A star is born in Chianti in Porta di Vertine (and a Super Tuscan that I loved)

These days, we can’t even figure out how so many unsolicited samples make it to our doorstep. Before my days writing for the Houston Press, we’d receive the occasional Italian sample and my winemaker friends would often send me new vintages of their wines for me to taste. But now media relations companies just send wine without letting us know (not a good move in hotter than July Texas!) and without taking a moment to reflect on what kind of wine I’ll review for my “column” for Houston’s weekly rag.

But when Walter Speller, who writes for Jancis Robinson on Italy, sends an email saying, “I think you’d really like these wines… would you like me to send you samples?”, well, how could I refuse?

On the surface, the Porta di Vertine estate in Gaiole might seem like the same old paradigm: retired, rich couple from the east coast buys vacation/tax-shelter property in Chianti; hires top-notch Italian viticulturist and winemaker; replants vineyards with Cabernet and Merlot and Sangiovese (the latter for good measure); vinifies wine as trophy for friends and dinner parties.

But, man, when Tracie P and I tasted these wines over the last few evenings, we were blown away by how good they are and how much we enjoyed them.

I even liked the obligatory “Super Tuscan” (what an irrelevant term, no?), made predominantly from Merlot with a balance of Cabernet Sauvignon. It was bright and deliciously fresh, with zinging acidity holding the earthiness and red fruit in check. And when I retasted the wine a week after I opened it, it was still delicious.

But the wine that really won me over was the Chianti Classico Riserva, 100% Sangiovese.

There are so few Chianti Classico producers making traditional-style wine today with a historical perspective on what came before. The unmitigated success of the Chianti brand in the 1970s, the fall from grace with the sale of some of the big domains to American corporations, and the subsequent refashioning in the image of California… Chianti Classico — in my view – is a “brand” that lost its way and lacks the stalwart models for excellence and tradition that Montalcino has.

Just look at the color in the photo above (taken by Tracie P)… the translucent beauty of real Sangiovese… This wine had it all: the freshness, the bright acidity, the red stone fruit flavor, and just a touch kiss of horse sweat. Very elegant yet earthy, muscular in its tannic structure but with delicate floral notes in the nose and in the mouth.

The classic Chianti Classico (as opposed to the Riserva, above) was meatier thanks to a blend of the classic indigenous grapes, including Pugnitello (I learn from reading the winery’s website). But the Sangiovese remained the wine’s alpha grape and I’m hoping the price on this wine, once it reaches US shores, will be below $30 so that I can drink one bottle per week. It’s that good…

Of all the wines that make their way to our tasting table these days (and I taste EVERYTHING that arrives no matter how unpromising), it was so refreshing to find a project that breaks from the predictable paradigm of contemporary Chianti. We loved all the wines (all of them 2008).