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Wines for Easter

March 28th, 2010 No comments

The Easter Bunny is hopping our way, bringing with him (or is it her?) eggs, chocolates, and of course, a big Easter feast. Whether you view Easter as a meaningful religious event, the day that frees you from your Lenten sacrifice, or simply as a time to get together with family and friends and celebrate springtime, Easter always involves a great meal.  And if you’re reading this blog, to you, a great meal calls for great wines.

Ham is one of the most traditional Easter dishes.  Ham’s dominant flavors are saltiness and, especially if your ham is glazed, sweetness.  Ham calls for a wine that can cut through those strong flavors without overwhelming the more delicate flavors of the actual meat.

Highly acidic wines are your best choice.  Wines that also fall on the sweeter side can be great choices too, because nothing balances salty flavors better than sweet ones.  But be careful–if your ham is glazed, the combination of sweet glaze and sweet wine could be too much for your guests to handle–and if they’re overwhelmed with sweet flavors, they won’t be able to enjoy their Easter candy!

Riesling and Gewurztraminer are classic choices for a reason–their crisp and acidic but delicate natures make them the perfect companion to ham.  If you aren’t looking for a sweet wine, make sure that the bottle you’re choosing is dry–many wines of both varietals are sweet.  A Pinot Grigio or a lightly-oaked Chardonnay could also be good choices to accompany ham, so if one of those varietals is your favorite, don’t be afraid to serve it.

Tender, flavorful spring lamb is also a popular choice for the Easter meal.  Lamb is earthy yet delicate, with a powerful, lasting flavor.  Lamb is made for red wine.  The perfect red can vary with the method of preparation and cut of meat you’re using.  Sauteed veal medallions will require a more delicate red than roasted rack of lamb.  Grilled lamb (and grilling is a great way to celebrate the beginning of nice weather and capture the fresh nature of springtime) needs a wine that can stand up to the smokey and charcoal-y flavors it creates.

Bordeaux is the classic pairing for lamb, and it’s a good choice that will match well with this meat no matter how you are preparing it.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Malbec can also be great choices.  Look for a wine with the structure (read: tannins) and finish to handle the strong flavors of lamb without overpowering it.

If you’re celebrating a traditional Passover or will have a Jewish guest in attendance, you might be thinking about Kosher wines to serve.  You’ll be happy to learn that kosher wines have moved on from that sweet, syrupy grape juice stuff that was the only available choice in the past.  Kosher wines today are produced around the world and in all classic varietals.  Because of kosher wines’ bad reputation, the good ones often won’t advertise the fact on the label.  Look for the U in a circle, meaning kosher, or the U in a circle followed by the letter P, which means that the wine is kosher for Passover (its makers had to adhere to ever stricter standards).  These symbols will usually be located on the back label.

Whatever you’re serving or whomever you’re serving it to, there are great Easter wine options out there.  Happy Easter!

Wine Profile: Gewürztraminer

March 25th, 2010 No comments

First off, let’s get that pronunciation correct: it’s ga-VERTZ-trah-MEE-ner.  Gewürztraminer, besides being a fun way to show off your best German accent, is a great wine that has increased in popularity in recent years.  Besides Germany, it is grown in Alsace, France, and less notably, in California and Australia.

Gewürztraminer grapes are difficult to grow.  They require cold conditions, but can be easily damaged by frost.  Gewürztraminer lacks natural defenses against many diseases that attack vines, and is not a very productive grape varietal, producing very small clusters of grapes even when the vines are in peak conditions.  The grapes have thick, tough skins which protect extraordinarily high sugar contents.  The high sugar content also means that Gewürztraminer grapes can be made into very successful dessert wines.  In dry Gewürztraminers, this can translate to very high alcohol contents.

The Gewürztraminer grape makes an aromatic and pungent wine.  Gewürztraminer means “spice grape,” and it’s true to its name, an exceptionall full-flavored wine that can include tastes of pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg.  It is extremely full-bodied, especially for a white wine.  It has a strong aroma with identifiable tastes of lychee, an Asian seed that is sweet and nut-like or fruit-like in character.  Gewürztraminers taste of lychee because the two share many of the same aroma compounds.  Gewürztraminers that fall on the drier side may have a bouquet that includes passion fruit, roses, and flowers.

Gewürztraminer pairs well with fruits and cheeses, especially Münster.  It has a rich, oily character that complements game and other oily meats, such as smoked salmon.  It is one of the few wines that pairs exceptionally well with Asian food, especially dishes with curry, Chinese five spice, or capasicin (hot pepper).

