|WINE & SPIRITS WITH PANACHE
Your Father's Chianti
The Italian-red-wine renaissance carries on.
Geoff Kalish, M.D.
its vineyards stretching from just north of Florence to slightly
south of Siena, Chianti is made from a blend of grapes –
the most common of which are Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Trebbiano
and Malvasia. By virtue of a series of government regulations
and self-imposed changes in grape-growing and winemaking practices,
a number of producers are now releasing a range of exceptional
bottles. In fact, the new Chiantis are a far cry from the
often flavorless, sometimes almost rancid wine that came in
straw-encased bottles (fraschi), which in the ‘50s
and ‘60s were frequently emptied and used as candleholders
on red-and-white-checkered-cloth-topped tables in some Italian
Gone now are most of the fraschi that had short corks and
the inability to lie sideways, predisposing the wine to early
spoilage – now replaced by Bordeaux-style bottles. Gone
too are the promiscuous vineyards, in which grapes,
wheat, corn and olives grew side by side, offering a great
opportunity for harvest contamination. Almost gone is the
governo alla toscana process in which the concentrated
juice of grapes dried on mats is added to the wine, providing
potential for off-flavors and excessive oxidation. And (probably)
most importantly, gone from most blends is the large quantity
of white grapes (Trebbiano and Malvasia), since the final
product must contain as least 75 percent of the red Sangiovese
varietal, thereby enhancing the wine's robustness and
potential for graceful aging.
Moreover, most Chiantis are now bargains in comparison to
many of the overhyped, so-called super Tuscans from the same
region. However, all the regulations and changes aside –
including labels on bottlenecks (e.g. roosters, lions, etc.)
signifying additional guarantees of various consortiums –
some producers excel, and not only those in the best known
Classico area, which surrounds the town of San Giovanni Valdarno.
In fact, at a recent tasting at New York's Felidia restaurant
of two dozen Chiantis not from the Classico area, there were
a number of notable bottles. The following are my top choices
from that tasting, with recommendations for matching fare.
(Suggested retail price per 750-ml bottle is listed.)
2003 Castello di Poppiano Il Cortile
Chianti Colli Fiorentini ($15)
2004 Tenuta di Tracciano Chianti Colli Senesi ($13.50)
2004 Fonteleone Chianti Colli Senesi ($12)
In general, these brands had fragrant bouquets of ripe fruit
and a smooth, Beaujolais-like pleasant taste with cherry undertones
and a crisp finish. The Castello di Poppiano was a bit more
complex in taste than the other two brands. Mate these wines
with mild cheeses, smoked salmon, shrimp and grilled swordfish
2001 Castello di Poppiano Chianti Colli
Fiorentini Riserva ($22)
Made from a special selection of grapes grown in the foothills
around Florence, this wine was aged for more than three years
in small oak casks. It showed a bouquet of black currants
and herbs and a rich, complex taste with a dry, fruity finish.
It pairs perfectly with chicken, game birds, veal and pasta
with pesto or red sauce.
2000 Selvapiana Chianti Ruffina Riserva
1995 Villa di Vetrice Chianti Rufina Riserva ($28)
2001 Travignoli Chianti Rufina Riserva ($18)
With more than three years of oak and bottle aging, these
brands have bouquets of cassis and violets, robust, complex
multilayered flavors of exotic herbs and fruit, and long,
smooth finishes. The Villa di Vetrice is particularly memorable.
Marry these wines with beef, lamb, calves' liver and
spicy pasta dishes.
Kalish, M.D., has been writing about wine, food and travel
for more than 25 years, and has lectured in the U.S. and internationally
about matching wine with food.