The Magnificent 2019 Chianti Rufina Terraeelectae Wines
I have been following Italian wines very closely since, precisely, October 1980 (yes, I started young) when I moved to Rome for University. Over these four decades and counting, I have arguably visited more Italian vineyards than any other wine writer, carried out more interviews with producers, and have written close to twenty books and guides on the subject, tasting thousands and thousands and thousands of wines, while also being invited all the time to countless launchings of new Italian wines and denominations. So excuse my lack of modesty when I say, er write, that I actually know a thing or two about this specific subject. And it is that background you need to keep in mind when you evaluate what I am about to say, er write (again) Next: and that is that I have no recollection of having ever, and I mean ever, tasted a similarly impressive set of new wines such as are these 2019 Chianti Rufina Terraeelectae wines.
Chianti Rufina: an Ian D’Agata primer
While Chianti Classico is the best-known of all Chianti-named denominations (and with good reason, on both historical and qualitative grounds), it is the Chianti Rufina that boasts the terroir that is easiest to understand and to recognize in its wines. Admittedly, with the much-needed creation of the Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive (UGAs), Chianti Classico has gone a long way in making its terroir a bit more logical and easier to grasp, but there can be no doubt that this is even easier to do with the much smaller and relatively more homogenous Chianti Rufina.
At 12,483 hectares, but only 800 of which are registered as being under cultivation, Chianti Rufina is the smallest of the seven Chianti denominations: it all amounts to roughly 2,700,000 liters, or 3,500,000 bottles of wine produced per year. But at least in this case, good things do come in small packages: in fact, the Chianti Rufina (or Rufina, as some would prefer to call it) is an historically very important high-quality wine production area, one of the world’s first to be so officially identified and characterized. It was in the by-now famous 1716 Edict of Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, that the Rufina (then included in the Pomino production area) was classified as being one of the four best of all Tuscany. This is no small feat: the Tuscan classification was born much earlier in time than any Bordeaux classification came into official being, for example. Subsequent more modern titles were bestowed on Rufina’s wines by way of the Italian Republic, with a 1932 Italian Ministerial Decree defining the territorial boundaries of the larger “Chianti” wine-producing area for the first time, and specifying its various geographical components, including Chianti Rufina. Later, in 1967, it was time for the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Controlled Designation of Origin (in English); the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) or the Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (in English) followed in 1984.
The small numbers that characterize Chianti Rufina’s wine production volumes continue are echoed by the small number of producers actually making wine there: at last count there are twenty-two wineries currently producing Chianti Rufina, twenty of which are members of the Chianti Rufina Consortium (Federico Giuntini of Fattoria Selvapiana is the President); actually, the Consortium was founded in 1980, merging in 1991 with the Viti Rufina Consortium to become one finite, if slightly larger, entity. Despite its recognized pedigree and historic relevance, Rufina and its wines were greatly hurt in the twentieth century because of World War II, when everything in the area was more or less destroyed by bombings. This fatefully led the area to becoming the source of every day, generic wine. Just imagine that at one time there were only 2000 inhabitants in the area but a whopping forty bottlers! Mercifully, the last twenty years or so have seen a return to quality agriculture and much improved winemaking across the board (and I point out, not just at one or two wineries that have been associated with great wines throughout their long and distinguished history), a state of affairs that has led to the exciting times of today.
The Chianti Rufina isn’t just the smallest of the various Chianti-named denominations: with vineyards located at an average altitude of 200-500 meters above sea level (and some reaching as high as 700 meters above sea level), it is also the highest of all Chianti-named denominations, as has been spotlighted and broadcast in a highly successful slogan coined by the local consorzio years back (“The highest Chianti”). Located about twenty kilometers to the northeast of Florence on the slopes of the Tuscan-Romagnolo portion of the Apennine mountain chain (a series of parallel smaller mountainous chains extending for about 1,200 kilometers down the middle and for the entire length of Italy’s peninsula), the Rufina’s territory is divided essentially in two by the course of the Sieve River. It is the combination of the relatively high altitudes of the vineyards; the proximity of the Sieve River; a rich geological diversity (with soils and subsoils composed of alberese, limestone, marly-clay, sand and galestro; and the uniquely coolish mesoclimate characterized by large diurnal temperature shifts (but beware there are areas in the Rufina that are much warmer than others, so it’s not an extremely cool-climate area) that account for, and explain, the basic characteristics of Chianti Rufina wines. These range from the sleek, steely, mineral, and highly perfumed to the slightly plumper and richer; but to be clear, for the most part, Rufina’s are Chiantis that are generally much more penetrating and lifted than any other Chianti or Chianti Classico wine.
Never mind the sheer deliciousness of Chianti Rufina’s wines: for me, the real excitement lies in the potential recognizability of the area’s terroir in each and every bottle. Just like it is, for example, with the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barbaresco and Montalcino, the wines of Chianti Rufina can be clearly associated with a specific communal origin; much as the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin differ from those of Chambolle-Musigny, Margaux’s from Pauillac’s, Barbaresco’s from Neive’s, and Graach’s from Urzig’s, so it is with those of the Chianti Rufina. The communes of the Chianti Rufina denomination are five: from north to south, these are Dicomano (farthest north and blessed with the highest altitude, this is an area of almost extreme mountain viticulture that gives Rufina’s sleekest, almost metallic wines); Rufina; Pelago (to the southeast and potentially the warmest of all the communal territories, hence characterized by slightly richer, plumper versions of Chianti Rufina wines); and Pontassieve (to the southwest). The fifth commune, Londa, is a bit off all to itself in the eastern reaches of the Chianti Rufina denomination. Provided the source of Sangiovese grapes falls within the territory of just one commune, it is not that difficult to figure out, when tasting blind, to which commune the Chianti Rufina wine you are tasting/drinking belongs. Such recognizability potentially increases and is made that more obvious if you factor in on which side (or bank to use a term dear to Bordeaux) of the Sieve River the vineyards lie on. Call me a wine geek all you want, but to me, that recognizable sense of place, or “somewhereness” if you prefer, is not just very interesting, but downright exciting.
[For those who wish to dig deeper and know more (much more) about the subject, I describe, as was never done before and has never been done since, the complex, specific terroir of the Chianti Rufina denomination in my award-winning book Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs published in 2019 by the University of California Press.]
When great minds meet, great things usually happen
During an evening in 2015 in which Chianti Rufina estate owners Cesare Coda Nunziante of Colognole, Federico Giuntini of Selvapiana and Lorenzo Mariani of I Veroni had gotten together for dinner and to discuss their wines and bottle prices, the idea was born to make a new Rufina wine that would fit into a top category (“top” as in terms of both quality and price). That idea was presented to the other members of the consortium during a general assembly that took place during Christmas 2015 at the Castello del Trebbio. Not all went as smoothly as might have been hoped at first: there was, at the time, some resistance to making a wine that was to be 100% Sangiovese and of relatively high price (for the Rufina at least: the initial stated goal was to sell these top-level wines at a winery price of at least 20 Euros a bottle, if not more). Another objection was that many of the Rufina’s best vineyards are still rather young, averaging only about 15-20 years of age. In fact, the latter is an especially commendable aspect about the Chianti Rufina denomination: while truly old vineyards are not as common here as they might be elsewhere, no other denomination in Tuscany has so completely revamped its viticultural park (estates all over the Rufina have replanted high-quality massal and clonal selections of healthy vines with tighter spacing and better training systems). At first, the producers thought of making a Gran Selezione wine, following the example of the Chianti Classico: the stated goal was to compete with those and the other best wines of Tuscany, from Chianti Classico to Montalcino to Nobile di Montepulciano. However, use of the words “Gran Selezione” was complicated for a variety of reasons and so that did not come to be. But actually, Rufina producers point out with a small measure of justified pride that using the “Gran Selezione” monicker for their best wines would have turned out to be a mistake. This is because the production guidelines of Chianti Rufina’s new top tier of wines, called Terraelectae, are in fact more stringent than those required for a wine to be named ‘Gran Selezione”. The Terraelectae guidelines are, relative to monovariety Sangiovese wine production, the most strict and qualitative of the entire Tuscan region (see below). And so it was that once the idea of using “Gran Selezione” fell to nought, the problem was finding another name by which to identify these new, top-level Rufina wines: it took the Rufina producers two years to finally come up with and agree to “Terraelectae” (meaning “choice lands”, or “noble lands”). And so it was that, at long last, the first vintage of Chianti Rufina’s Terraelectae wines saw the light of day with the 2018 vintage: ten producers made such a wine that year. In 2019, hail and unfavourable weather meant that two wineries (Colognole and Lavacchio) were unable to make the wine, but at the same time, two new wineries joined the fray (Il Pozzo and Il Capitano), with so the wineries making a terraeelctae wine climbed to twelve even though only ten were able to produce a Terraelectae that year. With the 2020 vintage, things start absolutely hopping, with two more estates joining the Terraelectae party (Il Lago and Ormaevini) such that there are now fourteen estates that will be releasing a 2020 Terraelectae wine. That the Chianti Rufina area is starting to attract attention (as it should, given the potential quality of all its wines) is shown the recent arrival of Russian and Argentinian investors (Ernesto, a member of the famous Catena wine-making family bought four hectares between Pomino and Rufina; he already has a wine project in Panzano).
