About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Look at Chianti

Ask the most neophyte wine drinker to name an Italian wine and “Chianti” is most likely to be his first response. No wonder! Chianti probably dates back to the time of the early Etruscans. In its famous “fiasco” straw basket, it became one of Italy’s largest exports in wine in the post war era.

The earliest records of “Chianti” dates to the 13th century in the Chianti hills region between Florence and Sienna. This area is now the base for the Chianti region (see map) and a wine which now must contain 75% to 80% Sangiovese. That wasn’t always the case. Early versions of Chianti were dominated by Canaiolo and included, in addition to the always present Sangiovese, other red varietals and significant portions of two white varietals: Malvasia Bianco and Trebbiano. In the mid 1800’s Baron Ricasoli began the tradition of having Sangiovese as the dominant varietal. His formula called for 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% other reds and 10% Malvasia Bianco. There remained, however, a great variance in how Chianti was blended and as late as the 1950’s Chianti could be found that contained up to 50% white grapes: either Malvasia or Trebbiano.

Chianti as a wine-producing region was established by decree in 1932 with seven sub-zones. In the 50’s Chianti Classico was added as a DOCG based on the “original” or “first” Chianti wine region. A consortium of Chianti Classico producers adopted the “gallo nero” or black rooster emblem (see logo) as a marketing indicators of their wines. The 50’s also marked the adoption of the standard that Chianti must dominantly contain Sangiovese and must be aged at least 3 months in the bottle before release. In 1995, it became legal to produce Chianti that was 100% Sangiovese. Chianti Classico requirements include a minimum of 7 months ageing plus a prohibition against the blending of any white varietals. Any Chianti that is labeled Riserva must be aged a total of 38 months before release.

A unique DOCG for Chianti is Chianti Superiore. It’s requirements cover lower yields, higher alcohol content and dry extract. It is the only DOCG with yield reduction requirements in the growing of the grapes and the basic ageing requirement is extended to 9 months plus 3 in the bottle. The wine can be sourced from any of the Chianti regions. Additional requirements require a minimum of 75% Sangiovese, a maximum of 10% Canaiolo with a total maximum of 20% other red grapes and a maximum of 10% of the white varietals Malvasia Bianco and Trebbiano. Chianti Superiore may not be labeled as Chianti Classico (due to the possible inclusion of white varietals), although it can be sourced from the Classico area. It is a uniquely smooth style of Chianti that may be harder to find as it accounts for less 3% of the Chianti produced in Italy.

Younger Chianti’s have a signature floral and spicy bouquet that is dominated by cinnamon that broadens into aromas of tobacco and leather with ageing. Signature fruit characteristics include cherry, plum and raspberry flavors with other hints of black fruits dependent upon the blending. Look for medium to high acidity and medium to full tannins in wines that are capable of further development as they age from five up to twenty years.

The past decade has seen a marked overall improvement in the quality and presence of Chianti as a great wine for pairing not only with its traditional food partners but with a variety of meats and game dishes, as well. It has become common for Chianti to be included in most of the prominent “Top 100 Wines of the year” lists and it has been hailed in recent years by respectable wine journalists as the Italian Bordeaux. If you enjoy good food-pairing red wine, Chianti should be on your list of wines to explore and there are an abundance of great Chiantis available to sample.

Here are a few exploratory recommendations from The Wine Guy for you to try:

Bell’Agio Chianti:

This is a one-liter good-value basic Chianti in the traditional “fiasco” or straw basket. It is owned by Banfi, a good name in Tuscan wines who also produces a good Chianti Classico, some nice Super Tuscans and a respectable Brunello di Montalcino.

Piccini Chianti:

This basic Chianti comes from Italy’s largest producer of DOCG Chianti.

Nippozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva:

This is a fruit-driven representative of the Chianti from the Ruffina sub region and comes from Frescolbaldi, one of Italy’s famed winemaking families.

Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva:

Querceto means “little forest of oak” in Italian and the oak comes through in this wine very well. This winery’s Classico Riserva consistently scores well in popular wine ratings.

Villa Puccini Chianti Superiore:

A smooth finish highlights this family-produced Chianti Superiore. It, or any other Superiore, is worth hunting for and sampling for the experience.

While usually ranked second or third in wine production, Italy has more wineries and more wines than any other wine-producing nation. Chianti is a good place to start but should be just the first of the Italian wines you explore. Enjoy!

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