1990 Lilliano Chianti Classico Riserva, the Gambelli touch

From the department of “still catching up on remarkable wines that I tasted in 2012″…

old chianti sangiovese

This extraordinary bottle was the gift of an overly generous friend who sent it to me from Italy, where the bottle once resided in his cellar.

After it had rested in my San Diego cellar for a few weeks in November-early December, I picked it up from my locker and took it to the Jaynes Gastropub staff party on my last visit to California for the year.

There were many incredible wines opened that night, including a 2000 Amarone della Valpolicella from my cellar (always a thrill and always a joy to share).

But the wine of the night was this otherwise unassuming 1990 Chianti Classico Riserva by Lilliano, a venerated but quiet and often overlooked estate in Castellina (one of the core townships of historic Chianti).

It was unbelievably fresh and the fruit wonderfully vibrant and bright. And its singing acidity and judiciously balanced alcohol gave it that gentle zing that makes Chianti — when done right — so food friendly and moreish (we paired with a spread of California charcuterie, cheese, and crusty bread).

One of the most delightful surprises and best wines of my year.

I’ve been thinking about this wine because it was around this time last year that Giulio Gambelli — the legendary “taster” of Sangiovese — passed away (see also this collection of remembrances that I culled from the internets). Gambelli made his mark on so many iconic expressions of Sangiovese of our generation — Soldera, Poggio di Sotto, Monte Vertine, and so many others. But he also continued to consult for taste the wines of many of the historic Chianti estates, like Lilliano (Bibbiano is another one that comes to mind).

There are lightyears between a wine like this earthy and earthly Chianti and ethereal wines like Soldera’s or Poggio di Sotto’s. But there is also unmistakable red thread that unites them: it’s that gentle electricity (I don’t know how else to describe it) that makes traditional Sangiovese so unique in the world of fine red wine.

Many who have followed and observed Tuscan winemaking over the last generation would attribute that signature to Gambelli.

Thank you, FB, for this truly splendid bottle of wine, shared with a group of people I care about deeply.

It reminded me that great Sangiovese was, is, and can always be…

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