Ruffino Chianti

Sinds 1877 maakt Ruffino wijn in Toscane, Italie. Chianti vooral.

Vorige maand was ik daar en heb ik hun Chardonnay ontdekt als een wijn die erg bij mijn persoonlijke smaak past. Super!

Ed McCarthy en vele anderen plaatsen Ruffino op het niveau van Dom Perignon, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau d’Yquem en Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Al deze wijnen zijn HET voorbeeld en DE benchmark voor hun streek. En Ruffino is dat voor Chianti.

Al jaren.

En Ed deed een verticale proeverij om dat nogmaals te testen…

A Chianti Benchmark Through Its Golden Years
Bron: Ed McCarthy

Certain wines are standard bearers of their wine regions. They represent the best – or at least the most famous – name in their categories. When I think of Champagne, Dom Pérignon comes to mind; Château Lafite-Rothschild, perhaps, for Bordeaux; Château d’Yquem for Sauternes; and Domaine de la Romanée Conti for Burgundy.

For Chianti, particularly Chianti Classico – clearly the finest district in the Chianti region – Ruffino’s Riserva Ducale, especially its Gold Label, has been the paragon for Chianti for at least 50 years. It is arguably the best-known Chianti in the wine world, and has been consistently high in quality for many decades.

The Ruffino winery was founded in 1877 by cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino. Since neither of the Ruffinos had children, in 1913 they decided to sell their already quite successful winery to the Folonari family, which had been making wine since the 1700s. The Folonari wine business grew quite large after World War II; by the early 1970′s, the family decided to sell the beverage wine part of their business, along with the Folonari name, to a huge wine group in Italy (GIV) in order to concentrate on the fine wine part of their business, namely Ruffino Chianti wines and their other high-quality Tuscan wines.

A few years ago, because of philosophical differences, the huge Folonari family split into two groups: Paolo and Marco Folonari and Marco’s two sons, Luigi and Adolfo, kept Ruffino Chianti, plus certain other estates and vineyards, including Santedame Chianti Classico, Lodola Nuovo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Greppone Mazzi Brunello di Montalcino. Ambrogio Folonari, who heads the other branch of the family, re-named his part of the wine group A. & F. Folonari, and retained Cabreo (a super-Tuscan wine), Nozzole Chianti Classico, and other estates.

Riserva Ducale was first released in 1927 under the name of Riserva Ducale Chianti Stravecchio. Its ‘Ducale’ name comes from the fact that Ruffino Chianti was the Duke of Aosta’s preferred wine, and so Ruffino made a Chianti especially for the Duke (the ‘Duke’s Reserve’). Ruffino joined the Chianti Classico Consortium, and in 1947, a second Riserva Ducale, the newly named Riserva Ducale Oro (Gold Label) Chianti Classico, was first released.

The original Riserva Ducale, popularly known as Riserva Ducale Tan Label, makes up two-thirds of Riserva Ducale production. Ruffino use the grapes from its best vineyards for the Gold Label Riserva. Both Riserva Ducale Chiantis are blends of grapes from several of Ruffino’s estates in the Chianti Classico district.

I am always a bit in awe of large wineries that manage to maintain high quality despite huge production. Moët & Chandon’s Cuvée Dom Pérignon is a prime example, as is the aforementioned Château Lafite-Rothschild. Ruffino produces between 400,000 and 500,000 bottles of Gold Label a year (in good vintages only; for example, there’s no 2002 Gold Label). This translates to 33,000 to 42,000 12-bottle cases (and twice as much Tan Label). The obvious advantage of the rather large quantity of Riserva Ducale wines is that they can be found in most stores and Italian restaurants throughout the country. The U.S., in fact, is Ruffino’s biggest export market, and Ruffino wines are exported to more than 80 countries.

Nowadays, the Riserva Ducale Gold Label retails for about $40 a bottle, while the Tan Label sells for $24. Look for the Tan Label especially when no Gold Label is produced, because the grapes normally reserved for the Gold Label go into the Tan Label. For example, the 2002 Tan Label is excellent.

