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Chianti standouts

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth, Jay Reed, Kelley O’Neill

Chianti is undoubtedly the most well known Italian red wine in America. Also a fairly large area located in the Central Italian region of Tuscany, Chianti produces red wines based primarily on the grape Sangiovese (san-joh-vay-zeh), Italy’s most widely planted variety. Until recent decades, it’s safe to say that in many Italian-American restaurants Chianti was frequently the only red wine option, the choice usually limited to one or two big name brands.

More recently the floodgates have opened. Wine lists and store racks are awash with wines from every corner of Italy, and the number of Chiantis available has increased exponentially. A quick check of shows that Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate has reviewed the wines of 213 Chianti producers from 2001 to 2012.

With so many Chiantis out there, wine stores are faced with a dilemma: how many to stock and which ones? One practical approach is to taste them — lots of them — which is why the staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently conducted a blind tasting of 32 Chiantis priced $25 per bottle or less.

The wines were of uniformly good quality. In fact, only two wines in the group were rated below average. Styles varied, ranging from simple, bright, and fruity to deep, complex, and brooding, with some of the better wines being good cellar candidates. It was also observed that oaky notes, when present, supported rather than overwhelmed the fruit.

The staff’s top pick was the Fattoria Rodáno 2006 Chianti Classico ($19 per bottle). It is a gorgeous wine produced from 90% Sangiovese and 5% each Colorino and Canaiolo grapes. The wine was aged in large used oak barrels, which do not impose an oaky flavor on the fruit. Its aroma of cherry, violets, and earth leaps from the glass. On the palate, the wine is concentrated yet balanced, with a lingering finish of dried cherries so typical of good Sangiovese.

One of the tasting’s best values was the Renzo Masi 2008 Chianti Riserva ($14 per bottle), possessing deep and concentrated fruit for a Chianti at its price-point. Both of these wines are highly recommended. Try them with roasted or grilled meats, hearty bean dishes, or Pecorino cheese.

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