Brian Freedman’s column “Wines of the Week” for forbes.com is read by thousands of readers each week. He also contributes wine- and spirits-focused articles and commentaries on FoodandWine.com, among other outlets. For those of you considering the WSET Diploma program, or event WSET Level 3, this week’s focus on the creation of the Gran Selezione category, and the varying opinions it inspires, is exactly the kind of study topic to help inspire discussion and debate among peers.
Italy is home to a staggering range of wines: From the foggy hills of Piedmont to the vineyards along the flanks of Sicily’s Mount Etna, there are hundreds of grape varieties and thousands of producers with approximately nine million wine-growing philosophies. Add to that the infinite web of IGTs, DOCs, and DOCGs, and it’s no wonder that Italian wine remains a mountain that even the most knowledgeable wine pros often struggle to scale in its entirety.
Back in 2014, when the new category of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione was launched, the response was…complicated. According to a piece in Wine Enthusiast by Kerin O’Keefe, a lot of the initial ambivalence had to do with the nature of the region’s already complex classifications.
“Not only is there already so much confusion over the various names connected with the term Chianti (such as Chianti Classico, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, etc.),” she wrote, “but most consumers—as well as a surprising number of wine writers and others in the trade—still don’t realize that Chianti Classico and Chianti are actually two separate wines with different production regulations. This leaves many asking, why would anyone want to add another mystifying layer to Chianti Classico?”
According to regulations, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione requires a wine to meet the following criteria:
- Minimum of 80% Sangiovese
- Estate fruit, typically from a single vineyard but it can also be from multiple sites owned or leased by the producer
- Aged for a minimum of 30 months, including at least three months in the bottle prior to release
Seems straightforward enough, but I’m regularly told by producers—at least the ones who aren’t fans of the idea of Gran Selezione—that they fear the designation will cause confusion among consumers: How does it differ from Riserva? I’ve also often been told by Chianti producers that if a new quality category had to have been developed, they’d have preferred it to focus on the quality and individuality of the specific crus themselves—something leaning in the direction of Burgundy, for example, though not necessarily that parcellated.
Fans of Gran Selezione, however, tell me that they’re generally impressed with the overall quality of the wines bearing the designation—they argue that inherently better fruit tends to go into these bottlings—and, from a sales perspective, the clarity of the naming convention (the term gran selezione is easily understandable even if you don’t speak a word of Italian) is a benefit.
Since the roll-out five years ago, there does seem to be a growing acceptance of Gran Selezione among producers, albeit an often grudging one, and an increasing sense of familiarity among consumers. The pushback hasn’t vanished, of course, but as the category has become a more widely used part of the Italian-wine lexicon, and as more consumers are now able to taste a broad selection of wines bearing the term, the confusion should continue to diminish. Whether the controversy will follow suit is still to be determined.