Why Terraelectae wines are potentially of the highest quality
And so, in an effort to further characterize and further identify the quality wines of the Chianti Rufina terroir in Tuscany’s Sieve River valley, the Terraelectae brand name was created and it is the one by which the Consorzio Chianti Rufina producers describe their top wines.
The guidelines are clear and strict. These are Chianti Rufina wines that can be made only with 100% Sangiovese and only with estate-grown grapes; furthermore, they must carry the vigna or vigneto (vineyard) designation on the label too, making them essentially single-vineyard wines. But at the same time, they are also Riserva wines, given that they are made from lower yields than those allowed for non-Riserva wines, and that they have to be aged for a minimum of thirty months, of which twenty-four in wood and six in bottle. Tongue firmly in cheek, you could not be blamed for thinking the producers wanted to hedge their bets and just threw the kitchen sink at the newly-created wine category including just about every thing that could be thought of in the wine’s production (100% Sangiovese, Riserva and single vineyard all rolled into one: admittedly, they’re not missing out on anything). Somewhat more accurately, they clearly just wanted to do the right thing, and this is to their credit. For there is no doubt that wines carrying the Terraeelectae name on the label are, in theory at least, the most distinguished examples of Sangiovese wines around. Certainly, given the official production guidelines I have just outlined for you, they are the Sangiovese wines with the best birth lineage. Last but not least, be aware that future goals include making all the Terraelectae wines organically/bio certified.
For clarity’s sake, it bears repeating that the Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraelectae wines are the only Tuscan wines, outside those of Montalcino, that must be 100% Sangiovese and cannot be anything else. The 100% Sangiovese requirement makes them different from even the best of Chianti Classico: though Gran Selezione wines are often 100% Sangiovese, they don’t have to be by law. Furthermore, the obligation of using estate-grown grapes only makes the Chianti Rufina Riserva wines clearly better, potentially at least, than all other Chianti Riserva wines that do not have to be made with estate-grown grapes only. If you allow me, that’s no small difference. Last but not least, the single vineyard requirement makes the Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraelectae wines quite unlike any other Tuscan wine, Sangiovese-based or not; for example, Montalcino’s wines are 100% Sangiovese, but they do not have to necessarily be single vineyard wines. Frankly speaking there is a lot to chew on there: establishing such strict, draconian even, quality guidelines is not at all typical of most, if any, wine production zones. Clearly, production guidelines, no matter how strict, are no guarantee of final quality in the bottle: but it speaks volumes about the Rufina producers good intentions that they went ahead and adopted them to begin with. Bravi!
The wines in this tasting
The wines in this tasting were tasted by me in two separate moments last spring while travelling through Italy visiting wineries. The first tasting took place in March at the Marchesi Gondi palace in Florence in the presence of Gerardo Gondi and Federico Giuntini. The second tasting, of the same wines, took place in early April. This second time I was also able to also taste some of the 2018 Terraelectae wines and I have included the wines of the two wineries that did not make the wine in 2019 at the end of the article.
