With a winter chill in the air, a group of Ottawa’s top wine writers and sommeliers gathered at Social restaurant to be warmed by the gracious hospitality of former winemaker and now Global Brand Ambassador for Ruffino Wines, Beppe d’Andrea. Fascinated by his vignettes from Italy’s past the group were afforded a glimpse into the future for oenophiles with a taste for Tuscany’s most iconic brand.
Founded in 1877, Ruffino has been a force in establishing Chianti as a globally loved wine and has strong roots in tradition but is constantly on the leading edge of technical advances in wine making. Staying in the lead in a very competitive industry doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the roots of what made a company great and Ruffino is ever mindful of how their ancestors crafted their wine and how it often is advantageous to blend the old with the new. Beppe tells the story of why women and children were the best choice for crushing grapes in the traditional way. Men, he says are too heavy, too aggressive and in their zeal they also crush the stems and seeds creating excessive tannin (whenever he speaks of tannin he pulls at his cheeks expressively) while the women and children are gentle and the juice from their efforts creates a more balanced wine. To capture this tradition in modern winemaking, Ruffino employs gentler pressing methods and the result is obvious in the tasting notes for their portfolio.
Ricotta Gnocchi, Wild Mushrooms, Leeks and Cheddar Foam
Between tasting the excellent dishes prepared by the Chef at Social and the accompanying wines, guests were regaled with a passionate telling of the history of the Chianti region.
In 1716 the Medici family were the most influential and wealthy family in Tuscany and it was then that the rules for local winemaking emerged and gave birth to Chianti. The 300th anniversary of this important date will be next year and Ruffino plans to celebrate its heritage in style. With Ruffino having the top selling Chianti wines in the world, it surely will be a global celebration bringing together lovers of these Tuscan treasures from the myriad of countries where these wines are enjoyed (90% of their production is exported). But Ruffino has more to celebrate than others and their own impressive success drives their search for perfection (with cooperation from “Mamma Natura” as Beppe would say).
To say that their history is replete with award winning wines would be a bit understated. In 1893 with the anniversary of Columbus discovering America, Ruffino was asked to represent Italy in the US celebrations and so began a love affair with the US that persists today. Just over 10 years later, the US hosted the Olympics and World’s Fair in St Louis and at the latter event Ruffino scored gold medals for their benchmark Chiantis. Fast forward to today and the United States remains the largest consumer of these great wines, with Canada not far behind.
The wines presented for tasting included the foundational Chianti DOCG along with their Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale and Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro Gran Selezione (along with some lovely Brunellos and super Tuscans). The emergence of the official term Gran Selezione in recent times has been lauded by many to be a novel and appreciated new level of quality for Chianti. Only afforded to single vineyard production and three years of barrel aging, this “new” classification would seem to be a step forward but Ruffino has been producing this type of wine since 1947!
With one foot in history and one in the future, it is clear that Ruffino wines are special and that there are styles to suit any palate. And speaking of the future, Beppe says that 2105 will be a great vintage to look forward to.