For a long time now, I’ve argued that Chianti Classico produces Tuscany’s—and therefore, the world’s—greatest Sangiovese. But a variety of factors, commercial ones mostly, cause the wines to be maddeningly inconsistent, not just in overall quality but in style.
On one hand, you’ve got the more ‘international’ styles infused with grapes such as Cabernet and Merlot (Chianti Classico wine has always, in fairness, been a blend), while more recently, producers such as Tenuta di Bibbiano have doubled down on the native Sangiovese, to the point of presenting it as a 100% ‘varietal’ wine. I’m very much in favor of the latter, and wines like today’s pitch-perfect 2015 help support my case. Anyone who has visited Chianti Classico knows that it is as much woodland as it is vineyard, and no grape variety evokes the woods quite like Sangiovese. In the wines of Bibbiano, you’re also summoning the spirit of the late Giulio Gambelli (1925-2012), a legendary consultant who helped craft most of the greatest Sangiovese wines ever made. Gambelli famously worked with Sangiovese icons such as Montevertine and Soldera, but his longest tenure of all—some 60 years—was with Bibbiano. This 2015 Riserva isn’t just a blue-chip Chianti Classico Riserva but a world-class, ageworthy red that is scandalously undervalued at $29. I’d gladly use it as ‘Exhibit A’ in my ongoing case for this region and this grape!
Let’s start with Bibbiano’s ancient history: Like many wine estates in this part of the world, it was once a feudal property, or tenuta, dating to the 11th century. Spanning more than 200 hectares and complete with a Medieval castle and hilltop chapel, it was acquired by the Marzi family in 1865; commercial wine production began in earnest until after World War II, making Bibbiano one of the longest-established wineries in Chianti Classico. Today, brothers Tommaso and Federico Marrocchesi Marzi oversee the impeccably restored estate, which includes 25 hectares of organically farmed vines in the hamlet of Castellina in Chianti. They’ve held organic certification since 2011, and have become known for focusing on 100% Sangiovese wines.
The Bibbiano vineyards reach to about 300 meters’ elevation, with soils comprised of the classic Chiantigiano mix of sandstone and clay/limestone marl. These are rocky, sedimentary soils, with Bibbiano’s in Castellina featuring a high percentage of alberese, a hard, whitish rock containing lots of calcium carbonate (i.e. lime). Sangiovese is a grape with naturally high acidity to begin with, but these soils are key to maintaining the nerve and lift that distinguishes the best Chianti Classico wines.Classified as a riserva, meaning it undergoes a minimum of 24 months’ aging before release, today’s 2015 is crafted from 100% Sangiovese aged in a mixture of concrete tanks and 500-liter French oak tonneaux. Whereas the trendy style of Riserva 10-15 years ago was richer, oakier, and likely incorporated Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in significant percentages, this one is all about Sangiovese, and it really is as successful as any Brunello di Montalcino in delivering a vivid snapshot of the variety: In the glass, it’s a deep ruby with garnet and rose highlights, with transporting aromas of brambly wild berries, black cherry, tobacco leaf, espresso grounds, and lots of underbrush. It is medium-plus in body, dark and brooding but also brightened by a wave of freshness and a firm grip of tannin. It really has all its component pieces in place—both fruit and earth get equal stage time and the wine has a tautness that suggests a good 5-7 years of positive evolution ahead of it. If consuming now, decant it 45 minutes before serving in large Bordeaux stems at 60-65 degrees, but please consider laying a few bottles down: it has the potential for real fireworks in a few years’ time, and I know I want to open one then and prove to the world just how ‘collectible’ Chianti Classico can be! As for food, well, this wine provokes a downright primal urge for grilled beef of some kind, preferably something well-marbled and well-charred. Game birds or a woodsy mushroom pasta would more than suffice as well. Just make it as “Tuscan” as you can, because this wine is as Tuscan as it gets. Enjoy!
Chianti Classico DOCG
500-Liter French Oak 'Tonneaux'
Calcareous Marl & Sandstone