The general wine buying public has long associated Tuscany with Chianti. In the post World War II era, vast quantities of rather bland, tart and relatively insipid red wine was mass marketed to the North American population as the classic wine of Tuscany. In an era when pizza and spaghetti with meatballs constituted fine Italian cuisine to the North American market, these light, easy to drink and generally food friendly wines rose in popularity. How many of you, who lived in this generation, didn’t have a bottle of Chianti in a fiasco (a squat bottle held in wicker basket)? Outside a few quality minded producers, producers of Chianti largely took advantage of some historic mistakes. The best growing areas for making Chianti were identified as early as 1716, and in 1872 Barone Bettino Riccasoli created the original Chianti recipe which called for 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia. However, in the 1930s the Italian government expanded the growing area for Chianti to include a wide area (much of it less suited to quality wine production) and in the 1960s increased the amount of white wine in the blend (yes, that’s correct using white grapes was mandatory and you could use up to 30% Trebbiano and Malvasia to water down your Chianti). There have been many changes since - mostly in reaction to quality producers choosing not to label as Chianti so as to not be forced to use inferior grapes and production methods – but the boundaries are still too large. When buying a basic Chianti and looking for quality it is very important to know the producer. Better yet, when looking for the best of the region, stick to those labeled as Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva or one of its premium subzones suchas Rufina.
Everyday: Fattoria Poggio Alloro Chianti (Bishops Cellar, $14.83+tax)
This wine made from organically-grown grapes is produced by a family dedicated to honest winemaking and producing quality at a reasonable price. This is more of a traditional blend with Sangiovese, Colorino (a red grape often left to dry slightly then added during fermentation to raise the alcohol and body of the wine), Caniolo and a small amount of Malvasia. This is made in a clean, fresh style with cherryish fruit flavours dominating. This is a wine based on tradition but made in a clean way. It’s also a great pizza and pasta wine.
Serving Suggestion: Margherita Pizza
Gourmet: Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva (NSLC, $28.98)
My original intent was to wax on poetically about the cocoa richness of the 2007 Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva from the NSLC (but I think a few found out about it and it is now out of stock. Don’t drink it now. Lay down for a few years to let it oak richness mellow out). When looking for consistent quality in Chianti look high in the hills overlooking Florence and you’ll see the vineyards for Frescobaldi’s Nipozzano Chianti Rufina (Rufina, not to be confused with the producer Ruffino, is a high quality subzone of Chianti). This highly popular wine always delivers a great balance of cocoa notes on the nose with fresh blue and red fruit flavours and just the right amount of cleansing acidity to make it a great all-purpose food wine. This is a great modern style that won’t offend traditionalists.
Serving Suggestion: Herb Crusted Roast Beef
By the Glass hosts numerous tours to Tuscany each year. We are currently working on a Wine Basics Tour of Tuscany – a great value and great learning opportunity. To learn more about By the Glass’s tours email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark DeWolf is the Food & Drinks Editor of Occasions Magazine, a sommelier instructor and owner of By the Glass.