‘‘Tradition doesn't mean old wines," says Andrea Cecchi, fourth-generation winemaker of Cecchi Family Estates. ‘The future should not be a repetition of the past, but an improvement over it."
Cecchi and his brother, Cesare, head a traditional winery making some very modern
wines. It was founded in Tuscany, the home of Chianti, in 1893 by Luigi Cecchi, an enterprising wine broker.
Back then, the accepted "recipe'' for chianti was 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent canaiolo and 15 percent malvasia bianca. Blending was done to coverflaws. The canaiolo was to give the wine a tannic backbone, the white grape was to soften it.
"In those days the wines were unbalanced," Cecchi says.
In the past few decades, the Tuscans have learned to grow better sangiovese. They plant the vines closer together, resulting in fewer but more flavorful grapes, and pick them riper. Winemakers have been able to stop using the blending grapes, and today many chiantis are 90 or even 100 percent sangiovese -- and all the better for it.
As Tuscany has modernized, the Cecchi family has adopted some reforms, rejected others. They're growing top-quality sangiovese, and several of their wines are nearly entirely of that variety. So far, they're not making Super Tuscan wines, in which sangiovese is blended with such French varietals as cabernet sauvignon and mer-
lot, resulting in big, powerful wines with high alcohol levels.
"We're traditional. We don't want heavy alcohol," says Cecchi. "We prefer elegance, a long finish."
The Cecchi family also is growing two ancient, traditional grapes that have become almost extinct in Italy. One is ciliegiolo, from the Italian word for "cherry'' -- a dark, dense red grape that adds color and flavor to the sangiovese in Cecchi's $10 Bonizio
The second is sagrantino, from the Umbria region south of Tuscany. It's inky in color, so tannic it needs nearly three years of oak aging to soften for drinking, but rewards the patience with a fruity, spicy wine with licorice flavors.
"Each wine has its own history," Cecchi says. ‘‘Some are fruity, some are closer to the soil."
• 2004 Val delle Rose Morellino di Scansano
Riserva, DOC Tuscany (100 percent sangiovese): aro-
mas and flavors of licorice and black plums; soft and
• 2005 Cecchi Riserva di Famiglia Chianto
Classico DOCG Tuscany (90 percent sangiovese, 10
percent colorino): aromas of violets; very rich, black
cherry and mocha flavors; big, ripe tannins; $28.
• 2005 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva
DOCG Tuscany (95 percent sangiovese, 5 percent
colorino): dark violet color; flavors of black plums, bit-
ter chocolate and herbs; big tannin, long finish; $24.
• 2004 Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano,
DOCG Tuscany (90 percent sangiovese, 10 per cent
other grapes): black plums and espresso; smooth, gen-
erous, rich, opulent; $30.
• 2008 Castello Montaúto Vernaccia di San
Gimignano, DOCG Tuscany: rich, ripe pears; full
body, opulent; $15.
• 2007 Cecchi Bonizio Sangiovese di
Maremma, IGT Tuscany (90 percent sangiovese, 10
percent ciliegiolo); soft, lush; sweet black cherries; $10.
• 2007 Cecchi Natio Chianti DOCG Tuscany
(90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent colorino): black
cherries and bitter chocolate; firm tannins; $16.
• 2004 Alzatura Sagrantino di Montefalco,
DOCG Umbria: (100 percent sagrantino): licorice,
black currants and chocolate; rich, full-bodied; $45.