Castello di Querceto and their Gran Selezione wines
Castello di Querceto was a founder member of the Chianti Classico consorzio, back in 1924. When heading south from Florence, Greve in Chianti is the first town on the Chiantigiana wine road and the gateway to the Classico region. Nearby is Castello di Querceto. This beautiful wine estate makes wines of high reputation, together with olive oil and a delightful agriturismo.
Castello di Querceto
The historic Castello di Querceto estate has a medieval castle (the Castello) from when Florence and Sienna were deadly rivals. The estate name also comes from the local oak forests (querceto). Five generations of the François family have farmed here after arriving from France in 1897. The property is some 190 hectares, including 65 hectares of vines in 22 plots. Their grapes are a typical Tuscan mix, Sangiovese plus other local and international varieties. Their planting matches soil and microclimate because the estate previously conducted zoning studies.
The winery produces a range of Chianti Classico’s and other wines. However, this article compares and contrasts two of their top wines, Il Picchio and La Corte. Both are Gran Selezione wines. This relatively new category aims to represent the crème de la crème of Chianti Classico DOCG production.
First, a reminder of what the Gran Selezione is and why it remains controversial in some quarters. Gran Selezione (the great selection) came about in 2014, applying from the 2010 vintage onwards. There were new rules for this newly created peak of the Classico quality pyramid. Principally, these stipulated a more extended minimum ageing period (30 months), including three months in bottle. The grapes must also grow on the producers’ estate, thus removing any inclusion of lower quality negociant wines.
GS initially garnered mixed opinions. In historic and prestigious wine areas, any change creates controversy. It threatens the status quo and yet provides new opportunities. However, detractors opined that it didn’t appear to be sufficiently different from the traditional Riserva category (with 24 months of ageing). It also added even more complexity to an already confusing Chianti rulebook. Furthermore, GS didn’t insist on it being a single-vineyard wine, while some criticised the lack of introducing sub-zones as a lost opportunity.
In its defence, Gran Selezione has since become a marketing success, with an increasing number of wines appearing. Moreover, it’s renewed the interest in Chianti Classico, which faces intense competition from SuperTuscan wines and prestigious Tuscan areas such as Brunello and Bolgheri. And those “missing” sub-zones are now being introduced, with eleven of them solely for GS coming this year.
Crucially, Gran Selezione has created a clear improvement in wine quality worthy of the name and price tag, as the two Castello di Querceto examples amply demonstrate. The comparison between them is fascinating. Here then, is their story.
Il Picchio versus La Corte
The attractive wine labels don’t reveal too much, though both are 13.5% abv. Perhaps that’s as it should be, but tasting the two wines together invites an inevitable comparison and curiosity about how and why they differ from each other. And when both bottles are found side-by-side on a retail shelf at a similar price, it will beg the obvious question, “what’s the difference?”
These two are markedly different in aroma and taste. Yet these are both Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione wines made from grapes grown in the same way on the same estate in the same (good) harvest year. Furthermore, they are both made and matured in the same traditional way. Fermentation is for two weeks. Total maturation time is the stipulated minimum of 30 months and features 12 months in a mix of French oak barrels and six months in the bottle.
Chianti Classico is most often a blended wine. Indeed, while pure Sangiovese expressions are now allowed, all three levels of the DOCG maintain that Sangiovese only needs a minimum of 80% with a wide range of possible local and international partners. So is it a blend of grape varieties responsible for the differences between the wines? No, both these wines can be considered monovarietal Sangiovese. What about differences in vine age? Nope, the vines are 35 years old in Il Picchio and 40 years old for La Corte, not a big difference.
So what’s going on? The variability can only come from the vineyard sites themselves. In other words, it must be because of terroir!
Il Picchio (the Woodpecker) is 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino. Colorino*, as its name implies, brings deeper colour but without changing aroma and flavour. There were 19,000 bottles in 2018.
The grapes come from a single vineyard of 4.5 hectares at an altitude of 420-450 meters close to the Castello. This vineyard faces east-southeast in aspect, so it gets the morning sun. Soils are brown-red with little sand and lots of clay and limestone (known as Galestro). Natural woodlands surround the vineyard, offering protection from the elements.
Il Picchio is the darker and denser wine, deep ruby with purple flecks. That shows the influence of Colorino. Then the aromas are of sour dark cherries, with orange zest and tobacco. The palate is firm and structured at this point in its life. So it has some austerity thanks to plenty of tannins for long ageing. But, at 13.5%, it’s not a brute; there’s still a precision balance of fruit and acidity, with a fennel note accompanying darker cherry fruit on a long persistent finish.
Tellingly, Il Picchio showed its greatness after being open for three days. The tannins had melted away, revealing tea-caddy complexity. In conclusion, Il Picchio is all about potential, with that extra tannic core. That’s ideal if you’re looking to buy wine to keep and improve over the next decade. Or decant it and match it with powerful foods such as roast meats.
La Corte (The Court) is 100% Sangiovese, without any addition of Colorino. There were 13,500 bottles in 2018.
This time the grapes come from a single vineyard of 3.4 hectares at an altitude of 440-470 meters, so slightly higher up. In contrast, this vineyard faces west-southwest in aspect, so it gets the evening sun. In addition, the soils here are different, known as Albarese. These are yellow and sandy with little clay and limestone and are free-draining.
Without Colorino, the wine is lighter and attractively crimson. The aromas are more pronounced and open, with roses and bergamot adding to the sour cherry fruit. The palate on La Corte has smoother, more resolved tannins, allowing the fresh acidity and fruit flavours to shine a little more brightly at this stage. Indeed, they all combine to present a harmonious elegance, gradually fading away on a long finish.
It means that La Corte is presently the more “immediate” of the two wines, more ready to drink now, though it is still young and will improve yet. It will probably still have as much overall longevity as Il Picchio. Presently, this wine will partner with a broader range of dishes, including Salumi.
And finally – equal but different
The contrasts are clear, yet the only influencing factors are vineyard site variations, particularly aspect, soils and microclimate. In the right hands and the right places, Sangiovese in Tuscany is as site-sensitive as Pinot Noir in Burgundy or Nebbiolo in Piemonte.
Meanwhile, these two wines rank equally in stature and precision but are nonetheless different in aroma and taste. Therefore, one is not better than the other, though you will find you have a preference. And as this is just a 2022 snapshot, even that may change as the wines age.
These GS wines also differ from Castello di Querceto’s Chianti Classico Riserva. That is just as it should be – the Castello’s GS wines are not Riserva’s with extra ageing! Nonetheless, the 2018 Riserva is a lovely wine, 13.5% and showing red berry fruit with violet, tea and pepper complexity. Drinking now, it’s a blend from several estate vineyards, comprising 92% Sangiovese, with 8% from a mix of other Tuscan natives; Colorino, Canaiolo, Mammolo and Ciliegiolo. This wine also has a long life ahead.
Meanwhile, those wine lovers that prefer to enjoy the wines without dwelling on technicalities need to remember only that the Castle of the Oak Forests makes excellent Chianti Classico.
Soho Wine Supply stocks these wines, all competitively priced for their categories. The Gran Selezione Il Picchio is £29.00, while La Corte is £30.00. The Riserva is £20.00. Why not make a comparison?
Castello di Querceto
Via Alessandro François, 2
50022 Greve in Chianti (FI)
* There’s more than one Colorino variety, but that’s a different rabbit hole for another time!