By Ha-Kyung Choi
Those easy-drinking bargains from Southern Italy seem to be the talk
of the town, but don’t forget about hidden Tuscan treasures from
Chianti. For many, the name Chianti still conjures up red-checker tablecloths
and straw-wrapped bottles with candle wax dripping down the sides. But
thanks to a variety of factors ranging from international competition,
changes in Italy’s wine laws to the efforts of a growing group
of dedicated, young winemakers, the region is producing clean, well-structured
wines with plenty of finesse and personality.
With the significant overhaul of Italy’s wine laws in the early
1990s, the quality and style of Chianti has improved tremendously in
the past decade. The law no longer requires winemakers to blend white
grapes in their wines and now allows for blending of non-native varietals,
such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, with the Sangiovese grape.
A finicky and exacting grape, Sangiovese does not ripen easily or uniformly
and can yield thin or unbalanced wines. Therefore, new techniques and
increased attention to quality has broadened the availability of excellent
The Chianti region stretches from north of Florence down to the border
of Umbria, and from as far west as Livorno and Pisa on the coast east
of Arezzo. Situated in some of the most picturesque landscapes in the
world, few places better bring together a trio of the best things in
life: sun, food and wine.
More supple and less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti has high
acidity levels that give it a fresh liveliness ideal for food. The best
match for Chianti wines is typical Tuscan fare, which for the most part
is quite hearty and straightforward. A lighter, fruity Chianti is just
the right partner for Pizza Margarita or grilled vegetables on crusty
Tuscan bread. For an earthier wine with firmer tannins and higher acidity,
heartier meat based tomato sauces or lasagna is just the ticket. Chianti
also exhibits the right amount of fruit and acidity to stand up to creamy,
cheesed-based pasta, risotto or generous blocks of Pecorino Toscano
Below are a few selections for a distinctly Italian feast. They will
highlight how far these wines have come, as well as their food friendliness.
While the much hyped 1997 vintage has pushed prices up for this region,
lesser vintages offer both affordable and reliable food-loving wines.
Spalletti Chianti Rufina Riserva Poggio Reale 1995 ($9)
This wine is made from 90% Sangioveto, 5% Canaiolo, and 5% Trebbiano
Toscano grapes. With a rich, charcoal and vaguely salty nose, this is
a big red with subdued acidity. This lively wine goes well with food
that can handle its body and huge flavors of leather and smoke. Leave
this wine open while preparing a flavorful bowl of Roberto
Donna’s risotto with fonduta.
Le Calvane Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2000 ($10)
Made from 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino grapes, this wine is effusive
with bright fresh fruit. Evocative of a Tuscan countryside picnic, its
pleasant notes of cherries and ripe plum can be enjoyed with John
Ash’s Eggplant Sandwiches on Baby Greens with Tomato-Balsamic
Castellare Chianti Classico 2001 ($15)
Made from 95% Sangioveto and 5% Canaiolo grapes, the wine was harvested
from estate vineyards in the heart of Chianti Classico district. The
wine has a medium garnet and ruby color with notes of smoke and deep
plum on the nose. Dry and medium-bodied, its layers of fruit and distinct
flavors of earth and smoky tobacco complement Jody
Adam’s Potato Gnocchi Gratin with Fricassée of Wild Mushrooms.
Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva “Bucerchiale” 1998
Made from 100% Sangiovese from the Bucerchiale vineyard, this wine has
intense aromas of ripe fruit, wood and leather, with silky tannins and
a long finish. One of the stars of Rufina, Selvapiana has developed
a reputation for meticulous care in producing wines meant for long aging.
It is an elegant partner for Bradley
Ogden’s Grilled Pork Loin Roast.