Don’t be intimidated by the name–try this excellent, fulll-bodied white wine soon!

7 Wine Myths Debunked

March 22nd, 2010 No comments

1.  Uncorking the bottle before  service improves the wine.

It’s true that aeration before service does improve some wines.  But studies show that the neck of a wine bottle is too narrow to allow enough oxygen to get in contact with the wine to make any detectable difference in the taste and aroma.  If you want to aerate your wine, decant it.  A quick decanting is great for removing the sediment that may have collected in the bottom of your older wines, and a longer decanting is great for young red wines that are still tannic. Learn how to properly decant a bottle here.

2.  Serve white wines with chicken or fish and red wines with red meat.

This is one of the oldest and most enduring wine myths.  Whether a wine is white or red doesn’t have as much to do with which dishes it should be matched with as do the specific qualities and flavors of both the food and the wine.  The most important quality to consider when pairing food and wine is balance.  A wine should complement the food, accentuating its flavors.  It should not overwhelm the food, and the food should not overwhelm it.

For example, buttery salmon cooked over a wood fire would pair nicely with a Chardonnay, which has buttery flavors from aging and oak flavors from being kept in wood barrels.  A steak pairs well with an aggressive red wine that’s high in tannins and acid: the tannins bind to the proteins in the wine, acting as a natural palate cleanser and refreshing the mouth to enjoy each delectable bite of meat with fresh taste buds.  Pairing wine with food is nothing short of an art, with many subtle nuances to consider.  To learn more about it, click here.

3.  “Reserve” wines are of superior quality.

Although a few countries (Spain is one) have strict regulations governing when winemakers can put “reserve” on the label, the U.S. does not.  Originally, “reserve” wines were those the winemakers held back for themselves.  Logically, they were of better quality, but mostly they were probably just those wines that best fit the winemaker’s personal tastes.  Today, “reserve” has no true meaning, and is placed on the label at the discretion of the winemaker.  Often, the hiked-up price just isn’t justified.

4.  Red wine should never be chilled.

Red wines taste best at a temperature between 55º and 65º.  The average room temperature?  Around 70°.  When wine is served too warm, its alcohol flavors jump to the fore, masking the more subtle–and more enjoyable–flavors and aromas.  The correct temperature to serve a red wine at depends on the individual wine, but in general, lighter reds should be colder, bolder reds warmer.  Read a more detailed explanation of red wine chilling here.

5.  Great wines have great “legs.”

Many wine drinkers like to begin a tasting by swirling the glass, then holding it up to appreciate the “legs,” the little rivulets that run down from a swirled glass’s inside rim.  Legs that are many in number and thick, meandering slowly down the glass are said to be “great,” as in, “This wine has great legs.”  But many drinkers confuse great legs with great quality.  In reality, swirling the glass leaves a small quantity of alcohol and water near the top.  The alcohol evaporates first, increasing the surface tension of the leftover water until it gives into gravity and starts flowing back down the glass.  Wines with high alcohol contents will have more legs that are thicker and move more slowly.  Wines higher in alcohol are generally more viscous, so legs can also clue you in about the wine’s viscosity.  But they tell you next to nothing about how good it will taste.

6.  All German wines are sweet.

Germany does produce a lot of sweet wines, but they make many dry ones too.  If you’d like to try a German wine but sweet wines give you a headache, look for the word “trocken” on the label–it means “dry.”

7.  The more a wines costs, the better it will taste.

This is true only as a very general guideline–it is nowhere near a rule.  Though winemakers would love to have you believe that quality of taste is the only thing that dictates price, this is simply not true.  Prices depend on many factors, only a few of which relate to taste.  Things like how costly the harvest was that year, how pricey the land was, fluctuating grape prices, and even where you purchased the bottle have huge impacts on the price, but not necessarily on what’s inside the bottle.

Here’s a common phenomenon: a small, unknown vineyard has a great year, and produces a wine of great quality.  Because it’s not a well-known wine, it’s inexpensive.  Word gets out about this great deal, and the price of the wine goes way up.  But subsequent vintages aren’t as good; the wine is relying on the reputation it got during that one good year to justify its high price, but the quality is no longer there.  So though high price can reflect high quality, there are many scenarios in which it does not.  Do your research and don’t be afraid to try new things: there are many great bottles out there for around $10.

