(Re)discover Chianti

The case for Chianti

Chianti should be taken seriously. It is one of wine’s great expressions of place, it’s excellent at the table and represents a great value. Made primarily from the Sangiovese grape grown in the Chianti region of Tuscany, it is instantly recognizable with its dark cherry, tobacco and bitter almond notes. Rarely a “big” wine, good Chianti is nevertheless intense, its flavors magnified by firm acidity, fine tannins, and a totally unique impression of saltiness.

Yes, it is true: There is no better wine with spaghetti and meatballs, yet Chianti is fantastic with tomatoes and fatty meats in all of their variations. It’s also lovely with briny foods: lightly chill Chianti and enjoy outdoors with a plate of olives, hard cheese and sopressetto.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of mediocre Chianti out there, so how does one separate the wheat from the chaff? As always, the best way is to ask your wine salesperson. Barring that, you can look for the little black rooster on the bottleneck. It guarantees that certain quality standards were met, but its absence does not automatically mean that the wine isn’t as good.

I love the wines from the Chianti Classico region and am usually not disappointed. For special occasions, look for “Riserva” bottlings, which are aged at least two years in wood, and enjoy them with slow-cooked food.

2007, $15
Light, tangy and bone-dry, this shines with smoked foods and briny things like olives. It drinks like a vibrant white wine, until the tannins and berries sneak up at the end.

2007, $23
Always elegant and restrained,Montecalvi shows a lovely floral note that comes through on the palate, giving lift to the wine’s flavors of Montmorency cherry, anise and plum. A good red for a slightly oily fish such as snapper or branzino with an olive oil-based sauce.

San Leonino
2006, $20
An archetype of Chianti; flavors of dark cherry and Stoughton tobacco with an almondy finish. Wonderful with earthy flavors such as beets and mushrooms.

Marchese Antinori “Riserva”
2004, $40
Deep aromas of plum, sandalwood and balsamico. Full-bodied and sappy, this is a profound wine rivaling all but the best Brunellos in Tuscany. Enjoy with braised lamb.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L'Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

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