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Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 1997

I am surprised to have to admit that this is the first time I have featured a wine from Tuscany as my Weekend Wine. In fact Italy has never made a strong showing here, despite the indisputable fact that the country in question offers us an unrivalled diversity of styles when it comes to wine. Of course, before I began the Weekend Wine feature back in 2006, I did focus on the wines of Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto in my year-long feature called A Taste of Italy. But that was a long time ago now - probably 2001 or 2002 - so it hardly counts!

Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 1997One estate I did showcase during my Italian phase was naturally Fonterutoli, one of Tuscany's greatest wine names. The vineyards here date back to at least the 13th century, although the Mazzei family - who can trace their roots back to the Carmignano region in the 11th century - only took ownership of the property in 1435. Today they remain the proprietors of the estate, having seen out a remarkable six centuries of viticulture and winemaking, and the wines they produce today range from the good-value whites and reds of their Belguardo estate in nearby Maremma (a much more recent addition to the Mazzei portfolio, having been purchased during the 1990s) to the splendid home-grown Chiantis such as Ser Lapo and this week's wine at the Fonterutoli estate.

These latter Fonterutoli wines do have some potential to confuse, however, primarily due to the Mazzei family's apparent rejection of the riserva designation. Thus there is a standard Chianti Classico, labelled as Fonterutoli Chianti Classico (with a darker label), and then there is a Chianti Classico Riserva which does not declare this status on the label, but is distinguished simply by the fact this is labelled Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico (with a large yellow border on the label). It is the latter wine - which does at least confess to being a riserva on the back label, and which is usually listed as such by most merchants - that has the potential for age, and which is featured here.

The eagle-eyed might notice a suggestion of snow in the background above, as the image was snapped a couple of months ago when Scotland was still trying to shake off the winter weather. But that bottle was not without issue; although the wine seemed fine at first, by the second glass I was becoming increasingly bothered by a subtle vein of oxidation running through the back of the wine, a characteristic which seemed to become greater and undeniable with subsequent glasses, spoiling the overall experience and fostering doubt about the condition of the wine and how it would relate to other bottles of the same, and so in the end I didn't report on it. And as at the time I didn't have another bottle to hand, I simply moved onto something else, resolving to return to this wine at some time in the future. Happily, that time came this weekend.

The cork in bottle number two of the Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 1997 was in great condition, just as it had appeared to be with the oxidised bottle as well, but thankfully with this wine there was not a hint of oxidation anywhere. The colour is maturing, still with a lot of red pigment but bricking a little at the rim, much darker at the core. And the nose is just delightful, full of sweet and leathery fruit spiced with elements of cloves, stewed black cherry and custard powder. The latter will no doubt raise an eyebrow or two, but it is a very typical aroma I find in Chianti from time to time. A very supple and gently composed palate, immediately showing great substance and texture through the midpalate, with smoky and leathery fruit well framed by robust acidity, a very flattering texture and a good vein of resolving tannins. There is still a good sense of extract here too, a tangible flesh to the wine, giving it a full, flattering and handsome although very dry style which I adore. And it is long too, very long indeed. What a joy - I am so glad I held back before reporting in order to try a truly representative bottle of this quite delicious wine. 18.5/20 (26/4/10)

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