Wines of Worth: Barone Ricasoli & the Chianti Recipe



Family business. When we talk about carrying on the family business here in North America, we generally collectively refer to second or third generation. “My grandmother founded this company and it’s been passed down to me” or “My dad was a farmer and I’ve taken over the family farm.”  If you’re tracing your inherited career back to your great-grandparents, you’re a rarity.

Well I had the opportunity this week to taste with the 32nd generation family member of Tuscany’s Barone Ricasoli this week in Vancouver. That’s right – thirty second. Barone Francesco Ricasoli led a small group of trade through a line up of his family’s wines available on our market, as well as a on a journey of how and why Chianti came to be as it is today.

Barone Ricasoli is the oldest winery in Italy, and said to be the second oldest in the world. In fact, Barone Ricasoli is the fourth longest-lived company in the world in the same place – in any sector. The name Ricasoli has been linked to wine since 1141, when Brolio Castle passed into the hands of the Ricasoli family. The family tree, a print of which dates back to 1584, is still intact, and representations of which adorn various labels in the wine portfolio. Of his attractive and unique labels, Francesco notes they are “not graphic new innovations from the scratch”, meaning they all have some significance to the site’s history. By the start of the 1900s Brolio wines were known and exported all over the world: China, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Guatemala, Costa Rica and the then British African colonies.

But perhaps more significant for the wine world is that Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809 – 1880) is credited with perfecting the ‘recipe’ for Chianti in 1872.
 After more than thirty years of research and experiments, his modern Chianti formula was developed as a Sangiovese-based wine. He worked much with different clones (more than 70 clones of Sangiovese have been established) refining and perfecting the vine to suit terroir and tastes. Prior to Ricasoli, Canaiolo was emerging as the dominant grape in the Chianti blend, with Sangiovese and Malvasia playing supporting roles. Ricasoli’s recipe called for 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia (later amended to include Trebbiano) and 5% other local red varieties. In 1967, the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) regulation set by the Italian government firmly established the “Ricasoli formula” of a Sangiovese-based blend with 10-30% Malvasia and Trebbiano. In 1996 the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico was set at 75-100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo and up to 20% of any other approved red grape variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. Since 2006, the use of white grape varieties such as Malvasia and Trebbiano have been prohibited in Chianti Classico.

The current Presidente, Francesco Ricasoli, has been instrumental in resurrecting the family name to past glory. I say resurrecting, because the estate had seen a couple of decades of decline. Francesco’s father had sold the winery and brand to Seagram’s in the 1970s, an agonizing period for the Ricasoli family. In the early 1990s, Francesco and his father worked diligently to buy it back, and completed the purchase in 1993. Since then, they haven’t looked back. According to Francesco, they’re carrying on the spirit of his ancestor, “breathing new life into the region through diligent research and experimentation.” Under the 19 years that Francesco has been driving the program, the winery has carefully catalogued and typified soil types, vineyard plots and clonal selection. He enlisted the help of renowned Tuscan oenologist Carlo Ferrini in the revamp of the winery and vineyards, and restored and modernized most of the facilities and estate.  They currently have 230 HA under vine, the largest privately owned estate in Chianti Classico, and have shifted focus to making wines that reflect their terroir. Each vintage the winery completes approximately 200 separate vinifications, looking at plots individually to determine what is working best – plus they’re doing trials with organic viticulture (30 HA is organically farmed).

The experimental, innovative gene must be in Francesco’s blood – perhaps also in his Sangiovese –  32 generations deep.


A few highlights from our tasting:

Campo Ceni 2011
Toscana IGT

Young and fresh, and (gasp) under screwcap. According to Francesco this is highly “adventurous” because Italians still have a negative connotation of screwcaps. However, he feels that this youthful red benefits from the closure, keeping the bright strawberry, cherry and red current fruit preserved. Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon Blend.


Brolio 2009
Chianti Classico DOCG

Named for Brolio Castle, a structure started in the Middle Ages, and surrounded by 230 HA of vineyards. This wine has been a go-to Chianti Classico on our market for years, and though the price has gently nudged up over the years, the quality has remained steadfastly constant. Lovely perfumed violets, pulsating spice, stony-earthy cherry balanced through a fresh, lengthy finish. A tip for this vintage – many of their best grapes usually destined for their icon wines were held back for this blend in 2009, making it even more impressive than normal. 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet sauvignon.


Colledilá 2008
Chianti Classico DOCG

My favourite wine of the tasting, Colledilà – roughly translates to ‘the other side of the hill’ and denotes land which has been part of the Brolio estate for centuries. 100% Sangiovese, with clones specially suited for this special calcareous limestone site, this wine opens with alluring perfumed black cherry, and leads into textured and elegant cherries, spice and minerality. Lovely, lifted acidity and ripe but restrained fruit equals seriously modern Chianti Classico. This label depicts part of the family tree and Chianti countryside from hundreds of years ago.


Plus a couple other opportunities to taste Sangiovese from closer to home

Sandhill Small Lots Sangiovese 2009
Oliver, Okanagan Valley

Only 19 Barrels of this deep ruby Sangiovese was made. Fuller, riper and fuller-bodied than its Italian counterparts, with dense cherry, cedar, dried herbs and dark cocoa dusty tannins. Sandhill was the first in BC to plant and produce Sangiovese commercially.


Inniskillin Discovery Series Sangiovese 2009
Oliver, Okanagan Valley

The last vintage of their Sangiovese, and it’s in small supply (150 cases). Inniskillin has decided to drop this from their portfolio since the volume is too low. So pick up a bottle while you can. Big and spicy cherry and raspberry, with solid dark chocolate underpinning.


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*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. Some may be in limited quantities. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores. Prices may vary.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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