Rufina - to Chianti or not to Chianti?
To the outsider visiting Chianti, no place could be more blessed. The extensive region modestly boasts beautiful countryside with historical castles and villas, hills and mountains with a patchwork of vineyards, olive groves and forest lands. The beauty is undeniable and furthermore the district is synonymous with a wine that is known worldwide.
But below the surface of this vast area that calls itself Chianti bubbles an uncertainty that this region, in fact, varies far too much from one corner to the other and that this causes the individuality of the subregions to wash out. The common denominator"Chianti" is, yes, well known but is deprived of a specificity, apart from being an affordable red wine from the central hills of Tuscany.
The connotation of cheap Chianti wine is a true struggle for a lot of wineries. Especially the smaller ones that have a general desire to improve their quality. But unfortunately, it's not an easy mindset to change as there is still far too much quaffable low-quality wine being made by larger cooperatives.
So is being a winery in Chianti a curse or a blessing? It depends on who you ask and on which side of the fence they are standing.
The Chianti region (so, not the Classico area but the twice-as-large area surrounding the Classico) is divided into 7 sub-zones. No need to mention each one and their characteristics, at least not in this post. But they have names that go "Chianti something" and refer to a specific area within Chianti. Producers who have fields inside a particular region could hence indicate so on the label. Whereas the intent was to emphasize the different areas, many are still far too vast. And some remain rather unknown or not really utilised. So wines sell simply because of the word "Chianti" limiting a producer's creativity in terms of style and also in terms of investment. A Chianti Montalbano, for example, could simply not cost 50 euro a bottle (or even half that), so no big advancement can be done to improve it. It's a cat biting its own tail.
Some producers opt to drop the subregion altogether and chose to use the simpler generic "Chianti" which is allowed in any of these subzones (except of course Classico which is not part of the generic Chianti region). That way we avoid labels cluttered with long names like "Chianti Colli Fiorentini". Just "Chianti" is easier to read and seems to get the job done.
Others do use the subzone name which can be a challenge to market as they tend to be unknown.
What could be done? Perhaps dropping the term Chianti altogether and creating wine styles that are more distinct to their regions may be the way ahead. E.g. instead of "Chianti Montespertoli "just "Montespertoli", or instead of "Chianti Rufina", just "Rufina"...a thought that seems to be growing with the new generation in the most northern part of Chianti. Challenging indeed, but perhaps a way forward...
On our private wine tours, we usually venture out to various regions. We're not limited to one specific area, but we are definitely in search of the best and most characteristic within a subregion. Places that tell a story. Here's Selvapiana in the CHIANTI RUFINA that in this age is led by Federico, a very passionate winemaker who tells us its past and possible future of Rufina.