Episode 128 – 40 years of Chianti Rufina Riserva, Bucerchiale, Selvapiana, Tuscany, Italy
28th September 2022
Author’s note – please forgive the slightly stilted nature of this commentary. I typed this into my iPad in a little over an hour while balancing it on the edge of a table, narrowly avoiding spilling any drops of precious wine!
Liberty Wines Chairman, David Gleave MW, started working with Selvapiana in 1987. Owner Francesco Giuntini had been estate manager since the ’50s, and this estate had been in his family since 1826. He took over at the tender age of 21. “Back then, it was a work in progress”, David notes. He recalls tasting the 1958 Chianti Rufina Riserva with Francesco. This wine was conceived to determine the best parcels of vines on the estate, but there was no market for this style of wine back then, let alone Chianti, with a higher price than a basic trattoria red wine. Francesco knew that Bucerchiale was always the best Poderi (the name for a mini-farmstead complete with vines, olives, mixed arable farming and even some livestock) on the property. A pioneering winery, they had been bottling on site at Selvapiana for aeons. They managed to build up a decent cellar of older wines, however, everything in the collection was drunk during the Second World War by the German occupiers. 1947 was the first vintage after the War. Then in the ’60s and ’70s, wine consultant guru and writer Luigi Veronelli persuaded several important Italian producers to make the finest expressions of their best single vineyards, including Selvapiana’s Bucerchiale.
Veronelli is the somewhat unsung hero of the Italian fine wine scene. He convinced select wineries that they could make soaringly delicious wines if they celebrated their unique plots of vines. 1979 was the very first vintage of Selvapiana’s spectacular Bucerchiale, and this wine inspired the celebration of 40 years of this imperious Chianti Rufina. Federico Giuntini, Francesco’s son, took over the running of the estate many years ago, and now Federico’s son Niccolò makes the wines. In fact, Niccolò was solely responsible for the 40th vintage wine, the 2019, from start to finish. Francesco was 90 years old this year, and he must be immensely proud of his son and grandson for their efforts to nurture and grow the fame of this incredible property. For my part, I have been buying Bucerchiale since 1990 when I listed the 1985 vintage on Bibendum Restaurant’s wine list. It was such a joy to taste this very wine in the line-up today.
NB – The first three wines used no temperature control and they were cement fermented and picked very late at the end of October / early November. The yields back then were more than double what they look for nowadays. The last wine, the 40th anniversary 2019 vintage, is now launched, and I urge you to track it down. As far as elite Sangiovese goes, this must be the finest value wine in Tuscany by a country mile, and the quality of this vintage makes it one of the very greatest in the four decades of its existence.
1979 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigneto Bucerchiale, Selvapiana 12.56%
This is the only wine that lacks apparent fruit purity, but the balance of the components is still spot on, and while it has fallen a little quiet, the silkiness and class of the property are evident. Holding on nicely and indeed a model Rufina, it is incredibly impressive that it is 43 years young. 18/20 (an emotional score)
1982 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigneto Bucerchiale, Selvapiana 12.6%
This is a lovely old, slightly knackered wine with lacy tannins and delicate red fruit notes. But there is still a core of sweetness here, and it is trying to blossom in the glass. This is far from a dead wine and it has a higher level of alcohol (for the period), indeed there is a warm, summery feel about the juiciness and richness. The acidity is terrific, as are the abrupt tannins, but the acidity is most definitely the battery pack for this wine. A wonderful treat. 18/20
1985 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigneto Bucerchiale, Selvapiana 13.27%
The 1985 was aged in two 30ha chestnut botti. It was made under the watchful guidance of wine consultant Franco Bernabei. Franco started working with Selvapiana in 1978, and after that, he became a famous consultant. His style was not to make wine around his personality but to express, in the purest form, the character of the property and the essence of the vintage. In this regard, he was the perfect choice to chaperone Bucerchiale! This wine was picked a little earlier than the first two. It is a little closed and hard on the nose, and the fruit is minty, relatively flat and it falls short, but there is still fruit here, and it is still, unmistakably, Bucerchiale. It was a great wine in the past, but it is past its prime and it is the last bastion of the so-called ‘old style’ of Bucerchiale. 17.5/20
1999 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigneto Bucerchiale, Selvapiana 14.2%
In 1999, they used 100% barriques, after switching to this ‘recipe’ in 1986. This wine has the highest acidity of the line-up, and it was a late harvest, too. The nose is thrilling with mushroomy notes and masses of fruit, and there is amazing suppleness and cadence here with kaleidoscopic foresty, red fruit and spice, with leather, sous bois and prodigious length. It is nothing short of incredible. 18.5/20
2006 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigneto Bucerchiale, Selvapiana 14.5%
There is a touch of dustiness on the nose here, and the fruit is more advanced than I would have expected, too. The grip remained as it started to open up, but floral and fruit notes emerged, too. The flavours are sensational, with fully ripe fruit and complex foresty notes adding to the experience. The tannins, oak (100% barriques) and acidity are still extremely lively and almost arresting as they sharpen the finish and add a ‘full stop’ to the flavour. With exceptional classiness and beautifully complexity, while the tannins are a little coarse and there is more attack and muscle, making this is a superb wine that is at its peak. This is a great wine to throw into a Tuscan line-up, alongside richer styles, as it will hold its own while championing an elite Rufina model. 18.5/20
2009 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigneto Bucerchiale, Selvapiana 14.97%
With a darker colour than the 2013 and a cooler, less spicy and elevated nose yet, the fruit is calm and ripe, and there are still lovely tannins on the back of the palate, and they more resemble the 2019 than the spicier 2013. There is a superb coolness and a silkiness on the mid-palate that is engaging, and the tannins are perky and mouth-watering and perfectly balanced with the rest of the wine. Considering the alcohol level, this is a very cleverly assembled wine with a super-long finish. 18.5/20
2013 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigneto Bucerchiale, Selvapiana 14.84%
There is a more profound and powerful body of fruit here with a more concentrated centre and a hotter, spicier, peppery, rustic and somewhat herbal finish. The tannins are actively drying and punchy. There is tension here, and this is a slightly later-picked style, and it looks more actively youthful than the 2019, which is amazing. They benefited from the breezes in this vintage when the rest of Chianti was extremely warm, even at night. The colour is starting to brown a touch, but this doesn’t seem to affect the ripeness of the fruit. There is a raw edge here that is cleansing and combative and this makes it a perfect vintage for robust meaty dishes. 18+/20
2019 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigneto Bucerchiale, Selvapiana (the 40th vintage since 1979) 14%
Federico thinks this is as good as the 1999 and the 1985. It is also the first vintage in which Federico’s son, Niccolò, handled the whole vintage himself. South West-facing, slow ripening, it sees the sun at the end of the day. Vinification is an extended maceration (25-30 days on skins), 50% large casks and 50% small French oak barriques for 18 months (fewer barriques than in time gone by). Very pure, clean and supple with richer, more refined tannins, there is a textbook nose here with thrilling red fruit and lovely, wistful cherry and cranberry tones over a deeper, darker core. 2019 was a more classic vintage – slow and steady, which is evident in this wine’s plushness. Picked end of September / early October, there is more elegance here than in the 2016, so it is more classically Rufina in its style. The acidity is perfectly balanced and yet this is a relaxed and honed wine entirely at odds with the blockbuster reds from further South. It is surprisingly forward, approachable, and gentle, but there is a lot of depth behind the scenes. As it opened up over the next few hours it became even more enthralling while always retaining its noble tannins and incredible balance. 19+/20 (£35.99, www.thewinereserve.co.uk; £38.25, www.mothervine.co.uk).