Wine Profile: Riesling

March 20th, 2010 1 comment

Along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling is considered one of the world’s greatest white wines.  Riesling has a long history, even for a wine: it has been produced for at least 600 years.  Rieslings are highly versatile: they cover a widerange from dry, crisp wine perfect for a spring picnic, to  highly sweet dessert wines with complex, unctuous flavors.

Riesling grapes originated in the Rhine region of Germany.  They are highly  aromatic, imparting flowery, perfumed scents and high acidity to the wines they produce.  Riesling grapes are known for their expression of terroir, or the unique qualities of the soil they are grown in.  In addition, Riesling wines are hardly ever aged in oak barrels, meaning that their flavor and aroma is not changed by the addition of flavor compounds from the wood.  As a result, Riesling is prized for its clean, pure reflection of the soil in which its grapes are grown.

Riesling grapes need a rare environment: cool, with lots of sun and protection from the wind.  Small microclimates that fulfill these conditions often produce the best Rieslings.  Vineyards in Germany along the Mosel River and the French region of Alsace produce what are arguably the world’s best Rieslings.  Other notable areas are: Washington, Oregon, and in California, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Mendocino.  Australia, South Africa, Austria, Chile, Switzerland, Russia, Yugoslavia, and Italy also grow Riesling grapes, but their product is generally of lesser quality.

Riesling grapes are fairly hardy in that they withstand cold well, but one rainy day can ruin a whole crop.  Riesling grapes left on the vine in wet weather develop the Botrytis cinerea fungus, more commonly known as Noble Rot.  The name “Noble Rot,” is truly a contradiction in terms, for this fungus is actually welcome by viticulturists.  In the late 18th century in Johannisberg, a vineyard’s workers received permission to harvest too late.  The grapes began to rot before they were picked, but the resulting beverage was remarkably tasty.  Noble rot causes the grapes to shrivel and the juices to evaporate, resulting in a wine with a sweeter, more concentrated and dynamic flavor.  This is particularly suited to Riesling grapes, which have the acidity needed to balance out the added sweetness, and in fact, Noble Rot helps to produce many great Riesling dessert wines.

Riesling’s flavor profile is highly fruity, balancing its high acidity with flavors of apple, pear or apricot, and floral aromas of rose and violet.  Because its taste so faithfully reflects its soil of origin, Rieslings can also have natural mineral tastes like flint, steel, and gunmetal.  Aged Rieslings can develop a distinct petroleum taste, but because it develops in grapes grown in ideal conditions and is thus present in often-great wines, these petroleum notes are actually prized by wine connoisseurs.

Riesling pairs well with many food.  Try the lighter, crisper Rieslings with delicate dishes like poached fish or simple salads.  The sweeter, more full-bodied and minerally Rieslings pair exceptionally well with foods with strong spices and sauces, especially Asian foods.

Celebrate the beginning of spring by trying a Riesling tonight!
Riesling Wine on Foodista

Wine for St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Sure, the traditional beverage of St. Patrick’s day is beer.  Usually it’s a frothy pint of Guinness.  And if it’s not Guinness, it’s most likely dyed green.   And there are some who love their St. Patty’s day beer and wouldn’t consider parting with it for anything.  But others, faced with a pint glass of green beer, would prefer to opt for something else.

Why not try wine for St. Patrick’s Day?  Many wines match just as well as beer–if not better–with traditional Irish foods.  And if your friends tease you for not following tradition, just remind them that there’s nothing very traditional about green beer, either.  Here are some St. Patty’s Day food and wine pairings that will help you decide what to make or order tonight:

Corned Beef and Cabbage with Pinot Noir: Even though this dish has a recipe as a highly traditional Irish food, it’s not.  The Irish were introduced to corned beef once Irish immigrants to the U.S. used it in place of bacon.  But traditional or not, corned beef and cabbage is a long-standing–and delicious–part of St. Patrick’s Day.  The best complement to this dish is the earthy flavors and velvety texture of Pinot Noir, which will complement the salty, meaty flavors, not fight with them for dominance.  Try one from Sonoma County.

Bangers and Mash with Zinfandel: This dish, sausages and mashed potatoes, is popular all throughout England and Ireland.  If you’re eating traditional pork sausages, you’ll want something fruity to contrast.  Try a Zinfandel.