Castello del Trebbio 2019 Chianti Rufina Terraeelectae Vigna Lastricato 94
Bright red. Cool nuances of mint and varnish complement the red cherry and tobacco aromas on the refined nose. Then polished, clean and vibrant in the mouth, where a somewhat peppery note emerges on the long back end. The wine’s taste profile clearly showcases this is a much fresher area of the Rufina, located near where the Marchese Gondi /Tenuta di Bossi winery has its vineyards, but Trebbio’s are much higher up. The Vigna Lastricato, planted in 1997, is 2.63 hectares large and is characterized by two different exposures (north-east and south-west). The wine is aged thirty months in 20 hL oak barrels and then another fifteen months in bottle prior to going on sale. This struck me as being perhaps the best Lastricato ever made, so that’s saying quite something. Very well done, this is a beautiful wine. Drinking window: 2025-2038.
Fattoria Selvapiana 2019 Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraeelectae Vigneto Erchi 94
Bright deep red. Penetrating aromas of dark cherry, blackberry, camphor, tar and violet: as is always the case with the Erchi vineyard, this wine is always more marked by black fruits as opposed to Selvapiana’s other very famous Chianti Rufina, the Riserva Bucerchiale bottling that is more about red fruit and underbrush. Then rich and tactile, with a peppery and camphory note to the blue and black fruit flavours that linger impressively on the suave, rich finish. The Terraelectae Erchi is made with Sangiovese grown on soils that are somewhat reminiscent of those of Castelnuovo Berardenga in Chianti Classico (a strong presence of soil iron is showcased by the clearly visible red streaks and patches, but also limestone, clay and galestro). The wine is fermented in steel, st most spending about 20 days on the skins at a maximum of 28 degrees Celsius, then ages in large 30 hL barrels and used barriques (used in the case of the 2019). Planted in 1999, the Erchi vineyard was bought from a cattle trader, Fernando Mazzuoli back in 1998 (“One of the first times Selvapiana was actually able to buy vines rather than have to sell them”, says Giuntini wrily). The first Selvapiana wine from the Erchi vineyard was therefore made in 2003, but until 2015 it was all always blended into the Chianti Rufina bottling. Then in 2016 it was bottled as a vineyard selection, before finally becoming a Terraeelectae-designated wine with the 2018 vintage. Do not make the common mistake of thinking of this as a right bank Rufina wine, or one made in the Pelago area just because that is where the Selvapiana winery is located. In fact, the Erchi vineyard is located on the left bank of the Sieve river, at a distance from the winery, closer to the Gondi and Trebbio vineyards. Drinking window: 2026-2040.
Frascole 2019 Chianti Rufina Terraeelectae Vigna alla Stele 94
Bright crimson-ruby. Very fresh, with a Pinot Noir quality to its aromas and flavours of minty red cherry, cranberry, violet, minerals and cool herbs. A whiplash of harmonious acidity really carries the flavours on the vibrant, polished back end. Very impressive Chianti Rufina wine of extreme elegance. Only about 800 bottles of this beauty are currently being made from a 0.7 hectare, southwest-facing vineyard planted high up in 1996. The grapes are organically farmed and the wine ages in a mix of tonneaux and barriques for about 18 months and nthen in cement. Drinking window: 2025-2036.
Frescobaldi/ Castello di Nipozzano 2019 Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraeelectae Vigna Montesodi 94
Bright deep red. Peppery and floral nuances complement the ripe red cherry, candied violet, tobacco and spice aromas and flavours. At once highly polished but tactile, with nicely persistent nuances of coffee and cedar on the aftertaste. Outstanding. The first Chianti Rufina cru wine ever made back in 1974, the Montesodi has had a long and distinguished career with manty exceptional wines being made over the years. The name “Montesodi” is derived from the tough to work, rocky and packed clay nature of the terrain (much as is the case with Pomerol’s Château Trotanoy, for example, the name of which refers to the same tiring work needed to plow there). The vineyard is a very large amophitheatre (at 20 hectares, it is one of the largest crus of the Rufina), southwest facing, of mostly alberese and clay soil that had to be replanted in 1991 and again in 2007. I’ve walked tis vineyard numerous times and I highly recommend you do too, as it’s place of remarkable beauty. Drinking window: 2026-2038.
