot year it retains a cracked-twig crispness to its tannins and general character that makes it a fantastic partner for food.
The '82 was vividly aromatic, full of floral, leather and black tea. In the mouth it showed game and truffle along with sweet dried raspberry and cherry, and, as it opened up, distinctly fresh mint notes. If you can find this anywhere, and it's been stored carefully, buy it. It's drinking beautifully, and should continue to do so for some time.
The '04 is the current release (it's the one I wrote up for my column) and it's a great vintage of this wine. Dark cherry and raspberry aromas with a slight caramel hint from oak, lightly gamy and intense, loads of black cherry fruit, tea leaf suggested both in the taste and in the tactile tannins, an alluring note of violets... It's young, but after about two hours open it was terrific, and if you're hunting for a top-notch Chianti to cellar for—well, pretty much as long as you'd want to cellar it—this is a great choice.