Casanuova di Nittardi 2012 Chianti Classico


From €19.50, £21.60, $35 

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I first tasted this wine in January of this year but its arrival in the UK has been delayed while Nittardi changed their UK agent. However, I am confident that the extra half year in bottle will only have been to the good of the wine since my original note described it as having great potential for further complexity (I'd suggest over at least the next five years), even though it is surprisingly approachable now. 

Nittardi are based in Castellina in Chianti, between Florence and Siena, and they produce two Chianti wines, the Riserva and this one, Casanuova di Nittardi, Chianti Classico, easily distinguished by the striking artists’ labels (and wrapping paper). The connections between art and wine, seen everywhere on the estate, including a wonderful sculpture garden with works by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Igor Mitoraj, Horst Antes, Miguel Berrocal, Victor Roman, Dietrich Klinge, Raymond Waydelich, Giuliano Ghelli, Heiner Meyer and Paul Wunderlich among others, are easily explained.

Nittardi was bought in 1982 by Frankfurt publisher and art-gallery owner Peter Femfert and his wife Stefania Canali, a historian from Venice, having been owned in the 16th century by none other than the Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, who produced his own wine on the estate. You can’t get a much better back story than that. The history goes even further back than that as it was documented as a defensive tower in the late 12th century. It was known at the time as Nectar Dei (nectar of the gods), the name of one of the wines from their second estate in the Maremma. According to the Nittardi website, the first bottles of Nectar Dei in every vintage are presented to the Pope, just as Michelangelo apparently presented his wine to the pontiff.

Fascinating as all this may be, I am as fascinated by what I tasted. This deep ruby 100% Sangiovese from the south-facing Doghessa vineyard (below) is rich in pure dark fruit and has a hint of red-fruit fragrance to lift it from the glass. It’s cool and fresh and although the fruit is very pure, it is far from one-dimensional. There's spice, a light floral note, and still all that dark complexity. The tannins are smooth and dry, present but not dominant, already allowing the fruit to shine and already fluid across the palate. It has lovely clarity, depth and length. Overall it is elegant, and finishes wonderfully fresh thanks to, among things, the schist soils and the elevation (450 m). Even though it has spent 14 months in used 500-litre French oak, the oak is very much in the background, enhancing rather than overpowering all that lovely fruit. The alcohol is in balance at 13.35%.

Femfert and Canali replanted the vineyards, restored the buildings – as well as the main house, there are some lovely apartments for rent – and in 1992 the modern cellar was completed. It is not hard to imagine that the funding for the immaculate restoration came from the art business and not from early wine sales. Carlo Ferrini is their consultant, working alongside the technical director Antonio Spurio. Femfert and Canali’s knowledgeable and charming son Léon, having studied philosophy in Berlin and Florence, then a wine business MBA in Dijon followed by work experience at Frog's Leap in Napa, with Pascal Marchand in Burgundy, and at Casa Lapostolle in Chile, has been involved full time at Nittardi since 2013. 

The Casanuova di Nittardi Chianti Classico has been dressed in artists’ labels since 1981 (Femfert has produced a very attractive and beautifully presented pocket book with all these labels) and the 2012 label is the work of the German informal artist Karl Otto Götz. Previous artists have included Hundertwasser, Yoko Ono, Günther Grass and Dario Fo.

The Nittardi, Riserva 2011 Chianti Classico, which I tasted at the same time back in January, comes from their Vigna Alta vineyard and includes 10% Merlot. Although I think it will benefit from a little longer in the bottle, and needs time for the oak to recede further, like the Casanuova it has very fine fruit, as well a dark, spicy, savoury quality.

According to Léon Femfert, Casanuova di Nittardi 2012 Chianti Classico is available in California, Oregon and Washington State through Grape Expectations; in Illinois through Louis Glunz; in New York and Washington DC through Weygandt Selections and Florida through Arte e Vino ( Nittardi’s new agent in the UK is OW Loeb and, while they get organised with distribution around the country, the wine is available directly from them – email or phone 020 7234 0385.

According to Wine-searcher, in Europe the wine is available only in Germany but there are far more stockists for the 2011 vintage and I imagine the 2012 will follow shortly.

See also the list of distributors on the Nittardi website – though they may not all have this particular wine.

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