Villa Calcinaia: the crown jewel of chianti classico

March 6, 2024

The morning mist gently lifted off the terroir in the pristine Tuscan countryside to expose the most magical, Disney-like landscape of rolling hills, a mosaic of emerald green farmland, statuesque Cypress trees and vineyards as far as the eye can see. This stunning vista greeted me as I left the madness of the A1 Italian autoroute and stepped into wine heaven.

Nestled in the region of Chianti, adjacent to the town of Greve, is what is likely the crown jewel of Chianti: Villa Calcinaia. This historic winery dates back to the Renaissance period and first began producing wine in 1524, not long after da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa.

I had the unique opportunity to walk the estate with Count Sebastiano Capponi, whose family owns one of the oldest wineries in the Chianti region. The Count is a handsome man full of energy and passion for wine and surely for his estate’s wines. He’s the family head leading this noble business and is also the head winemaker.

Villa Calcinaia produces some of the finest Chianti Classico the palate will ever experience. Typically, high in tannins and gently oaked for months if not years, the wine classically has earthy and rustic notes, but there’s something different in this wine. The Count proudly notes, “It’s the passion and the terroir you are tasting. We’re passionate about every step of our winemaking, every touchpoint, every grape we harvest, everything we do is about excellence. But without the terroir, without the climate, without this beautiful valley we live and grow our grapes in, we would be simply producers of wine. The blend of passion, history, capability, and terroir and climate are the magical ingredients that make a Chianti Classico so remarkable.”

Diversity is also one of the winery’s strong points. Numerous varietals weave through the winery’s 34 hectares. Olive tree groves grace the valley’s edges, and goats and chickens range through the property. All these elements contribute to the magic of what eventually ends up in your glass. Notably, all of the “Chianti Classicos” at the winery are made with 100% Sangiovese, the principal varietal of Toscana. Sebastiano, like others, scoffs at the discussion of Super Tuscans. “Marketing nonsense,” he stated. “To be a true Chianti Classico, you must be 80% Sangiovese. Our Chianti Classicos are 100% Sangiovese. Super Tuscans are surely lovely-tasting blends. At Villa Calcinaia, we deal purely in fine wines.” When asked about the onslaught of Chiantis being made around the world, you can see I have raised his ire. “Those are imitators, and sadly it took us too long to protect our trademark as an industry, and in that time, the world seemed to think they could put any Italian-sourced wine in a bottle and call it Chianti, which is a falsehood. In 1984, the region of Chianti adopted a DOCG designation and a black rooster, typically on the neck of the bottle, identifying its truthful origins of the wine.”

I would think a wine connoisseur, which I surely am not, could go on for hours about dissecting these fine wines, identifying notes of cherry, herbs and an obvious smokiness. But there’s something subtly different about this wine. “Wine is deeply affected by all of the variables we have been discussing, but one of the secret ingredients is the subsoil. We have a unique characteristic to our subsoil here at Villa Calcinaia, which has a concentration of chalk in it.” More typical of the Champagne region of France, chalk in the soil provides exceptional drainage, removing the risk of vine disease from water accumulation while providing a healthy environment for the vines to grow. “If the proof of the pudding is in the tasting,” as William Camden noted in 1623, then surely “the proof of the wine is in the drinking.”

Sitting by the historic fire inside the tasting room of Villa Calcinaia may be as close to heaven as I’m likely to get. Great wine takes you back; it gives you time to reflect; it conjures up images of great conversations, magical evenings and voyages. As I walked through the caves of this historic winery with The Count, I felt that if the walls could talk, there would be ample stories told. Stone walls, oak casks, and of course, there’s nothing like tasting the year’s harvest freshly consumed from the great wood reservoir. A treat few wine lovers ever get to experience. As I sipped on this fine young wine directly from the wood reservoir, The Count noted, ‘Taste it, enjoy it, don’t think as much about what it is as it is still quite young; close your eyes and think about what it will be.”

As we progressed on our tour, we entered a small room with dried hanging grapes. “These are for our Vin Santo wines,” proudly noted The Count. They are carefully hand-picked and stored here for months to allow the sugars to reach their fullness. The wines slowly age in wood for up to 10 years, and what emerges after love and care is a rich, velvety, delicious, sweet wine that is a delight to the palate. Originally destined for Catholic dioceses for Holy Communion throughout Italy, they are now more often used as an after-dinner accompaniment, he noted. I queried the Count if the Villa Calcinaia Vin Santo Chianti Classicos had ever entered the Vatican. Humbly he noted, “Quite likely.”

A fine dinner with friends with a bottle of the villa’s Chianti Classico followed by dessert, a fine cigar and a small glass of Villa Calcinaia Vin Santo del Chianti is about as close to heaven as this writer is ever likely to get.

Photography credit: Thomas Pigeon & Unsplash.


Story by Thomas Pigeon

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