Irish Stew with Bordeaux: Irish stew is a simple, traditional dish of lamb (or mutton) boiled with the root vegetables of Ireland: carrots, onions, and, of course, potatoes.  With it, try a red Bordeaux: its complexity of flavors goes nicely with the simple, straightforward ones of the stew.

If your tastes lean towards wine no matter the occasion, try these pairings.  But don’t forget to wear green!

6 Things You Should Know About “Green” Wine

March 13th, 2010 No comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you know about the “green” revolution.  If you’re interested how the eco-movement affects your wine, read on.

1.  What does “green” really mean?

“Green” is a pop culture term, so it doesn’t have an “official” or standardized meaning.  Though you can usually count on “green” wineries to at minimum use organic grapes (more on that below), many wineries are really upping the eco-friendly ante.  They are using alternative sources of energy (like solar), making a big effort to conserve water, and recycling production materials.  Some are really going back to the earth by using traditional, rather than chemical, methods to maintain soil health.

2.   What does “organic” really mean?

When we think organic, we think of small farms, but in the age of health food superstores, the meaning of the term “organic” isn’t that simple.  Wines labeled organic are made from grapes that have not been treated with chemical pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or fertilizers.  But be careful: while USDA-certified “organic” or “100 percent organic” wine, in addition to being made entirely from organic grapes, doesn’t have added sulfites, wine labeled “made from organically grown grapes” may contain them.  But what’s the big deal with sulfites?

3.  What are sulfites, and why do I care if they’re in my wine?

Sulfites are chemical compounds that occur naturally in all wines.  They are also often artificially introduced, either to stop fermentation at a certain point or to preserve the wine and prevent oxidation.  Sulfites have been added to wine for hundreds of years, but have recently become a hot-button issue because of their allergy-causing properties.  In fact, sulfites are one of the 9 top food allergens.  Asthmatics and those prone to migraines are at special risk.  If you’re concerned about sulfites, make sure the label says, “no added sulfites.”  But be careful: many many foods contain sulfites, and most producers are not required to put that information on the label.

4.  What about “local” wines? You probably won’t be able to find many wines that are both organic and produced locally, but just buying ones that are local can lessen your carbon footprint.  Locally produced goods require much less fuel because they don’t have to be shipped long distances, and buying them also supports small businesses.  Plus, buying wines locally means that often, you can talk directly to the farmers, who will know much more about how the grapes are grown and the wine is produced than your local grocery store clerk will.

5.  Does it taste better? Of course, it’s silly to think of “organic” as a synonym for “good.”  But according to a recent UCLA study, organic wines in the mid-to-high price range (over $25) scored higher than comparable non-organic wines.  Here are two possible reasons: 1.  The absence of chemical additives improves taste.  2. Organic grapes are often of higher quality, and in fact, many vineyard choose to use organic grapes for the taste, even if they aren’t running a “green” operation.

6.  Is it more expensive? Here’s a real shocker: organic wines above the $25 barrier are priced, on average, 7% lower than their non-organic counterparts.  What gives?  Organic wine became popular in the 70s, and because of less-than-stellar production practices, tended to be of poorer quality and also to turn to vinegar faster.  Modern organic wines don’t have these problems, but the stigma persists.  In fact, many wineries that produce organic wine tend to ignore the fact on the label–and are able to charge 13% more for their superior product.  So cash in on the organic deal–at this rate, the false “hippy wine” stigma won’t last.

Wine Profile: Sangiovese

March 11th, 2010 No comments

Ahh, Sangiovese.  Despite its delightfully Italian name (which, incidentally, gives you a great opportunity to do your best Godfather impression), Sangiovese is a great wine that has been loved for a long time.  The first literary reference to Sangiovese was made in 1722, but it is most likely much older than that.

Sangiovese is a bit similar to Chianti, because Chianti is made from 70% Sangiovese grapes.  Here’s a handy analogy: Sangiovese is to Chianti as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Bordeaux.  (OK, that was a mouthful.  But it’s still a handy way to think about the relationships between these wines.)  Both Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon are made solely from grapes that are most often seen as a component of mixed-varietal wines.  But alone, they make great wines too.

Sangiovese grapes have thin, delicate skins and can easily rot if exposed to the damp.  As a result, they thrive in a hot, dry climate, and so are very popular in Tuscany.  But because it’s so easily influenced by climate, the sangiovese grape takes careful and knowledgeable cultivation.  The quality of Sangiovese varies from vino di tavola at the lower end to the best classico superiore.

