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Back to Chianti

June 24, 1998|RUSS PARSONS

The Mazzei family has always been on the cutting edge. On the first documents mentioning the name Chianti, from 1398, Ser Lapo Mazzei is a signatory. One of his descendants, Fillipo Mazzei, was Thomas Jefferson's wine advisor and traveled to Monticello to plant vineyards there.

In more modern times, the Mazzeis were among the first in Chianti to experiment with nontraditional grapes, making so-called Super Tuscan blends of Sangiovese and Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Now, perhaps in front of the crowd again, they are backing away from that success. At a tasting in Westwood last week sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute, Francesco Mazzei announced that his family is discontinuing two of its highly sought Super Tuscans--Ser Lapo and Concerto--in favor of a more traditional wine.

The best grapes will go to a Chianti Classico Riserva called Castello di Fonterutoli (fone-tay-RUE-toe-lee). There will also be a regular Chianti Classico called simply Fonterutoli and a fresh, easy-drinking wine called Badiola.

There are still a few blends--Brancaia (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) and Siepi (50% Sangiovese, 50% Merlot)--but there's little doubt that the Riserva holds pride of place today, with its label emblazoned with the dates 1398 and 1998--600 years of leading the pack in Chianti.

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