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Chianti Classico, Forever Changes

Everything must change in order to stay the same is a quote from a famous Italian novel, Il Gattopardo, and while the plot was set in Sicily at the time of the unification of Italy, around 1860, it could equally be applied to post-war Tuscany. As you travel through the narrow valleys and forested hills of the area of Tuscany where Chianti Classico is produced, it has a timeless quality to it. The vineyards clinging to the hillsides seem to have been there forever, but this is not the case.

At the end of the war the Italian economy was in deep trouble and to help it recover it received $3,700 million of aid. This was not entirely altruistic as Italy had a border with the then communist Yugoslavia and it was considered politically expedient to ensure that Italy remained outside the Soviet orbit. But whatever the reasons, the success of the Italian economy in the years 1950-70 are undeniable. Whole new industries sprang up making washing machines and refrigerators for the rest of Europe. With them, arrived new factories and new jobs, mainly in the north of the country around Turin and Milan.

Chanti Classico bottles among the fiasco bottles

At this point a rather bored Vinnie asked, “And precisely what has that to do with Tuscany?” Well, rather a lot, actually, because these new employment opportunities changed Tuscany forever. Italian agriculture at the time was mired in medieval practices. In Tuscany the arrangement for cultivation was called mezzadria which is basically sharecropping. The peasant has the use of the land and the landowner receives half the crop. This was inherently inefficient because the peasant only had a small plot from which he had to produce the whole range of foods for his family and therefore the peasant remained poor. With the prospect of good wages in the north in the 50s and 60s, they left the land in their droves. The landowners, left with no one to cultivate the estates, sold off large swathes of land fairly cheaply.

Paulo, a Chianti Classico producer, from La Caparsa.

Enter Paolo’s parents and, in particular, his father who saw an opportunity and bought the farm now known as Caparsa near the town of Radda in Chianti. Paolo will tell you that his mother was not entirely on board with the project at the time, politely enquiring of her husband what in the name of heaven had convinced him to buy a field of stones. But they survived and the first harvest was 54 years ago. Today, Paolo’s children are set to follow in their father’s footsteps.

Most winemakers are dedicated to what they do but there are few like Paolo who sees it as an integral part of his philosophy, his vision and his passion. Talking with Paolo you learn so much about the area and its history. He will explain that just up the hill the remains of an Etruscan village were discovered together with some grapes and millstones, now in a local museum, evidence that the area has seen continuous wine production for over 2,500 years. His commitment to organic farming is complete and he will explain not only the complexity of the ecosystems but also the changes he has seen as a result of global warming. He now sees insect species that were previously unknown in the area. On the good news front, if you could put it that way, because of climate change his wines have increased in strength over the years from 11.5% forty years ago to around 13.5% now, So if you want to drown your worries it’s much easier…

Caparsa Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Carpasino Reserva

With 12 hectares of vines certainly Paolo could produce more than the 30,000 bottles of wine that he currently makes but he is concerned not just with quality but also honesty and purity. The harvest is by hand but that is not unusual. After selecting the grapes they are fermented in cement. Paolo explains that the cement is porous and that allows the wine to breathe. From the fermentation vats, we went to the cellar and talking to Paolo about his techniques was a revelation. He knows each of his barrels personally, barrique, tonneau and botte. He will happily explain that identical barrels will have different characteristics that you can only learn through time and experience. This is a man who relishes every stage of the wine-making process.

Chianti Classico cellar

In the mid-17th century vaulted tasting room I tried his 2016 Chianti Classico. This is a beautifully-layered wine with plums, leather and spices on the nose and blackberries and cherries on the palate. It has well-balanced tannins. It is a wine that would go well with roast or barbecued red meat. I then tasted his 2016 Carpasino Reserva which is a lovely wine. It is obviously similar to the Chianti Classico but has a darker colour, richer bouquet and softer tannins. There are hints of dark coffee, tobacco, cherries and spices on the nose. On the palate, there are ripened red fruits and spices.

Chianti Classico

Driving away from Caparsa I had the feeling I was leaving one calm, timeless world for another less so and I was not certain that I was going in the right direction as I headed into August, 2020. More about this vineyard

Useful links:

Paolo has developed an app, Caparsa, which is available for both iOS and Android devices. This app will allow you to find Caparsa Chianti Classico resellers around the world. It is available in both English and Italian.

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