In flavor, Sangiovese is a fruit-forward wine.  Often, flavors of blueberry, cherry, strawberry, violets, and plums are evident, and Sangiovese can often have a faint floral aroma.  Sangiovese isn’t as bold as, say, Cabernet Sauvignon–it’s generally medium-bodied, moderately tannic and moderately acidic, but can range to assertive and robust with a slightly bitter finish.  Because of its balanced, smooth character, Sangiovese pairs well with many dishes, making it great to share at a restaurant with people who are eating different entrees.  Try it with chicken, red meat, fish, pastas, and even cheeses.

10 Wine Terms

March 9th, 2010 No comments

Oaky: Many wines are aged in oak barrels.  Over time, the barrels impart a scent of freshly sawn oak to the wine.  An “oaked” wine can have a variety of different aromas, depending on the age of the barrels.  New barrels contribute stronger flavors to the wine.  Oak aging can give wine characteristics called “toasted,” “roasted,” or “smoky,” tastes that result when the barrels are heat-treated.  Because of the phenolic compound aldehyde, which resides in the wood, oak aging also imparts tastes of vanilla to the wine.  A properly “oaked” wine will have a subtle vanilla scent in the nose.  Oak can overpower other wine flavors, so bold, rich wines carry the flavor best.  A wine that is overwhelmed by oak flavors is said to be “overoaked.”

Tart: Wines that are too sharp and acidic can be called “tart,” referring to the often-unpleasant, almost sour taste that such wines have.

Clarity: A term that refers to a visual quality of the wine.  A wine with “clarity” is not cloudy, hazy or murky.  To test clarity, pour wine into a very clean glass.  Hold it against a white surface (like a tablecloth) and look at the wine through the glass.  Any bits floating in the wine or any cloudiness that is apparent decreases the clarity of the wine.  Wines with great clarity are prized.

Fat vs. Flabby: Though they might mean the same thing when referring to your post-Thanksgiving midsection, these two terms have decidedly different definitions when they are used to describe wine.  “Fat” is a textural term referring to wines that are concentrated and rich on the palate.  “Flabby” is fat gone too far: it refers to a wine that is too heavy on the palate, lacking balance, structure, and acidity.

Legs: Pour a taste of wine in your glass.  Swirl it like the pros do by keeping the base of the glass on the table and moving it in small, quick circles.  Be careful not to spill!  Stop swirling and inspect the glass.  Often, you will see small rivulets of wine running down the glass from the inside rim.  These are legs.  Their presence indicates a rich, full-bodied wine with a high alcohol content.  The more viscous and thicker the legs are, the richer and more full-bodied the wine.

Concentrated: When it refers to your orange juice, “concentrated” isn’t a good thing.  But it is a positive term when it refers to wine.  Fine wines, no matter if they are light-, medium-, or full-bodied, should have fruit flavors that taste rich and deep, or concentrated.  A synonym for “concentrated” is “deep.”

Complex: The definition of “complex” changes from one wine expert to another; its meaning is highly subjective.  But a memorable and accurate way to think of “complex” is how “interesting” a wine is.  Is the third glass just as good as the first?  Can the drinker continue to discover new tastes and aromas as he or she drinks?  If the answer to these questions is “yes,” feel free to call your wine “complex.”

Hard: “Hard” wines could also be called “abrasive.”  They are very high in tannins and acids.  Bold, strong wines that are still young can be hard.  Hard wines aren’t for everyone, but this descriptor isn’t necessarily a negative.  However, if a wine is too hard, it’s called “harsh,” which is never a good quality.

Precocious: Just as a precocious child acts older than her age, a precocious wine matures quickly.  Precocious wines can realize their maximum flavors in a relatively short period of time, and so allow an impatient collector to appreciate their benefits quickly.  Precocious wines can also be those wines that will continue to age well over a long period of time, but taste mature early on.


Categories: Tasting Wine Tags:

A Few More Wine Terms

March 6th, 2010 No comments

Here’s a new installment to our wine lexicon.  If you missed the first one, “The Top Ten Wine Tasting Terms“, check it out now.

Acetic: When the alcohol in wine oxidizes, it turns into acetic acid.  The common name for acetic acid?  Vinegar.  All wine has some amount of acetic acid, but too much means that the wine has gone bad: most likely, the cork has failed, letting in too much oxygen and causing too much of the alcohol to turn into acetic acid.  If your wine has a prevalent vinegary taste, you could say it’s “acetic.”  And if the taste is any stronger than a “barely detectable” level, you might want dump out the bottle (or better yet, use it for Sangria!) and try again.

