The Evolution of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, a decade of excellence

Scenic view of Chianti vineyards in Metropolitan City of Florence, Tuscany, Italy, showcasing rolling hills and grapevines

One of the funniest things about the edition of the 2024 Chianti Classico Collection tasting was the presence of a few bottles of Gran Selezione with a thin paper label placed onto the proper one. 

This was a signal of how sudden was the final approval of the U.G.A. (Additional Geographic Units): when you have to deal with European bureaucracy you never know what the timing is going to be, so many producers weren’t ready to present wines carrying an official label with the name of these highly coveted subzones, which were born to satisfy wine geeks’ urge to vivisect large wine-growing areas and capture all the minuscule shades of terroir. 

The final approval for the U.G.A. also coincided with the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Gran Selezione category.

In 2014, the Consorzio Chianti Classico introduced this brand-new wine for a very different reason than preparing the ground for the establishment of these subzones. They were trying to solve a long-running paradox with the Chianti Classico wine-growing area: the most expensive and sought-after wines often sport an IGT classification instead of the Black rooster logo

Make Supertuscans DOCG again” was the motto of Gran Selezione producers in the early going: for a few years, many producers stuck to this principle and conceived this top-shelf wine as a lusher and more concentrated version of Chianti Classico that could compete not only with the notoriously bold and creamy wines sporting the Toscana IGT category but also with the most ambitious Brunello di Montalcino. The big question is

Was this the best way to narrow the gap between Chianti Classico and the most prized Sangiovese-based wines? Did the Gran Selezione achieve the goal of breaking the positioning and pricing threshold of the appellation?

If we were to answer this question about five years ago, we would have had to confess that expectations hadn’t yet been met. A few wine experts, critics, and senior trade members deemed the first experiments with Gran Selezione quite ungainly. The wines were undeniably bolder, meatier, oakier – and more expensive! – but some of them lacked a true Sangiovese soul. While most Annatas epitomized the rugged charm of Chianti Classico, only the best Gran Selezione did the same thing in an amplified way, while a large proportion tasted a bit too polished and international-style. 

It all started to slowly change from the 2018 vintage: perhaps it was due to the cool and humid climate not allowing to achieve a concentrated style that a greater number of producers started rethinking their approach to Gran Selezione. The following vintage was even more crucial: not only did the excellent 2019 vintage motivate producers to bring these wines to new heights but it also encouraged those who had preferred to focus on outrageously good Riserva or over-achieving Annata until then to hold them for longer before release and look for the upgrade.

Then came the introduction of the U.G.A. (Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive), followed by the decision to force producers to give up international grapes for this tier. These two moves promoted a radical shift in the focus of the category, finally paving the way for the rise of terroir-transparent Gran Selezione.

Big changes take time to implement, so don’t expect every Gran Selezione on the market to be equally exciting. Some of them are still over-oaked or simply lacking a bit of character. Nonetheless, the impressive showing of many examples we tasted at the Chianti Classico Collection tasting suggests the category as a whole has started following the right trajectory. 

The U.G.A. in a nutshell

The good news is every U.G.A. offers at least a couple of Gran Selezione worth looking for. The bad one is finding a common thread between different examples from the same subzone often proves a bit challenging.

The U.G.A. explained:

  • Lamole: the smallest of the eleven subzones, covering 95 hectares, Lamole lies on the foothills of the Monti del Chianti chain, with the vineyards insisting on sand-rich soils and being the highest in the denomination (up to 650 meters). Expect delicacy, crispness and purity of fruit even when it comes to Gran Selezione – most producers from Lamole do a great job in managing oak in such a way that it enriches the mouthfeel a bit without compromising its thrilling vibrancy. 
  • Panzano: Panzano is a fraction of the township of Greve. It lies a few kilometers away from Lamole yet boasts completely different growing conditions. The Conca d’Oro (golden amphitheater) has always been a top spot for producing Supertuscans, its sun-kissed slopes rich yielding super-concentrated fruit. So Gran Selezione from this area may be a bit Super Tuscan-ish, and while some examples are just too oak-influenced for true lovers of old-school Chianti Classico, the best versions mix noteworthy concentration with refreshing acidity that ensures excellent aging potential. 
  • Gaiole: Stretching from high ridges below the Chianti mountains to the rolling hills on the border with Castelnuovo Berardenga and Vagliagli, Gaiole is geographically heterogeneous: you could make a very simplistic distinction between the section comprising steep ridges on the Chianti foothills, which benefits from higher elevations and offers a cooler growing environment, and the gently sloping one that is bound between Castelnuovo Berardenga and Vagliagli. But even among the wines of these two areas you won’t find a lot of stylistic consistency, so the fact that the average quality of Gran Selezione from the Gaiole U.G.A. proved remarkable mostly derives from the presence of a few cult producers in these two areas. Try Colledilà by Ricasoli for a richer style or Argenina by Podere Il Palazzino for a deeper and more austere expression.
  • Radda: the steep ridges of Radda, where vineyards are interspersed among thick woods, yield a few magnifically racy and crisp Annatas. Do the top-shelf wines live up to the same standard? Well, they didn’t until a couple of years ago – mainly due to the best producers from this area having avoided making Gran Selezione in the early going. But the situation has changed with the 2019 vintage – perhaps some of the offerings from Radda still lack the “wow factor”, coming across as riper and less energetic than they should be, but the 2019 Monteraponi show they can combine the same emphasis on steely brightness of a great Annata with even greater cellaring potential.
  • Castelnuovo Berardenga: the southernmost subzone of the appellation is where Chianti meets the Crete Senesi hills. The warm climate and peculiar soils rich in yellow tufa and marine fossils contribute to shaping examples of Gran Selezione that are rich, bold, earthy, and often a bit spicy, with just enough acidity to support the brooding structure and, in the best cases, an enlivening savory tang. When oak aging and extraction are properly managed, they stand out as heartwarmingly dark and rich without feeling too heavy. 
  • Vagliagli: Vagliagli lies next door to Castelnuovo Berardenga yet offers a significantly different landscape with higher hills offering awe-inspiring views of Siena from above. The soils here are richer in alberese (grey marl), and the wines are softer and more red-fruited, with subtle herbal flavors adding to their freshness. Dievole’s Vigna di Sessina is the benchmark Gran Selezione from Vagliagli. 
  • Castellina: this large U.G.A. stretches all the way from Panzano to Radda and then to Castelnuovo Berardenga. It is frankly quite difficult to make sense of it as, for instance, the wines made close to Panzano are completely different from those made in Fonterutoli (where the Mazzei family is headquartered). Even so, Castellina offers a few high-achieving Gran Selezione – including Ipsus, the most expensive of all – and these wines seem to hint at the necessity to divide Castellina into more subzones that could better reflect the different terroirs.
  • Greve: the broadest UGA, spanning 11,570 hectares, Greve offers a complex patchwork of different soils, expositions, and altitudes. The wines vary considerably but tend to share balance as a common point – they are neither too light nor too heavy, elegant and perfumed in the best cases but also retaining excellent tannic grip. 
  • San Donato in Poggio: the most westerly of the eleven subzones, Son Donato in Poggio comprises the township of Barberino Tavarnelle and the small portion of Poggibonsi falling into the DOCG. The landscape is characterized by open valleys channeling maritime winds, which make for exuberantly Mediterranean wines: extrovert and generous without being overbearing – also because of diurnal swings favoring the retention of high acidity.
  • San Casciano: the northernmost subzone is also one of the warmest – this paradox derives from the lower elevations and greater presence of Galestro (crumbled schistous clay) in the soil. Unfortunately, the very best wineries from this area haven’t yet released a Gran Selezione, except for Principe Corsini – Villa Le Corti, whose Don Tommaso is attractively ripe, modern, and fruit-forward but also light on its feet.
  • Montefioralle: The second smallest U.G.A. and one of the hardest to address. Lying along the banks of the Pesa River, Montefioralle should benefit from a cooler environment than most other areas but some of the wines we tasted proved quite bold and creamy on this occasion. Conte Capponi stands for the subzone at this stage, producing three single-vineyard Gran Selezione that are high-acid but also layered and powerful. 

Tasting the Gran Selezione Chianti Classico

So, in the end, the takeaway from the 2024 Chianti Classico Collection was the Gran Selezione is gradually improving and starting to reflect terroir instead of the ambition of crafting a bodybuilder-style Chianti Classico.

  • The 2019s are firing on all cylinders right now, and the 2020s are also quite charming – if slightly lighter and, at times, a bit simpler. 
  • The 2021s will only hit the market in a few months. Tasted in this youthful stage, some of them already hint at a noteworthy long-term potential.
  • As for the kind of producers that make the best Gran Selezione, cult wineries seem more reliable, and big ones have also leveled up their game in recent vintages. 
  • Low-intervention and up-coming producers still lag a bit behind – but the best examples from them are downright terrific!

Check out the detailed tasting report with the best Gran Selezione from each U.G.A. to try