The heart of all Chianti, including the Gold Label, is the Sangiovese grape variety. But the composition of Gold Label has changed throughout the years (The 1955 contained 75 percent Sangiovese; the percentage went up to 90 percent in the 1980s, while current Gold Label vintages are 85 percent Sangiovese). But more importantly, the Sangiovese variety itself has changed greatly during this time due to development of different clones. The Sangiovese clones being used by most Chianti producers today are darker in color and more intensely flavored than the typical Sangiovese grapes of 30 years ago.

Three other developments have changed the nature of many Chianti wines: Many producers, including Ruffino, are now adding Merlot and/or Cabernet Sauvignon to the Chianti blend; quite a few producers are now aging their best wines in new oak barrels (Riserva Ducale Oro is now aged in new oak); and the apparent global warming, first noted in European vineyards in 1989, but especially noticeable since 1997, has created particularly hot vintages (in Tuscany, 1990, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2003), which have produced over-ripe, high-alcohol wines.

In May of this year, I visited the Ruffino estates in Tuscany. The highlight of the visit for me was a vertical tasting of ten vintages of Riserva Ducale Gold Label (called "Oro" on the label), from 1955 to 2003. The wines were consistently fine, but it became clear as we reached the vintages of the 1990s that a rather large stylistic change had taken place. The style change was especially evident in the most current vintages. The tasting would have been perfect if it had included one of my favorite all-time Gold Label vintages, the 1988. Unfortunately, it was not included, but Adolfo Folonari, who looks after U.S. markets, promised to show it in a future visit. We tasted the vintages from the oldest to the youngest; only the 2001 Gold Label is currently available:

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 1955:

The 51-year-old Gold Label, 75 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Canaiolo, 10 percent Malvasia Bianco, and 5 percent Colorino, still had plenty of dry, herbal fruit flavors on the palate, which made it quite enjoyable to drink. It had a pale garnet red color and an intense, leathery aroma with a trace of oxidation. Its flavors were exotic, with hints of volatile acidity. Tannins were totally resolved, and it had a gentle texture. Interesting from an historical point of view, it was one of two Riserva Ducales that were past their best drinking stage. But the 1955 is still worth drinking, even now. 90

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 1964:

The 1964 Riserva Ducale Gold Label (75 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Canaiolo, 10 percent Malvasia Bianco, and 5 percent Colorino), admittedly a fine vintage, is living proof of the greatness of this Chianti. It was simply fantastic! Still very much alive, it had great concentration of tart cherry fruit flavors, high acidity, and a lingering finish on the palate. A classic, the epitome of what great aged Chianti Classico is all about. Only 12.9 percent alcohol (not much of that nowadays!) 95

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 1973:

The 1973 (75 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Canaiolo, 10 percent Malvasia Bianco, and 5 percent Colorino), showed considerable oxidation on the nose and on the palate. It had sweet, resolved tannins, and its high acidity has possibly kept it alive. With more aeration, it started to fall apart. Alcohol, 12.8 percent. Unlike the 1955, a truly great Chianti vintage, the 1973 didn’t have ‘the right stuff’ to go the long route. 80

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 1980

The 1980 Gold Label (75 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Canaiolo, 10 percent Malvasia Bianco, and 5 percent Colorino) was the first ‘young’ Riserva Ducale of the tasting. It had a brilliant ruby red color with a garnet and gold rim, and vibrant, lively red fruit flavors. It still has a very fresh, lively character, is at its peak now, but should keep well for several more years. Only 12.6 percent alcohol! 92