Berrylike: As the term implies, this refers to a wine with strong berry flavors (always a fruity red wine).  Common berries that you might perceive are the “dark” berries, like black cherry and blackberry, and other berry flavors that can range from raspberry to strawberry to cranberry and everything in between.

Chewy: If there was ever a strange-seeming wine term, this would be it.  Wine that has a high glycerin (sugar) content gains a texture that can be described as dense, viscous, or fleshy (think thick like milk, not thin like water).  When you drink a very viscous wine, you almost feel as though you should chew it like solid food.  So maybe it isn’t such a strange term after all.

Diffuse: Wines that lack a sense of structure are said to be diffuse.  A diffuse wine’s flavors are muddied, or unfocused and unclear.  Serving red wine at too warm a temperature causes it to taste diffuse.  This is because when wine is too warm, the alcohols overwhelm the bouquet, masking the more subtle, delicious flavors.  If you didn’t know that you should chill your red wine before service, check out our post on the subject here.

Forward: Wine that has bold, easily distinguishable flavors is said to be forward.  Forward wines have been matured to the ideal age, and their full flavor potential has been realized.  The term “forward” is often used in the phrase “fruit-forward,” which refers to a wine that has especially strong fruit flavors.

Green: Wines made with grapes that haven’t been given adequate time to ripen are “green.”  They have a distinct vegetal taste and can have flavors reminiscent of grass, peas, or any other green vegetable.  “Green” can be a negative term that refers to an immature wine, or it can simply be a descriptor of a wine’s vegetal or herbaceous qualities.  This term isn’t to be confused with the other kind of “green,” which means “environmentally friendly” and has become something of a recent fad.  But we’ll save that for another post.

Hot: No, this term doesn’t refer to a wine that’s served at too warm a temperature, and neither does it refer to a wine that has spicy qualities.  Instead, “hot” wine is wine that has too high an alcohol content and because of it, causes an unpleasant burning sensation in the back of the throat.  Wine that’s more than 14.5% alcohol is often “hot.”  However, a high alcohol content can be balanced by the sweetness of fruity flavors.  So there’s nothing wrong with a really bold wine high in alcohol, as long as it has the bold fruitiness to back it up.

Nose: This one’s pretty simple.  It refers to the aromas in wine that you can detect by smell.  When tasting wine properly, you should start by smelling it, first from a distance, and then deeply, with your nose inside the glass.  The aromas you detect are called the wine’s “nose.”  (And if you didn’t know you should be sticking your nose inside your wine glass to get the full tasting experience, click here to learn more about wine tasting.)

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Wine Profile: Chianti

March 6th, 2010 No comments

Chianti used to be regarded as an inferior wine.  But in the last 40 years, this simple red has undergone what might be bigger changes than any other varietal out there.  Chianti is made mostly from Sangiovese grapes: one of the hardest kinds of wine grapes to grow.  In the past, growers over-cut the Sangiovese vines, and also mixed the resulting wine with other varietals (some Chiantis were only 50% Sangiovese) led to a shoddy product: Chiantis were often low in taste and too acidic.  In the ’80s, Chiantis experienced a revival.  Superior Sangiovese grapes were rediscovered, and regulations became more stringent (now, a Chianti must be at least 75% Sangiovese, and the remainder must be an approved varietal).  As a result, today’s Chianti is a much better product than it used to be.  Many Chianti brands have also lost the traditional straw basket in favor of a sleeker, re-vamped look.

Chianti is the traditional wine of Tuscany.  Tuscany, which lies in the hilly country between Florence and Siena, has been producing Chianti for 700 years.  Today, seven areas of Tuscany produce Chianti: Classico, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina.  Chianti produced in the central Classico area is traditionally regarded as the best.

Chianti is a strong, bold wine: very dry and tannic.  It pairs well with foods with strong spices or flavors; it will overwhelm a dish that’s too delicate.  That said, it’s great with a huge variety of foods, like pork, chicken, and beef, but obviously, its classic pairing is with Italian food.  Chianti was made to be drunk with pasta, and pizza.  And despite its recent improvements, most bottles are still relatively inexpensive, meaning that you can snap up a great bottle for a wallet-friendly price.

Chianti isn’t a crowd-pleaser, like a Merlot or a Chardonnay.  It’s more of an all-or-nothing wine: some like it, some hate it.  Which side of the fence do you fall on?