We're going to stay in Italy for this next installment but will move up north to Tuscany. And Tuscany is the birthplace of one of Italy's most important wines - Chianti.
"Chianti" is one of those words that makes people smile. For wine drinkers and food lovers in the 1960s, Chianti was romantic, earthy, and fit the Bohemian esthetic (and budget). But the old Chianti of red-checkered tablecloths and amorous evenings was, for the most part, not a very good wine... and subsequently, Chianti's reputation reached an all-time low.
The Tuscans were shocked into action, creating a wine revolution in the 1970s and 1980s. With the help of new wine laws, the Tuscan wine industry bounced back with one of the most dramatic revolutions in the world of modern wine. Prior to 1984, white grapes were a mandatory part of the Chianti formula. Now, only other red grapes, cabernet sauvignon, merlot or selected others, may be included in up to 15 percent of the blend. The primary grape of Chianti is sangiovese.
Chianti is a region within Tuscany with seven sub-zones that span roughly half the land of Tuscany. Chianti Classico is the most famous Chianti sub-zone, but more Chianti is produced outside the classico sub-zone than inside it. The other six sub- zones: Chianti Rufina, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Aretini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, and Chianti Montalbano.
The best basic Chianti Classicos have plum and dried cherry flavors, and sometimes a touch of salt (which clears the palate and makes you want to take another bite of food) and spice. The most elegant, complex and structured are the Chianti Classico Riservas - aged, by law, at least two years in wood and three months in bottle. Look for 2004 vintage!
A good Chianti has a relaxed elegance, a sense of earth, elemental smells, is easy to drink and is not a fussy wine. Some have a little touch of chocolate, and quite a few taste like blackberries or black cherries. They're medium-bodied; not so light that they can be ignored, but not so heavy that they're hard to drink. So, the next time you're preparing spaghetti, think Chianti!
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