The 2017 vintage represents the 40th anniversary of I Sodi di S. Niccolò, a truly iconic Italian wine. It was likely the first Super Tuscans from Chianti Classico area using autochthonous grapes. It showed—and continues to show—the extraordinary heights the wines from the Chianti Classico region can reach. When it debuted in 1977, it did not conform to the regulations for Chianti Classico, which required roughly 10 percent of the blend to come from white grapes. It was, and still is, a blend of only Sangiovese (~85%) and Malvasia Nera. Hence the IGT Toscana official designation then instead of the DOC. Although now, with the change in regulations for Chianti Classico, it could be labeled under that DOCG, Castellare in Castellina has opted to continue to label it as IGT Toscana.
The 2017 I Sodi di S. Niccolò represents an enormous achievement of the winemaking team at Castellare di Castellina because the weather during the growing season was, as they say, “difficult.” That’s an understatement. One prominent Chianti Classico producer told me that you could forget about the 2017s. Well, that’s clearly not the case as evidenced by this wine. The I Sodi di S. Niccolò vineyard, located in the Castellina subzone of Chianti Classico, has a great advantage in hot, dry years, such as 2017. Its 400-plus meters above sea level elevation and its south eastern facing location in an amphitheater that catches the winds coming from the Val d’Elsa mitigate the heat.
The soil of the vineyard is a classic mix of galestro and alberese, ideal for Sangiovese and other autochthonous varieties, according to Daniele Cernilli, one of Italy’s top wine authorities.
The wine is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in barrels, half of which are new, for anywhere from between 24 and 30 months, depending on the vintage.
The 2017 I Sodi di S. Niccolò is gorgeous. It’s explosive, yet not flamboyant. It has power and persistence, yet retains incredible elegance. It delivers the panoply of flavors you’d expect from a great wine—succulent cherry-like fruitiness, earthy and spicy savory notes—without any of them dominating. You feel the effect of oak aging without tasting it. The tannins, which could be accentuated in a hot vintage, are fine and supple. The acidity, which could be diminished in a hot vintage, is not, and provides uplifting energy. The alluring hint of bitterness in the finish demonstrates that the grapes were not over ripe, despite the reputation of the vintage. I would echo what Cernilli remarked during a tasting of this wine, “It’s a wine that reflects its site more so than the vintage.” It’s remarkably enjoyable now, which, as the late Louis Latour from Burgundy, reminded me, “great wines always taste great.” Its impeccable balance and grace indicate decades of development ahead of it. I hate to call an $85 wine a bargain, but compared to what’s in the marketplace today, it is.