Chianti, a red wine of ancient Italian origins, has returned to its quality roots. Modern winemakers have embraced new vineyard practices and modern winemaking techniques, crafting a spectrum of world class red wines, from top Tuscan elixirs to fresh, juicy, everyday liquid delights.
No longer the poor quality swill, bottled in straw-covered wine jugs, from over 40 years ago, modern Chianti is not the mass-produced, cheap wine of your parents’ generation. Eager to show the return to quality, the Consorzio Vino Chianti recently held a tasting in Beverly Hills of over 40 producers from the different Chianti sub-zones. These Chianti wines, some made in a fresher style, with stainless steel or cement tank aging, and others, such as Riserva, aged longer in large Slovenian or chestnut oak barrels, make for racy acidity with mellow tannins, a perfect food wine, which cuts the richness of many Italian dishes. The new Chianti wines reflect the essence of Sangiovese and Tuscany.
Chianti, historically, is a blended wine, with Sangiovese making up the majority, and other indigenous red grapes, such as Canaiolo and Colorino, and sometimes even the international Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, rounding out the total. The recipe for Chianti once included white grapes, such as Malvasia and Trebbiano, but in the pursuit of higher quality, this practice has been abandoned. Sangiovese is a high acid, high tannin grape with flavors of bitter cherry, violets, herbs, a savory tomato character, with a finish reminiscent of tea. Like Bordeaux, the wines can be big and complex, sometimes austere until time has softened its edge; or the wines can be light and juicy, with fresh fruit flavors of plum, mulberry, dark cherry, with a herbal note. The newer clones of Sangiovese yield wines with more personality, smoother and rounder, so that 100% Sangiovese wines are increasingly found.
The Chianti wine region, situated in Central Italy, has at its core, the beating heart of Chianti Classico, the original wine of Italian aristocracy and merchants. Seven Chianti sub-zones flank the Classico region, with widely differing styles, from the fresher, lighter styles of Colli Fiorentini to the more fragrant Rufina to the more powerful Colli Senesi. What this means to the consumer is a vast array of Chianti styles, in different concentrations, yet with the same, savory perfume of Sangiovese.
continued in Part 2