Grignano 2019 Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraeelectae Vigneto Montefiesole 93
Luminous deep red. Enticing aromas of musk, red cherry, blueberry, tar, tobacco and violet. A violet topnote repeats on the long finish that is polished long and multilayered. Much purer and fresher than any other Riserva wine I have tasted previously from Grignano before, this is a beauty. Let me be crystal-clear: this is a beautiful, very precise wine, better than any Poggio Gualtieri Riserva wine had ever been before. In fact, only 600 bottles of the Montefiesole were made in 2019, as it is a super-selection of grapes from the larger (1.77 hectares) Poggio Gualtieri vineyard. In fact, Grignano’s frst ever Terraelectae wine, the 2018, was labeled as a “Poggio Gualtieri”. But with the 2019 vintage, the estate decided to use only the Sangiovese grapes from 1.2 hectares of the total vineyard. These vines were planted in 1999, and the wine is vinified in steel, barrels and barriques. Drinking window: 2026-2035.
I Veroni 2019 Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraeelectae Vigneto Quona 95
Bright dark red. This is really very pretty, boasting hints of violet, cocoa and minerals but with noteworthy sweetness and glyceral richness to the ripe red and black cherry fruit aromas and flavours. Closes long and perfumed, with a really strong building note of licorice and a lovely mouthcoating texture and compelling sweetness of tannins. Beautiful stuff: this 2019 is the best wine from I Veroni I have ever tasted (and unless memory fails me, I think I have tasted almost every vintage ever made). The vineyard’s name derives for the vineyard is located at the foot of the hill nearby the San Martino Quona church in the commune of Pontassieve. The 5.5 hectares of vines are located at about 300 meters above sea level, face southwest and were planted in 1997 on a soil that is 40% loam, 30% sand and 30% clay. The wine is aged in barrels and barriques for 16-18 months. Drinking window: 2025-2036.
Fattoria Il Capitano 2019 Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraeelectae Vigna Il Poggio 95
This is very good and maybe the biggest surprise of my tasting. Vivid red in colour, this speaks of a cooler climate habitat, but the wine comes across as being both ripe and refined. Offers crisp, fruity, perfumed aromas of red cherry, cranberry, blood orange and violet, while tobacco, ink and graphite are a little less apparent than in another bottle I had a few weeks prior. Then very pure and lively on the palate, with juicy, vibrant flavours of minty red berries and violet. Closes long and vivid, with suave tannins and harmonious acidity. A splendid 100% Sangiovese wine that speaks of the right bank of the Sieve River. The vineyard is situated in a beautiful area above I Veroni and Selvapiana’s Erchi vineyard, and frankly the first taste of this 2019 wine from I Capitani will tell anyone (with even just a little experience of Sangiovese wines) that this is undoubtedly a noble site. Great stuff. Drinking window: 2025-2035.
Marchesi Gondi Tenuta Bossi 2019 Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraeelectae Vigneto Poggio Diamante 94
The Marchese Gondi winery is one that has extremely noble roots. The current owners are direct descendants of Marie de Labrugière who was part of the family that owned Château Fortia in Châteauneudf-du-Pape. Vineyards were planted in the Gondi holdings already in the 1800s, and in fact the estate won medals for their wines at the Paris Exhibition of 1889. The vineyards have since been replanted, at about 250 meters above sea level and facing south, and the current vines date back to 2000: Gondi makes only about 500 bottles of this Terraeelectae, fermented in a 50 hL temperature-controlled steel vat and aged in 20 hL Austrian barriques for two months, both new and second fill, then for eighteen months in second fill barriques and bottle. The grapes from these vines had long contributed to another top-tier wine the estate is famous for, called Tenuta Bossi. Drinking window: 2024-2032.
