For many people, their first memory of Chianti wine is a bottle in a straw basket that you would put a candle in as soon as you finished drinking the wine. While the baskets have long since disappeared, many people think of Chianti as a grape, not as a region. And Chianti Classico is thought of as a classic style of Chianti. This leads to a lot of misunderstanding about the region.
Chianti Classico is in fact the oldest and most genuine area in the Chianti region in central Tuscany. Chianti Classico has had its own Consorzio since 1924 and became an established subzone of the Chianti DOC in 1967. In 1984, Chianti Classico was promoted from DOC to DOCG status and in 1996, the region became a separate DOCG from Chianti.
It is a rather large area that stretches between Florence and Siena and includes 14 municipalities. Chianti Classico wines consist of a minimum of 80 percent Sangiovese and the remainder can be from native grapes Canaiolo or Colorino or from international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
Chianti Classico is often thought of as a more traditional, rather dull wine. But due to the range of characters that Sangiovese provides, as well as a diverse soil and microclimate, Chianti Classic is a rather friendly, drinkable wine. And, one of the wineries that stands out and validates the beauty of Chianti Classico is Badia a Coltibuono.
Located in Gaiole, one of the 14 municipalities in Chianti Classico, Badia a Coltibuono, or the “abbey of good culture,” was established in 1051 by San Giovanni Gualberto, founder of the Vallombrosan order and patron saint of the foresters, rangers and parks. The monastery was active until Napoleon annexed it in 1810. The abbey was purchased by the Stucchi Prinetti family in 1846. By the 1950s, the property was a classic estate, selling wine to the local market and selling in bulk. Then, in the late 1950s, Piero Stucchi Prinetti took charge and began bottling the best vintages of the estate Chianti Classico Riserva and selling them on the domestic and international markets.
Today, Piero’s son, Roberto Stucchi, and his siblings, Emanuela and Paolo, are the owners and managers of the property, which includes an agriturismo and restaurant in the converted monastery. Roberto studied agriculture and worked as a winemaker in Italy before moving to California to study at UC Davis. After graduation, he spent some time in Napa but returned to the family property in 1985.
As soon as he returned to Badia a Coltibuono, Roberto started the process of converting to organic farming. He cut out the use of herbicides and pesticides, and the vineyard was certified organic in 2000. Contrary to his Davis training, Roberto also shifted to using only indigenous yeasts. He has found that due to Sangiovese’s sensitivity, it responds better to natural yeasts.
According to Roberto, the grape Sangiovese does not have a strong or overwhelming varietal character. It produces a wine that is not about big color but rather about nuances. Sitting down for a tasting with Roberto, I was able to taste the beauty of the nuance of Chianti Classico Sangiovese and understand the impact vintage has on the final wine.
— Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2016 – Made from organic grapes, the wine, which spends one year in cask, is 90 percent Sangiovese with 10 percent Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and Colorino. 2016 was a hot year but it hailed just before bud break. The resulting wine has notes of blackberry, cranberry and bramble and is easy drinking with balanced tannins and acid.
— Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2015 – The same grape blend as the 2016, the 2015 Riserva spends two years in cask and is made for longer aging. 2015 was a warm but easy vintage, with large healthy crops. The wine has a brighter nose than the 2016, with aromas of bramble, wild red fruit, herbs and spices. It is a well-balanced wine that is quite expressive.
— Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 – The 2008 vintage was a variable year. It was not as hot as 2015 but not an easy year. The 2008 wine was grumpy wine when it was young and has mellowed with age. On the nose, brown spices, dried cherry and vanilla can be found and on the palate the wine has intense acidity with drying tannins on mid-palate.
— Badia a Coltibuono Cultus Boni Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 – Cultus Boni is the Latin name for the winery. Made with 80 percent Sangiovese, the additional 20 percent consists of indigenous varieties Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Canaiolo, Mammolo, Foglia Tonda, Malvasia Nera, Sanforte and Pugnitello. Aged for two years in oak, the wine has aromas of sweet brown spices, dried flowers, forest floor, chocolate and cranberry with soft drying tannins and a velvety finish.
— Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto IGT (Super Tuscan) 2013 – Originally produced in 1980 as a “statement” about Sangiovese and Super Tuscans, this Super Tuscan is 100 percent Sangiovese from vines that are 25-30 years old. An intense wine that is a dark ruby color and has a nose of violets, red fruit, spices and vanilla. On the palate it is a savory wine with good acidity and supple tannins.
After tasting the wines and experiencing the nuanced quality of Sangiovese, it is understandable why Badia a Coltibuono, is a marker of quality in Chianti Classico.