History of a successful flask
2020 is a significant year for one of Ruffino's most significant wines. The Ruffino flask is back holding the local red, Chianti Rufina DOCG: a proud yet suave Sangiovese from the hills that cradle Pontassieve, Ruffino’s birthplace.
We’d like to retrace the journey of this wine, a journey that follows not only the history of a winery, but the history and traditions of a whole town too.
It all began between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, with Ruffino springing up around the same time as other producers. This winery in Pontassieve, a town near Florence with a bell tower and a handful of houses clustered around a bridge, drew in a little community. A famous glassworks blew the glass; the local townswomen wove the straw; and a steam railway clattered away on its mission to introduce the world to a gem of Tuscany: Chianti Ruffino, in a flask.
Chianti Ruffino was among the first wines that Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino, founders of the winery, produced. It was an instant hit, finding favour even among places far away, as we know from gold medals won at Milan in 1881 and Bordeaux in 1895.
Chianti Ruffino only grew in fame as the years went by, thanks in no small part to the Folonari family, who took the company reins in 1913. But it was its squat, potbellied flask, inspired by the medieval goat-hide wineskins that medieval men hung from their horses in order to slake their thirst on long rides, that would spread through word of mouth to make the wine an international icon of Tuscany and Italy.
There are pages and pages of history bound up in the Ruffino flask.
The bottles that were sold as “anti-stress” medicine from American pharmacies in the Prohibition era: they were Chianti Ruffino.
The bottles blown to pieces when the winery, which the Allies mistook for a railway station, was bombed during the Second World War: those were Chianti Ruffino.
The bottle with a yellowed, macerated, flaking label, which now stands behind a glass showcase in Pontassieve to commemorate the flood that, on 3 November 1966, engulfed Florence in mud and sludge: that’s a Chianti Ruffino bottle.
And Ruffino has always taken the utmost care with its Chianti. The winery’s first, embryonic marketing ventures, back in the early 1900s, show a clear strategy: through Chianti, Ruffino wanted to make itself a byword for Tuscan wine. A few “branded” items - merchandising before the word existed - can be seen in the historic cellars at Pontassieve: items such as bottle-holders, calendars and ashtrays. A famous carousel in the 1950s reminded the Italian public of the beauty of life in the Tuscan countryside, savoured with a sip of Chianti Ruffino. Italy was making herself great, putting two World Wars behind her and shaking herself out of poverty: a bit of good wine, knocked back with loved ones, was a strong and heartfelt message.
The world of wine has been revolutionised in the last thirty years. New types and the most diverse styles have been created; old grape varieties have been reintroduced, French grapes have been adopted. Wines have exploded onto the scene and been just as fast forgotten.
Chianti has observed all this from a distance, with a bemused expression, and continued on its way. Slow and steady wins the race. As the embodiment of a unique place on earth, it’s a wine that has always loved the simple things, whether in its plain honest style, its happy pairing with genuine, fresh ingredients, or its friendly, unflashy way of presenting itself. It’s like an old friend that will never let you down; like a house of brick and stone, where you rest in the evening; like a typical Tuscan smile, maybe a bit gruff, but warm and welcoming underneath. Those are the smiles that the flask of Chianti grew up with, and it makes itself known and understood without ever needing to shout, boast or do anything excessive.
Long live Chianti, and good health to the flask of Chianti Rufina. Your new outfit suits you even better than it did before.
[Photos: The Florentine]