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A night of Sangiovese from young Napa to Chianti di Vecchia Annata


Lou and I gathered in his kitchen last week to drink through a range of Sangiovese based wines primarily focused in on Ruffino, Riserva Ducale.  We always start with a white wine but this time the bottle of 1999 Savary, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume was drinking too advanced.  A few sips were fine for curiosity but I soon moved on.  I did not miss a beat in tasting (and drinking) the 2010 Carpineto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva.  After recently loving a bottle of 2010 Carpineto, Chianti Classico Riserva the Montepulciano did not disappoint.  Let me just say that this is a great wine which is already complex and will clearly develop over the next several years.  I would buy several to lay down.  I then moved on to the 1998 La Sirena, Sangiovese, Juliana Vineyard, Napa Valley.  This tasty wine will have broad appeal.  It is a hypothetical mix up of Sangiovese made in a Rhone style in California.  Perhaps this sounds bizarre but it will not after you knock back a glass or two.

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1999 Savary, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume
Imported by Kermit Lynch.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from 30 year old vines on Kimmeridgian Limestone that was fermented in stainless steel.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The attractive autumnal amber color looks quite mature which the nose confirms with fallen orchard fruit signaling the wine is past its peak.  The wine is younger in the mouth with hints of apple cider, fresh acidity, and nice tannins making for attractive grip.  There is even a citrus hint.  But with additional air I just can no longer get past the nose.  * Past.

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2010 Carpineto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva
Imported by Opici Wines. This wine is 90% Sangiovese and Canaiolo Nero that was aged for over 2 years in oak. Alcohol 13.5%.  The nose is quite pretty and complex with leather and floral aromas.  This youthful wine has flavors of black fruit supported by structure and acidity.  There is a hint of minerality and an inky quality with a layer of red, floral flavors on top. It is even savory with a touch of fat in the aftertaste.  This is well balance for aging.  ***(*) Now – 2026.

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1998 La Sirena, Sangiovese, Juliana Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.6%.    The robust nose offers up some roasty, toasty aromas in a style evocative of California.  The wine is drinking surprisingly well with a fruity, dense and rounded start.  The watering acidity moves the wine along as it takes on some glycerin for body and offers tart black fruit on the sides of the tongue.  It becomes softer with air with some dark cocoa flavors but it remains tasty.  A hypothetical Rhone-styled Sangiovese.  *** Now.

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Our main flight of three wines was focused in on Ruffino in Chianti.  Founded in 1877, this estate did not produce their first Ducale Riserva until 1927.  The Ducale Riserva with the beige label is produced only in good vintages with the gold label only produced in the very best vintages.  The best grapes from estate vineyards are used for Ducale Riserva.  The gold label is a selection of the best lots of the beige label from the very best vintage and was first released in 1947.  The Riserva Ducale has appeared in American newspaper advertisements since at least 1960.  Over the subsequent decades, Ruffino was considered one of the best known names in Chianti with the Riserva Ducale Oro expensive but considered an age-worthy wine.  In this vein, A&A Wine & Spirits of Washington, DC, listed 11 vintages of Riserva Ducale Oro for sale in 1987.  From the 1977 at $23.99, their selection went back to the 1949 vintage at $199.99 per bottle.  Only the 1964 Biondi Santi, Riserva Il Greppo was more expensive at $399.99 per bottle.

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The beige label spends three years in various vats and oak casks with the gold label spending at least four years in oak.  There was no gold label produced in 1961.  The 1961 and 1971 vintages are a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia and Trebbiano, 5% Colorino, Ciliegiolo, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 1993 is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 7-8% Canaiolo, and 2-3% white grapes.

The gold label is interesting in that it is made with 6-10% governo.  Governo is a second fermentation caused by the addition of dried grapes, dried must, or concentrate.  The governo used for the gold label is based on grapes dried on mats for two months.  Ruffino feels it helps encourage malolactic fermentation.  The Wasserman’s are of the opinion that wines made with governo can actually age quite a long time, particularly the gold label.  Another example is the Chianti Classico of Monsanto which used governo until 1967.

Given our small sample set, it is impossible to draw any conclusions about the use of governo.  The Wasserman’s rated the 1961 vintage in Chianti a zero out of four stars with Michael Broadbent three stars out of five for Tuscany.  The Wasserman’s rated the 1971 vintage two out of four stars (commenting that the 1971 Ducale Oro was fading when tasted in 1989) and Michael Broadbent rated the vintage five out of five stars.

A general opinion appears to exist that Chianti, outside of the spaghetti joint flasks, does not age to extremes due to the large percentage of white grapes.  Our bottle of 1961 Ruffino, Ducale Beige, Chianti Riserva was certainly past prime.  I managed a few satisfactory swallows but there was nothing that could improve its state.  Perhaps the governo and the strong 1971 vintage worked together for the bottle of 1971 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva kept supplying great glasses of wine all night long.  It smelled and tasted like old-school Italian wine with lively acidity and good weight to the flavors.  This bottle was clearly well-stored and I suggest that fans of old Barolo try out this Ducale Oro if you can find one.  Our final bottle of 1993 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva was clearly a wine of a different era.  It did have attractive leather, vintage perfume, and a sweaty note but it did not have vibrant acidity, making it softer and more advanced than I would expect.  A solid bottle.  Based on my experience with the 1971 I will continue to carefully look for other old bottles of Chianti.

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1993 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva
Imported by Schieffelin & Somerset. Alcohol 13%.  The nose has some VA to it, mixing with hard cherry aromas that become grainier with air.  The wine is immediately softer in the mouth and more advanced than I would expect.  This mature bottle sports tart cherry, leather, and vintage perfume flavors.  It has weight and an attractive sweaty component.  I keep thinking it is softer than it should be.  ** Now.

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1971 Ruffino, Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny. Alcohol 12.5%.  The good nose remains aromatic with mature, old-school aromas reminiscent of Italy.  The vibrant, acidity driven start shows good weight to the red fruit with good presence in the mouth.  There are ripe, dusty tannins in the aftertaste where a citric grip returns.  The wine responds well to air taking on a persistent flavor of old-school perfume.  The fruit is dry but there are no hints of raisins (from the governo).  *** Now but will last.

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1961 Ruffino, Ducale Beige, Chianti Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Alcohol 12.8%.  The nose is full of roast earth indicating the wine is past its prime.  In the mouth is good, edgy acidity with a core of dense, old fruit.  It is more of a core of tired fruit that tastes old by the end.  There is some menthol.  Drinkable as a relic. * Past.

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