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Vibrancy and Clarity in Chianti Classico
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 9, 2013
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Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2009 (Excelsior Wine & Spirits, $25):  As relationships go, mine with Chianti Classico is experiencing a rough patch. Chianti Classico has always been one of my favorite wines.  But it has been changing, for many understandable reasons -- clonal research on the Sangiovese grape, climate issues and the evolving international wine market, to name a few.  In the process, characteristics that I had valued in the wines, such as clarity, focus and vibrancy, seem to have morphed into softness, fleshy texture and soft-focused flavor expression.  The DOCG zone has hundreds of producers of course, and many of them still make great wine.  But at a recent Chianti Classico tasting in New York, I was surprised at how unrecognizable many of the wines were.

Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva is one of the wines that I can still get excited about.  It’s a Chianti Classico made by the Cecchi family on their estate in the Castellina area of the classico zone, which is probably my favorite part of the zone because of the vibrancy that has traditionally characterized the local wines.  Cecchi is a large company, producing well more than a million bottles of Chianti Classico each year -- as well as wines from its family estates elsewhere in Tuscany -- but Villa Cerna has been its flagship Chianti Classico for more than four decades.

As Chianti Classico has changed over the decades, the Villa Cerna wine has also changed, becoming fruitier, fresher and brighter.  I recall leathery, harmonious wines from the 1970s that in memory are generations apart from the chiseled, energetic wines of today.  But the wine of today has not overreached its origins in favor of modern winemaking and innovation.  To my mind, it is a true Chianti Classico from Castellina.

Let’s start with the aroma: it is medium intense and quietly complex with notes of tart cherries, dusty earth, nuts and dried flowers. In your mouth, you can find lots of fruit -- fresh, vibrant fruit flavors, not the ripe, fleshy fruit of a warm climate.  Fairly high acidity combined with integrated, grainy tannins gives the wine a lean structure and reins the fruitiness in, for a taut, concentrated, compact effect; the alcohol, 13.5 percent, gives just a bit of viscosity and softness.  On the finish, the fruit shines.  Altogether, the wine has clarity and definition and yet it is not austere.

This wine is almost entirely Sangiovese, with just five percent of Colorino Toscano.  The grapes grow at an altitude of more than 900 feet in stony, calcareous soil, and these two factors account somewhat for the wine’s acidity and its grainy tannins.  Yields are low, less than 8 tons per hectare (which converts to about 3.5 T/acre, if my math is correct).  The grapes undergo a fairly traditional vinification with 21 days of skin contact, and the wine ages for 14 months, mainly in barriques of second to fourth use, as well as a small portion of larger tonneaux.  To my taste, the oak has the effect of brightening the wine’s flavors and contributing a bit of tannin, but not contributing actual oaky flavor.

The 2009 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico is a young wine, and can use some aeration, or a large glass, as an aide to expressing itself.  I believe it will drink nicely over the next five to eight years.

91 Points