In the last article I had talked about Barolo being the first great Italian wine; the second one is Chianti.
Once upon a time Chianti ("Kianti") was a thin, tannic, cheap, and low-quality red wine packed in squat flasks, contained in straw baskets that tourists and locals alike quaffed by the litre.
No longer - not by a long shot. A decent Chianti today will be elegant and medium-to-full bodied, with soft tannins, complex aromas, and no longer inexpensive, having undergone a remarkable transformation in the last 30years.
Chianti is made from the indigenous Sangiovese grape ("the blood of Jove") in the province of Tuscany, Italy. Tuscany's capital, Florence, is famous for art and culture and for being the birthplace of The Renaissance; it's about 300 km north of Rome, and a must-visit for anyone going to Italy. The wine must contain at least 80 per cent Sangiovese to be called "Chianti"; a "Chianti Classico" comes from the heartland of the region and is characterised by the trademark Black Rooster logo on bottle necks.
Wine Spectator lists 5,401 Chianti labels, ranging from the Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia 2007 (95 points, $200) down to stuff rated at 85 points and selling for $9. Of this bounty, there are less than 50 Chianti labels available in India, of which readers may be familiar with producers like Bossi, Zonin, Antinori, Banfi, Frescobaldi, Piccini, Querciabella, and Ruffino; the wines are generally priced between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000 per bottle.
Then there are the "Super Tuscans": blended wines containing French varietals and less than the stipulated 80 per cent Sangiovese and which hence cannot be called "Chianti", but are actually very high quality wines. When first exported to the US in the 1970s, aficionados there started calling them "those super wines from Tuscany", which got shortened to Super Tuscans, and the name stuck.
The first Super Tuscan was Tignanello 1971, released by Piero Antinori only in 1978; others soon followed, and the principal Super Tuscan wines include labels like Sassicaia (Rs 23,500 in Bangalore), Ornellaia, and Brancaia (IL BLU 2008 - 92 points /Rs 7,000 in Bangalore).
The last (but not least) of the wines from Tuscany is the Brunello di Montalcino, made from 100 per cent Sangiovese grapes grown around the town of Montalcino - Brunello being the somewhat confusing local name for "their" Sangiovese grapes. These wines are differentiated from Chianti in being deeper-coloured, fuller-bodied and of a degree of complexity that sets the best apart - no wonder the Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2001 is rated at 100 points by Wine Spectator, with a release price of $160! A younger version of the wine is called "Rosso di Montalcino".
Brunello wines tend to be more expensive than Chiantis, being priced at between Rs 5,000 and Rs 7,500 per bottle - principal labels available include Brunellos from Antinori, Frescobaldi, Renieri, Banfi, and Vietti.
Wines I've been drinking: What else but wines from Tuscany! The Querciabella Chianti Classico 2009 I quaffed with friends is pricey (Rs 3,175 in Bangalore) but highly rated (90 points by Robert Parker) and certified bio-dynamic (probably including the cow horns buried in the light of the full moon). It's a stupendous wine, with layers of cherry fruit and spices and even flowers, and a classy and elegant taste that's medium-bodied (rather like a good Burgundy), with fine tannins - lord knows where the wine went so quickly!