I freely admit I’m an unabashed Italian wine whore. From the first time I set foot in Italy about twenty years ago, I fell enamored of the food, the people, the culture and the wine. Not so much the government or how their systems operate, but the Italians sure know how to live and love. It’s quite admirable.
Chianti, a picturesque region close to Florence, is likely the entry-point for Americans to begin learning about this complicated country of 3,000 different grape varietals. It’s on these hallowed Tuscan grounds that wine was not necessarily invented (the Turks lay that claim) but quite possibly where it was first perfected. They follow the same wine identification system as France – by region and not grape varietal — and it’s likely for that reason Italian wines remain mysterious. I dutifully studied Italy’s regions for weeks during my race to achieve my CSW badge, but I could’ve spent countless more, years more in fact. It’s a confusing morass. However, Chianti is pretty simple: Within these bottles lies the earthy, cherry-infused elegance of the Sangiovese grape.
The Chianti region still wrestles with their straw-bottle past, but Chianti, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva (learn about the differences) and their legally lesser counterparts, Toscana Rosso and Sangiovese di Toscana, have decidedly changed for the better. In the mid to late twentieth century, Chianti earned its shoddy rep when aristocrats with deep, feudal roots in the area — yet no knowledge of agriculture — owned expansive tracks of land farmed by sharecroppers. Paid by weight, sharecroppers had no incentive to increase the quality of the fruit, only the quantity. Chianti mostly tasted insipid and weak until the mid-1980’s, when Italy’s wine bureaucrats introduced new regulations, land ownership incentives and tax credits. Free of the government’s shackles, smart farmers grew entrepreneurial wings, introduced modern techniques, sought quality over quantity, and began selling to parts of the world previously unimaginable to them. Sounds like win-win to me.
30 kilometers south of Florence is the Nozzole estate in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, which dates back to the 1300s. I’ve enjoyed their wines for years, especially since the high quality continually blew me away for the price (usually under $20). The 2008 Nozzole Chianti Classico’s dominant aromas and flavors include wet earth, plums and black cherries. Rustic yet refined, if black licorice and lava rock had a love child, this would be it. Tannins are mild, and the wine features high acidity, as it should be in a Sangiovese-based wine. The finish leaves a hint of black pepper and a large dose of Italian deliciousness. 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino grape blended in to add, ironically enough, color.
Sweetness: 1 out of 10
Price: $15 – $22
Occasion: Sample sent from the winery, and tasted with a group of wine bloggers (we all loved it).
Availability: High end wine shops and, if you’re lucky, a high end grocery store
Food pairing: Pizza! Pasta with red sauces, Cuban Picadillo, and Italian cheeses like Piave