Unearthing some classic vintages from one of Tuscany’s finest winemaking zones
The vineyard workers at Travignoli take a break.
Though geographically separated from the main Chianti-producing region, and often overshadowed by Chianti Classico, the Rufina DOCG subzone produces some of Tuscany’s most celebrated wines, and some of the best values at Vino. Chianti Rufina is sometimes referred to as “Chianti in montagna” (mountain Chianti) and is the highest point in the entire Chianti appellation. Such altitudes enable winemakers to create wines with remarkable aging potential — thanks to cooler summer evenings the wines are able to retain their freshness for decades.
This superb winemaking zone is located just a few kilometres east of Florence, towards Pontassieve and the Mugello. Having vacationed — and later lived and worked — in this area, I’ve spent most of my Italian life drinking Chianti Rufina of varying distinction. As a young English teacher in Florence, I was routinely dispatched out to places like Rignano sull’Arno, Rufina itself and Dicomano (a town I jokingly used to call “I say hand”) for private lessons. I remember one such student particularly well: Paolo was a 40-year-old chain-smoker who still lived with his parents in the decidedly sleepy town of Pontassieve. The less said about his English the better, but in the same room where we’d grind through the present continuous week after week were dozens of vintage bottles of Chianti — some dating back to the 1940s — stacked up on a rack under several years worth of dust. At the dinner table the family drank cheap white wine out of a fiasco. They were obviously saving the good stuff for a special occasion, although something told me I was the first non-Tuscan to ever set foot in that house: I recall my astonishment as Paolo’s aging mother proudly showed me spaghetti, presumably imagining I’d never laid eyes on a Barilla box before.
I’m happy to report that I did drink a lot of excellent local wine with friends in Borgo San Lorenzo, Scarperia, Ronta, Vicchio and other villages too small to mention, much of which came directly from the nearby Rufina subzone. Among these producers was the Villa Travignoli, owned by Giovanni Busi, who also formerly presided over the Chianti Rufina Consortium of winemakers. Busi’s ancestors purchased the vineyard in the 1700s; today Giovanni finds himself with an ideal growing site, whose high-altitudes and southern exposure are ideal characteristics for grape-growing.
Though blessed with optimum conditions, Busi chooses to limit Travignoli’s output to ensure only the finest quality product leaves the winery. Most of the 300,000 bottles which bear the Travignoli name are labelled Chianti Rufina, for which the company’s Chianti Rufina Riserva is fermented for four months in steel, nine in barrel and a further four in bottle. The result is a smooth, fragrant wine, bursting with all the power of Tuscan Sangiovese.
It was a delight to finally meet Giovanni Busi when he visited New York this month. Here’s Giovanni discussing “lo stile Rufina” during the recent GustaRufina 2009 event:
Another of our favorite producers in Chianti Rufina is Villa di Vetrice, owned by legendary Tuscan winemaker Grato Grati. Indeed, this traditional 100% Sangiovese is named “Il Chianti del Signor Grati“. Fermented and aged in large oak barrels, the wine is an classic example of Sangiovese’s longevity. 1990 was good year for Tuscan producers it shows: this is a great value wine from an excellent vintage.
The 1982 Vecchia Annata (or “old vintage”) bottling is aged in large oak botti before its release. Though not technically classified as Chianti Rufina, this 100% Sangiovese is still fresh after all these years, demonstrating the incredible aging power of the variety.
Taste all three of these astonishing wines tomorrow, Friday, May 29th from 5:30pm!
For more information call 212-725-6516 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.