Tenuta Il Pozzo 2019 Chianti Rufina Terraeelectae Vigna Casanova 93+
I have long been a huge fan of the wines from Il Pozzo, and this already ten years ago when Terraelectae was a word nobody yet knew (because it didn’t yet exist). Brooding crimson-ruby colour. Then deep but reticent aromas of red cherry, underbrush, wild strawberries, porcini and wet stones. Clean, pure and mouthcoating, with very polished noble tannins and a strong mineral underpinning to the juicy red and dark fruit flavours. Closes long with earthy and balsamic nuances. Strikes me as one 2019 Terraeleectae that will develop slower than others. Drinking window: 2028-2038.
Villa Travignoli 2019 Chianti Rufina Riserva Terraeelectae Vigna Colonneto 88
Deep red with ruby tinges. Curious, atypical olfactory profile that differs extensively from that of all the other Terraeelectae wines I tasted from the 2019 vintage: here the nose is dominated by notes of green pine and by delicately gamey, animal-like notes that complicate underlying pure dark red cherry fruit. In the mouth the wine is both lively and lifted, with slightly riper and fruitier notes than on the nose, but also slightly tough, drying tannins that hit late on the long back end. At Villa Travignoli, they have historically preferred to harvest somewhat earlier than at other Rufina estates and this might in part explain the nuances of pine that are easy to pick up when the wine is first poured. Planted in 2014, this is a south-facing three hectares-large vineyard, the entrance to which was historically located between two large columns (hence the vineyard’s name). Though the vines are on the young side, and hence would not normally be ideally suited for production of important wines such as the Terraeelectae, but the winery felt strongly that the Vigna Colonneto is their best Sangiovese site and therefore that their Terraelectae should be made with these grapes. Clearly there is very good fruit underlying the gamey-piney note, but the latter may not be to everyone’s liking. Drinking window: 2026-2034.
Colognole 2018 Chianti Rufina Terraeelectae Vigna Le Rogaie 93
Bright red. Savoury nuances complement the dense, rich aromas and flavours of red cherry, dark plum, tobacco, camphor, violet and earthtones. Multilayered and deep, but with lively harmonious acidity nicely extending the ripe flavours of macerated cherries in alcohol, tobacco and menthol on the long, polished back end. Colognole has always been one of my favourite Rufina producers, the wines of which are absolute Rufina classics and that benefit greatly from the star-studded position of the vineyards, falling in between the extreme heights of Dicomano and the lower, warmer reaches of Rufina and Pelago. Planted in 2003, the Vigna Le Rogaie is 2.14 hectares large, high in altitude (420 meters above sea level) and faces southwest, but is protected by the late hours afternoon sun by the nearby Montegiovi ridge to the southwest. The vineyard’s soil is mostly clay-loam with some limestone and sand; importantly, there is a noteworthy, copious water plane fed by an underground source that greatly helps the vines avoid water stress in most years. The area the vines grow in is also especially well-ventilated and nearby a forest, further enhancing its cooler climate characteristics. The wine was vinified in a 50 HL stainless steel tank, then aged twenty months in a 25 hL Slavonian oak barrel and then for another eighteen months in bottle; about 2100 bottles were made in this vintage. Drinking window: 2025-2033.
Fattoria Lavacchio 2018 Chianti Rufina Terraeelectae Vigna Casanova 93
Deep ruby-red. Cool aromas of wild herbs, red cherry, dark plum, mint and lavender, complemented by hints of violet, and cedar. Then fresh and juicy, a very dense middle and a long finish typical of old vines, and boasting nicely delineated red fruit flavours along with hints of coffee and almonds provided good support by polished tannins and balanced acidity. Closes long and discreet but with very obvious underlying power and refinement. This ought to develop very well. The 2018 vintage was characterized by a very hot July and August but the last part of August brought considerable showers helping the vines avoid harmful water stress. From a truly unique, 1.8 hectares large vineyard, planted at 450 meters above sea level back in 1963 with an old biotype of Sangiovese that is hard to find nowadays, this vineyard has affectionately been known in the (noble) Strozzi family as the “old lady on the rise” (la vecchia in salita), referring to the vineyard’s old age and noteworthy slope gradient. The wine is aged eighteen months in 15 hL barrels made with Florentine oak (from the Modello forest). Drinking window: 2025-2032.