Italy in Nine Parts. Chianti

New releases from Volpaia, Monsanto, and Castellare


Volpaia: it takes a village, no seriously. The Castello di Volpaia estate is one of the most remarkable wineries I have ever visited. Now, granted I was there in the off-season, but driving up the rather winding road to the hilltop enclave, it’s really not much more than a ring of buildings protecting the inner Castello, can leave you a little perplexed. At the end of the road you arrive in a small Piazza with a bar on one side, and a rather imposing tower on the other.

Fortunately the Piazza is small, so it doesn’t take much wandering to figure out that tower is the retail sales room for Volpaia, the sign on the transom window being a dead give away, if remarkably subtle indication.  Once you’ve discovered the sales office, which was closed at the time of my visit, you might be left wondering where the winery actually is. Chances are your standing on it, next to it or in it!

What to expect: Chianti

Chianti is a large region that produces a wide range of wine styles. From basic Chianti, to the finest Riservas, some elements of the wines remain consistent. Chianti is based on the Sangiovese grape, which typically yields a medium bodied wine with strawberry and cherry fruits that are accented by delicate notes of green herbs, dusty soil, leather, and spice. While Chianti can be produced exclusively from Sangiovese, the vast majority of Chianti includes a small percentage of other grapes. Traditional varieties like Mammolo, Colorino, and Canaiolo were used to add some flesh and aromatic complexity to Chianti, though many producers now include some Merlot, adding fruit and richness, or Cabernet Sauvignon, which contributes power and dark fruit flavors, to their wines.
Volpaia is a fantastically preserved and renovated Italian village of medieval origins. The Stianti family, owners of Castello di Volpaia, have painstakingly restored much of the village and converted it to their winery while preserving all the architectural details and appearances that takes one back to a simpler way of life.

It’s really amazing how one finds the offices of the winery tucked into an alleyway that runs through the heart of the old Castello, or the ageing cellars, spread out as they are, in the basements of the crypt of an ancient chapel. In fact virtually every element of the operations here has been seamlessly integrated into the existing structures, though when additional space was needed for a more modern bottling line the family did spring for a new addition to the village. Thing is, it’s tough to tell where that could possibly be.  Ok, it’s the building in the center of the photo below.

The passion of the Stinati family shows in their dedication to this small village. It’s almost impossibly difficult to work with in the rules and regulations imposed by the Italian government, especially when it comes to the repurposing of historic structures, but the Stianti do what they must to maintain the character and charm of Volpaia the village, just as they do what they must to maintain the character and style of Volpaia’s wines.

Volpaia focuses on a rather traditional line-up of wines that includes their Bianco, the straight Chianti Borgianni, as well as a Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserva.  In addition there are two Super Tuscan styled wines; Coltassala, which is based on Sangiovese with a touch of Mammolo added and the more internationally styled Balifico which adds Cabernet Sauvignon to the Sangiovese. And of course there is a Vin Santo, that iconic Tuscan dessert wine produced from air-dried grapes, in this case Trebbiano and Malvasia.

Volpaia’s style is dictated as much by the cool climate the vineyards enjoy at the relatively high elevations the slopes leading up to the village (some 250 to 450 meters above sea level) as it is by the winemaking style of the house. The fruit these cool, rocky vineyards yield is never among the richest or densest in Chianti, though they are among the most perfumed. The terroir here favors warmer vintages and the galestro-laden soil is able to drain away water fairly quickly so damp is not usually an issue. In cooler vintages ripening can be a challenge though.

Ultimately the winemaking style is rather middle of the road here as the owners try and preserve the freshness of the wines without imposing too much of a stylistic imprint. They truly do want the wines to speak of Volpaia, and considering the obvious financial and emotional investment the family has made here, that is not at all surprising.

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  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Thanks for the closeup on Chianti, Greg. Still might be the most famous Italian wine worldwide. Certainly the first one I ever heard of as a kid....

    Dec 08, 2009 at 9:58 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Meant to ask, Greg, did you taste all these bottles onsite?

    Dec 08, 2009 at 10:06 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Yes, these were all tasted at their respective wineries.

    Dec 08, 2009 at 10:19 AM

  • Snooth User: guymandude
    292055 16

    Really cool ,Thanks

    Dec 08, 2009 at 6:46 PM

  • If you ever go back to Volpaia do the wine tasting lunch. I was there over the summer and it was fantastic! They do it in the original wine cellar in the main building, the food was just as good as the wine! I highly recommend!

    Dec 08, 2009 at 8:12 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 198,230

    Greg, this is some of the best reading I've had in a long time. Thoroughly enjoyable!!! Thanks for taking so much time to consider so many details and make a report like this for all of us sangiovese lovers.

    Now, I need to get me some of that vintage Il Poggio.

    Dec 08, 2009 at 8:37 PM

  • Snooth User: cigarman168
    Hand of Snooth
    227923 333

    What a good guidebooks for Chianti!

    Dec 08, 2009 at 9:52 PM

  • Snooth User: AdamJefferson
    Hand of Snooth
    226143 283

    A great article Greg. It gave the right mix of technical information, tasting commentary, and tour guiding (all explained well and in a style enjoyable to read), and I really enjoyed the photos. If any readers had no interest in Chianti wines or in seeing Italy before, I'd be surprised if most don't have both now. Please continue with this same approach to covering other regions and wines.

    Dec 08, 2009 at 11:22 PM

  • As usual nice job Greg. Who doesn't love a good Chianti?

    Dec 09, 2009 at 10:14 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Thanks everybody. With today's breaking news of yet another adulteration scandal in Tuscan I expect it may be worth returning in the near term to do a bit more investigative reporting.

    Dec 11, 2009 at 11:29 AM

  • Snooth User: gfbucelli
    267497 3

    Hi Greg. Was wondering why the Monsanto family is not using the traditional Chianti blend of Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Malvasia for its "Chianti" production.
    Also, are they far from Florence, and open for visits ?
    Gian Franco

    Feb 13, 2010 at 8:28 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Hi Gian Franco,

    Not too many people are using Trebbiano and Malvasia bianco anymore for the production of Chianti. I don't know why Monsanto has chosen there blend but one has to assume they feel it's the blend that gives them the best results. I love their wines so I'm not one to argue.

    By the way, make sure not to confuse Malvasia Bianco with Malvasia Nera, which is still somewhat common and used by Castellare for example.

    Feb 16, 2010 at 7:20 PM

  • Snooth User: mozin
    101288 3

    Greg: Great article and thanks for this insight. My wife, another couple and I are staying in Lucca for a week in late July and want to visit 4 or 5 wine producers in Tuscany. Who would you suggest for a nice variety - possibly 2 Chianti producers, 1 Brunello, 1 in Montepulciano and 1 in San Gimignano.



    Mar 06, 2010 at 4:02 PM

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