The Romance & Joy of Chianti!

 


Ah, Chianti! The very word eloquently rolls off the tongue regardless of the command of your language. It denotes a celebration of life unconditionally! Chianti offers no boundaries to a wine lover who may be starting to enjoy wine, or even a aficionado! Chianti does not discriminate whether you are a C.E.O. of a big company or a blue collar worker! Parents have even named their children after the region (one can coyly assume why). Cheers to the romance and joy of Chianti.

It is a pleasure to share with you a brief history of the Chianti region in Tuscany Italy. Let’s navigate the important “Sub-Zones” of Chianti, offering how a wine from one zone to another may differ in body & taste… then offer some of my favorite wines from Chianti with some simple food pairings.

A Brief History of Chianti:

The earliest recognition of a Chianti wine was documented in the late 13th century. This was white wine that was produced from the area now known as Colli Fiorentini  a sub-zone located in the hills of the city of Florence. The area of Chianti was delineated as a wine producing region in that area by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici in 1716.  By the 18th century the wines of Chianti evolved from white to red wines.  The grape varietals planted & harvested during this era were subjective to the end result of what was a Chianti Wine. In 1872 Baron Bettino Ricasoli changed that by offering a permanent blend of grapes that would be the “recipe of Chianti”, 70 percent Sangiovese, 15 percent Canaiolo, 10 percent Malvasia.  The Italian government decided that this would be the definitive blend that would distinguish Chianti and established laws pertaining to this particular recipe in 1966. However, this recipe was a dogma and the farmers & winemakers established a rebellion of their own by launching what was later marketed as a “Super Tuscan”! This was a blend of Sangiovese ,along with Merlot , Cabernet Sauvignon, & Syrah. That formula involving those grape varietals has been an integral part of the evolution of  the wines of Chianti! These wines could not be classified as Chianti due to the fact that they did not follow the “recipe”.  The “Super Tuscan” wines were far superior to those classified as Chianti.

Fearful of the Chianti designation becoming irreverent , the Chianti Classico Consortium along with the help of the Italian government, turned to science to develop a successful group of Sangiovese clones that would measure up to the “invited” grapes of Merlot, Syrah, & Cabernet Sauvignon. By 1995, the Chianti Classico 2000 clones had been developed & approved by the Italian Government. The government also changed the percentage of the grape varietals allowed for Chianti classification to Sangiovese up to 100 percent, Canaiolo Nero up to 10 percent, other red grape varietals up to 15 percent whether indigenous to Chianti (for example mammolo), or invited (cabernet sauvignon). Today, most of the top Chianti Classico wines are 100 percent Sangiovese.

Navigating Chianti:

Within the Chianti Classico region, there are seven subzones. In general order from north to south they are Rufina , Montalbano, Colli Aretini ( the hills surrounding Arezzo), Colline Pisano, (within the hills of Pisa), Montespertoli, Colli Fiorentini (the hills of Florence), & Colli Senesi ( the hills of Siena).

The wines from the northern areas of Chianti (Rufina, Montalbano Colli Aretini, & parts of Colli Fiorentini) tend to offer concentrated fruit flavors due to richer soils & cooler climates.

The southern Chianti wines are somewhat complex; ripe fruit, pronounced tannin(acidity), & minerality imparted by stonier soils & warmer temperatures.

Chianti Wines & Food Pairing:

In general the wines of Chianti are medium bodied , offering floral & cherry notes on the nose, leading to light cherry balanced by firm, pronounced tannin, finishing dry. Chianti Classico Riservas will have an oakier nuance due to the fact that these wines are aged in oak for an extended length of time, usually up to one year.

The characteristics of Chianti make it one of the most versatile red wines to pair with food (it's even a great red wine for fish!). It is light enough to pair with firm texture seafood (salmon, swordfish), yet full enough without overpowering beef, bison, veal, game, or fowl, however -- always avoid pairing salt cured meats with Chianti.

As a sommelier at a chophouse in Suffolk, Virginia the concept would suggest meat & game as a staple to our menu. For diversity we do offer fresh seafood fare as well. Recently, a couple that dined in our establishment ordered our Salmon, which is topped with a smoked tomato relish, and Bison with sautéed Shitake Mushrooms. The couple asked me to suggest a Pinot Noir to pair with dinner. Pinot Noir would have been wonderful with the Bison & Mushrooms, along with the Salmon sans the tomato. The addition of the smoked tomato relish and the natural smoky flavor of the Shitake Mushrooms needed a wine with a higher degree of tannin than the Pinot Noir could support.  I suggested a Castello Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva 2004.  The acidity from the tomato relish on the Salmon, along with the oily texture of the fish cut through the tannin in the wine & showcased the elegant floral and cherry notes of the wine.  The texture of the Bison along with the earthy, smoky notes of the Shitake mushrooms was enhanced by the tannin present in the wine. It was the first time the couple had enjoyed a Chianti wine, and later commented that it was one of the best meals they had ever had. All of this while celebrating a one year anniversary of marriage. Ah, the romance & joy of Chianti.

 Other Food pairings with Chianti:

 Roasted whole chicken stuffed with garlic, peppers, and portabella mushrooms.

 Traditional Veal Marsala with mushrooms

 Braised Short Ribs which are offered with a stew of carrots, turnips, garlic, & applewood smoked tomato concasse.

Salud!

Charles Rizzo

River Stone Chop House

Norfolk VA



Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,549

    Charlie - Ive seen your food and wine pairing suggestions a few times now, how about a recipe / pairing we can cook along with at home? The braised short ribs, in particular, sound very nice.

    Nov 03, 2009 at 1:54 PM


  • Thank you my friend. I am experimenting with a unique short ribs recipe that will be easy to produce at home, yet will pair well with Chianti. I am in the midst of writing an article about the esoteric Italian grape varietal Aglianico. I have a Veal Putanesca dish that will pair well with such.

    Once I feel comfortable with the outcome, I will certainly send it to you & Greg! Again, thank you so much for the opportunity to contribute.

    Nov 04, 2009 at 2:37 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,110

    Aglianico, Italy's next big thing!

    Looking forward to it.

    Nov 04, 2009 at 9:02 AM


  • Charlie, very well done! I enjoyed reading your article! Recently some friends came to me & asked about Chianti as a wine, and a region. They had found it somewhat unapproachable, confused by the varietals used, the blends and the labeling. I think there are sometimes misconceptions due to a bad rap it has picked up in the past, or because of the change of the designations. I will surely pass this on to them & others, I believe it will make them much more comfortable about exploring Chianti!

    Nov 06, 2009 at 3:17 AM


  • Seek out good sangiovese whenever you can. Apart from Italy, good examples come from Brown Bros. (N.E. Vic.), Coriole (McLaren Vale), Delatite (Goulburn Valley). There are many others.

    Jan 04, 2010 at 10:24 PM


  • Snooth User: Carly Wray
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    196958 852

    excellent overview!

    May 07, 2010 at 2:07 PM


  • I'm planning to go the tuscany area in September what winery you recomend that we go to see. They are so many of them.

    Jun 26, 2010 at 4:21 PM


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