2017-10-12 / Cuisine

VINO

The Chianti connection

There’s one winegrowing area that’s probably among everybody’s favorites: Chianti. We all love pizza, pasta, red sauces and the other cuisines that are so characteristic of the area, but there’s lots more to explore, and so many Tuscan wines to appreciate. Plus, the area has changed quite a bit in the last few years in the way it makes and classifies its wine, so a bit of catching up is certainly in order.

The region of Tuscany is mostly the area west and southwest of Florence, to the coast. It includes the walled city of Lucca (well worth a visit) and Pisa, as well as the famous winemaking towns of Montalcino, Montepulciano, Maremma and Bolgheri. That’s the easy part. How the wines are classified is a bit more fun to figure out.

The Chianti area is divided into several sub-regions. The most famous is Chianti Classico, which are the bottles with the black rooster logo that you’ll see on the neckband. But other regions, such as Rufina, Colli Senesi (Siena Hills) and Colli Fiorentini (Florentine Hills) produce wines that are also well worth a try.

The major grape used in the traditional (and legally specified) Chianti blend or “recipe” is Sangiovese, which must comprise at least 75 percent of the contents. Other reds, such as Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah can also be used in smaller quantities.

Back in the day, we used to drink Chianti out of a rounded bottle that came in a straw basket. In Italian this type of bottle is called a “fiasco,” and there’s a reason for that. We don’t drink it any more (and neither should you), having discovered so many other delightful alternatives.

Most wines from the various Chianti regions are legally classified loosely according to quality. You’ll see the letters DOC or DOCG on the label or neck band. These classifications are decreed and bestowed by the governing authorities. In the past few years, they initiated another classification called “Gran Selezione,” which is given only to Classico wines that have been aged for a minimum of 2½ years.

In Italy, as well as other places like France and Spain, wine is not considered a beverage. It’s food, and part of a meal like everything else on the table. So Tuscan wines, with their high acidity and firm tannins, pair perfectly with tomato dishes, which are also acidic and contain a considerable amount of salt. This salty component, incidentally, helps to modify and calm down the tannins of the wines.

The tasting panel and I were delighted to recently evaluate a wide range of Tuscan wines, and some of our favorites are listed here. There are more, and we’ll come back to them another time. Sample widely.

Selvapiana Chianti Rufino 2014 ($17) — Translucent reddish tawny in the glass, this wine offers notes of leaves, tobacco and red currant. The currant notes come through boldly on the palate, with a great balance of acidity and tannin. While most Chianti is best as an accompaniment to food, this one can be enjoyed on its own. WW 88-89.

Luce della Vite Lucente Toscana 2014 ($18) — Gorgeous deep ruby color in the glass with aromas of cherry, blackberry and black plum. The concentrated flavors of black cherry, leather and pepper are nicely balanced with firm tannins. A great choice alone or with food. Aged mostly in new French oak, this is a blend of Merlot and Sangiovese. WW 92.

Le Volte Dell’Ornellaia Toscana 2015 ($28) — There’s an enormous burst of up-front aromas, including smoke and black fruit. The palate is full-bodied, round and balanced, offering strong accents of blueberry. We loved it. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and about 13 percent Sangiovese. WW 92-93.

Ask the Wine Whisperer

Q: Why do sulfites in wine sometimes give people headaches? — Brett H., Fort Lauderdale

A: They don’t. Generally, people who experience headaches from red wine are sensitive to the histamines that occur as a natural by-product of fermentation. Some asthmatics do experience a sensitivity to sulfites, but this is relatively rare. ¦

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