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Cue the Chianti PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara -- BT Contributor   
March 2013

Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less

CPix_Vino_3-13hianti is as American as apple pie.

Oh, sure, it’s technically Italian and named after its Tuscan region, one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Approximately 65 square miles between Florence and Siena, it’s a gorgeous landscape of rolling hills and neatly ordered vineyards, olive groves and chestnut woods, big cities and small towns, Renaissance villas and ancient stone buildings.

Sounds about as American as Bashar al-Assad.

But if you’ve ever gobbled up a pizza or spaghetti and meatballs at that little Italian restaurant down the block, your favorite red-sauce joint, you probably washed it down with a glass of Chianti. It was likely a wine of modest price and equally modest virtue, its chief attributes being that it was red and wet.

It was all about tart fruit, soft tannins, and bracing acidity, a good foil for the onslaught of tomato sauce and garlic and sausage and cheese and olive oil. There was nothing fancy or pretentious about it, but it got the job done, and you went home with a full belly and a few pennies left over.

Now that sounds positively American.

It also sounds like an excellent reason to take another look at Chianti. After all, 1) inexpensive, 2) unpretentious, and 3) leaving you happily satisfied are attributes as American as apple pie (and pizza and spaghetti and meatballs), too.

We begin on the lighter side, with the 2011 Cancello del Barone. This is your classic red-sauce joint Chianti -- simple and straightforward, lively with tart berry fruit, a touch of spice, and the kind of acidity that can cut right through such hearty, cheesy, Italian-American staples as lasagna and eggplant Parmesan.

Fratelli d’Italia’s 2011 Chianti offers a more nuanced flavor profile than the Cancello, kicking off with an aromatic mélange of red cherries, herbs, olives, and toast. It is light and puckery on the first sip. The second sip, too. But then it slowly opens, revealing more cherry-raspberry fruit and mellower acidity, so that when you’ve drained the first glass, it’s starting to taste pretty good. It’s also light-bodied enough to serve with chicken or seafood with tomato sauce.

In much the same vein is the 2011 Piccini Chianti. Take a good whiff and you’ll get red and black cherry fruit, a little plum, some cloves, and herbs and oak. You’ll get those in the mouth, too, along with some dusky olive and tobacco notes and, again, the sort of stiff acidity that can take the edge off rich, fatty foods.

If this light- to medium-body, berry-fruit, high-acid business of the 2011 vintage is starting to sound like a tape loop, well, it just might be. Because all of that applies also to the 2011 Bellini. With its royal red-purple color and hinted black olive-spice aromas, it teases you into expecting something richer and duskier. But it follows the same taste pattern as the others, though halfway through the bottle, the wine smoothes out and gains some depth and heft.

The 2010 Oro teases in a different way, promising bright cherry-berry fruit in the nose, but delivering tart, stingy fruit masked by earthy olive-leather flavors.

Now we come to a couple of wide-bodies. The 2011 Tenuta di Trecciano is a much more fruit forward wine, from its scents of strawberry and raspberry to undercurrents of earth and tar. The fruit is richer, fuller, bigger in the mouth -- not a lot of complexity, but a lot of satisfaction -- yet still in balance with acid and tannins. I like the hints of cloves and white pepper, too, and though (at $11.99) it’s at the top of our price range, it’s definitely worth the extra pennies.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that my favorite wine of the tasting had two years on its competitors. The 2009 La Tancia Chianti certainly acted the part, showing off aromas of ripe black cherries and plums that came alive in my mouth. Where the others were young and lean, the La Tancia was lush and elegant with a long, tangy finish. It has the finesse to pair with delicate dishes, the weight to stand up to more robust ones, and the overall balance and structure to make it a pleasant pour all by itself.

With apple pie, though? Not so much.

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