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 1985

Yes!! The wine of the tasting for me. The 1985 has 90 percent Sangiovese in the blend, with 7 percent Canaiolo and only 3 percent white grapes (Malvasia), and so this might have played a role in its greatness, but 1985 is also considered a magical vintage in Tuscany. The ’85 Gold had aromas of toffee and coffee, fresh, ripe red fruit flavors, lively acidity, and a long finish (13.5 percent alcohol). It has the stuff to keep well for another 10 years. Only the 1988 Gold Label, which is more elegant and less powerful, can rival this ’85. 97

Riserva Ducale "Oro:" 1990:

The 1990 Gold Label (90 percent Sangiovese, 7 percent Canaiolo, 3 percent Malvasia Bianco) is amazingly young; I checked the bottle to make sure it was the ’90. It had the most pronounced nose of all of the wines, with concentrated balsamic and mushroom aromas, sweet, ripe fruit flavors, dense tannins, and lots of depth (13.2 percent alcohol). Clearly the most powerful Gold Label so far, and it was perhaps the first sign of a change in the Riserva Ducale style. A fine Gold Label, but perhaps lacked a bit of elegance. 91

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 1995:

The 1995 Gold Label (90 percent Sangiovese, 7 percent Canaiolo, 3 percent Malvasia Bianco) was at the awkward stage: too young and fruity to show any secondary development, and yet lacking the intensity of the younger vintages. Its sweet vanillan aromas made me aware of its oak aging. It had soft attack on the palate, with lots of ripe fruit. 88

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 1999:

The 1999 Gold Label was the first Riserva Ducale of the tasting that had ‘international’ grapes, with its blend of 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Colorino added to 85 percent Sangiovese. The wine demonstrates the greatness of the 1999 vintage in Tuscany. It has dense texture, fine-grained tannins, and a sweet attack of ripe fruit, all with only 12.3 percent alcohol! A fine example of a modern Riserva Ducale, very different from the Gold Labels of the 1980s, fruitier, more powerful, and less elegant. And yet an excellent wine. 93

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 2001:

The 2001 Gold Label (85 percent Sangiovese, 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Colorino) is the currently available Riserva Ducale, and is a beauty. I rate it just slightly lower than the ’99, although a few tasters preferred the ’01, a highly-rated vintage in Tuscany. The ’01 (13.8 percent alcohol) has dark, ripe fruit flavors, lots of depth, with still undeveloped aromas, but hints of balsamic vinegar and coffee. It is quite dense, with lots of minerality and great balance. It has the potential of becoming one of the great Riserva Ducales. 92

Riserva Ducale "Oro" 2003:

The not-yet-released 2003 Gold Label (85 percent Sangiovese, 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Colorino) is very dark in color, quite dense, with serious tannins and ripe fruit flavors. It will be a good, but not great Riserva Ducale because 2003 was just too hot. Its plump flavors will serve it well sooner rather than later (13.4 percent alcohol). Its finish is short. Not a long-distance runner. 89


Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Gold Label remains a benchmark for Chianti wines. Its high quality is even more admirable when you consider its considerably large production.

Clearly Riserva Ducale, like so many other Chianti estates, has changed its style during the past ten to 15 years. Partially because of new clones, partially because of the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, partially because of aging in new oak barrels, and partially because of increasingly warm vintages, the Riserva Ducales of the 1990s, the ’01 and ’03 are darker in color, more powerful, more concentrated, riper, and generally are higher in alcohol than their predecessors. What they have gained in power they have lost in suppleness, subtlety, and elegance.

The Folonari family believes that this is the direction that Chianti, indeed the entire wine world, is heading. Although I do admire the ’99 and ’01 Riserva Ducale Gold Labels, I long for the quiet elegance and suppleness of the 1964 and most of the 1980s Gold Labels, especially the 1985 and 1988 – for me, the pinnacle of Riserva Ducale greatness

Lees ook:Klassieke Chianti Classico
Lees ook:10 t/m 16 september: Chianti Classico Week
Lees ook:Private labels zoals die van AH worden 50% van de markt
Lees ook:Oogstbericht 2001: Barbaresco, geweldig!
Lees ook:Winnaar International Wine Challenge

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