The Battle Of Chianti

(TORONTO, ON) – Forgive me, but as the Italian wine scene is so crowded with wine critics and coverage I have tended to stray away from most of Italy. There still remain undiscovered gems, particularly in Sicily, but when I review Chianti I feel a bit like being on a crowded bus riding down the Tuscany highway of wine writing.

However, after hiding in the Douro Valley, Lake Erie North Shore, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece, perhaps it is time to get on the Chianti bus. My distant memories point to strawberry and cherry infused wines; dusty and barely deep. So, perhaps it is time to revisit.

Let’s get some Chianti Classicos up on the stage.

The first one to hopefully dazzle me and entice me back to Tuscany is a Tenuta Santedame 2014.

Garnet coloured and rather promising something on the light side. Ah, yes, that Sangiovese memory of light sweet red cherry hits the nose. Hints of mocha and strawberry. It is all coming back to me. Give the wine a half hour and the aromas are more concentrated and delightful with a slightly nutty tint hitting the wine.

Light and delicate on the palate with some red cherry and strawberry. I am thinking a bit light. No Marcello Mastronardi or Gina Lollabridga strutting an assertive Italian personality. It is instead lost in itself. Given the great nose but disappointing palate, this is a Tuscan Teaser.

This wine stumbles at the finish line.

I’d keep this vino relegated to hastily prepared pasta sauces on the light side or with pizza. The wine can’t stand up to wild Tuscan boar stew or a Ragu of mushrooms in a wine reduction sauce. That, I might leave to some IGT Tuscans with Cabernet Sauvignon in them.

(Tenuta Santedame, Chianti Classico 2014, DOCG, Ruffino, Firenze, Italia, $19.95, 14%, 750mL, LCBO #523076, Square Media Group Rating, 87/100)

I can remember Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico being available at the LCBO forever. I suppose that means it sells well.

The 2014 vintage has a transparent black cherry colour. Very relaxed aromas of black cherry, very ripe strawberries, and mocha. Geez. On a pure blind tasting I might even mistake this for a Pinot Noir from Niagara.

Very drinkable.

Mellow, but almost haunting tannins. Lots of sweet red cherry. Short, but very pleasing finish. It has a good frame and is no whimp.

I think that the blending of Sangiovese with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon has added some character to the often dusty and oft tart Sangiovese. Perhaps the blending of those grapes makes the wine immediately approachable.

I would have no hesitation recommending this with roast lamb or a mushroom ragout over polenta. By the way, polenta is very easy to make. Just warm 5 cups of whole milk then throw in a cup and a half of cornmeal and stir continually to a creamy consistency. I learnt how to make it recently as it was a suggested base for a rich mushroom ragout over which to be ladled.

I see no purpose in ageing, but it will hang in there until 2020.

(Rocca Delle Macìe 2014 DOCG, Chianti Classico Riserva, Famiglia Zingarelli, Italy, $23.95, 14%, 750mL, LCBO #930966, Square Media Group Rating 89/100)

Boy, the pressure is on as I see a 92 score from Wine Enthusiast stuck on the bottle. I am usually in agreement with their scores, so let’s see what happens when we try a Querciavalle Chianti Classico 2011.

Scrumptious aroma for sure. Predominately sweet red cherries, but also gorgeous blackberry. Quite simple, but assertive.

On the palate, more of that dandy red cherry and chocolate covered cherries. Easy on the tannins. It is shouting, “Drink me now.”

Try frying up some onions until golden brown. Throw in some garlic and sauté for a few more minutes. Then add a cup of white wine and a couple of cups of cherry tomatoes with some fresh basil and rosemary. Serve over fettucine.

The motto of this story is that a good wine need not be some complex mystery. Straight out and in your face does very well, as with this wine. I agree with the Wine Enthusiast rating.

I hate to use the phrase “good value” so, instead, I will say, “Tremendous value.” I might even say it is a steal.

(Querciavalle Chianti Classico 2011 DOCG, Societá Agricola Losi di Pietro & Paolo, Castelnuovo, Italia. $16.95, 14%, LCBO #515478, Square Media Group Rating 92/100)

Nipozzano is an LCBO regular and just about always very highly rated by wine writers. This time it is a Nipozzano Chianti Rúfina.

Rúfina is a Chianti subzone and is considered in the Riserva category, as it has been aged two years in oak.

The 2013 has very tightly wound up black cherry on the nose. There is also hazelnut spread and blackberry.

Simple, but forceful aromatics.

A bit thin on the palate, but again notes of black cherry and strawberry. A short finish with minimal tannins. The 2013 vintage was a decent year in Tuscany, so I am not sure what happened to this wine. At the end of the day, thin and flinty.

Drink now if you wish to buy. Suits simplistic tomato-based pasta sauces. Strangely, the Wine Spectator gave this a 92 and says it will suit wild boar sauce over pasta. I disagree and say it lacks the stuffing to stand up to boar.

(Frescobaldi Nipozzano Vecchie Viti 2013 DOCG, Chianti Rúfina Riserva, Frescobaldi, Firenze, Italia, $29.95, 13.5%, 750mL, LCBO #395186, Square Media Group Rating 86/100)

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen