Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tasting Tuscany: Today’s Challenge for Chianti

Wed, Feb 20
Earlier this week, I sat on a panel. We were judging at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition. Day one was California; Mendocino Zinfandel, Napa Chardonnay and a smattering of miscellaneous wines.

Day two was all about Italy. Midway through the morning flights we went through several flights of Tuscan reds, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Toscana IGT, Maremma, Vino Nobile and the unmentionable wine I have given up for Lent.

But it was plain vanilla Chianti that really woke me up. In all likelihood these were inexpensive wines, many hovering around the $10 mark. Our group, all of them fully vetted for Italian wine, tasted them blind. What we tasted quite literally reset my ideas about Chianti and more importantly Chianti Classico.

And while these wines we evaluated in no way represent the total spectrum of possibilities for Sangiovese in Tuscany, there were more than enough wines tasted to begin to think that there might be something up in this little throwaway wine we have come to regard as Chianti.

Throwaway? Why? Well simply because so many places consider the entry level Chianti as a way to make a lot of money selling it by the glass. Anyone who has waited at a bar for a table in any number of Italian-American places knows there is a lot of crappy overpriced Chianti being poured. Probably one of the reasons why folks think the wine has seen better days.

But this tasting, done blind, was different. The wines seemed to have a sense of place. Yeah, they were humble and every-day friendly. But they weren’t pretending to be something they weren’t.

The Chianti Classico reds, again tasted blind (I still don’t know any of them- not yet) were all over the place. The problem was they didn’t seem to come from any sense of place. They were dark, brooding, fruit bombs. Not pleasant to drink, the ringing acidity that tells me Sangiovese is in the glass wasn’t showing up. Merlot and Cabernet were masking the true nature. Very disappointing.

Thurs Feb 21
In San Francisco and Napa the last 30 or so hours. Since then I have tasted a slew of Italian wines,  among them a Chianti Classico. Maybe it was because I knew what I was tasting. One, the Badia a Coltibuono Cultus Boni, which has Sangiovese (80%), Colorino and Ciliegiolo reestablished my faith in Chianti Classico. There are others, Querciavalle among them. These are wines that when I taste them, I know I am tasting Tuscany.

Why am I obsessing on this? I come to red wine lately a little reluctantly. So when I find a red wine that I connect with, it’s because it isn’t afraid to be itself.

Italy is a roller coaster of emotions. One moment you’re riding up and over and the next you’re plunging into the icy cold waters. Wine should be comforting but not complacent. What I tasted blind this week from the lowly Chianti, if this is any indication, seems to portend that simple Sangiovese might be making a comeback. I’m all for it.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Gary York said...

I have had a love/hate relationship with Chianti. But even the basic chianti is pretty good today. And if you look at the group of Classico wines:
Isole e Olena
Poggio Scalette
They are at such a high level that I would put them up against any wine from any where in the world at the same price.

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