Italian Chianti and Chianti Classico wines are prime examples of popular wines produced predominantly from Sangiovese. Typically Sangiovese grapes make medium to full-bodied wines with tannin structure ranging from medium-soft to firm. Dominant flavors associated with Sangiovese include: cherry, plum, strawberry, cinnamon and vanilla, as well as an herbaceous quality. Sangiovese leans towards medium to high acidity. The finish can range from elegant to bitter.
Making a quick assessment of the wines delivered by the team, we chose to taste the 3 New World Sangioveses first, and taste the 5 Old World wines second. In order of tasting, here are our discoveries:
2009 Pithy Little Wine Company Rosé - 98% Sangiovese/2% Syrah (for color), French Camp vineyard, East Paso Robles. We opened this mainly as an aperitif for the group. Rose pink in color, the nose was redolent of strawberry, orange, tangerine, pineapple, vanilla, and one note said 'pound cake'. On the palate it was a bit bitter with overtones of oak, butternut, rhubarb, grapefruit, and mango. The group was evenly divided regarding the acceptability of the wine and thought that pairing with fried calamari would be tasty. $22
2008 Orfila Estate Sangiovese - San Pasqual Vineyard (Escondido). Clear ruby/brick color. The nose was exceedingly floral, with violets and jasmine, with undertones of burnt barbeque sauce. The 15.4% alcohol showed in the nose, but not so much on the palate, where the good acidity and bright cherry and citrus fruit balanced the alcohol, giving way to a long cherry Jolly Rancher finish. We thought Veal Marsala or even a Chicken Cacciatore would be a good pairing for this wine. $25
2006 Coates - Humboldt County, organic/vegan. The wine was cloudy and slightly brown with age. The nose was earthy/barnyard/mushroom, with overtones of burnt brown sugar, rhubarb, and black pepper. The palate held cherry, baking spice and soft tannins at the front, finishing with dill and cloves and a slightly bitter vegetal quality. We all agreed it was at the end of its life, and would pair nicely with a salad of fennel, beans, prosciutto, and some lighter meats. Only 13% alcohol, and $19.95.
2009 Tenute Silvio Nardi Rosso di Montalcino - This first Italian wine opened up the discussion about what grapes could be used in specifically designated regions of Italy, as their laws are complicated and challenging to the uninitiated. Rosso di Montalcino is the baby version of the famous and expensive Brunello di Montalcino, which requires longer aging in both barrel and bottle prior to release. (At this point, Rico struck his forehead and exclaimed, "Schmuck, I could have brought a Brunello!") This clear, dark red wine was aged 6 months in oak, had mocha, smoke and leather in the nose. The leather continued on the palate with dried cherries and an abrupt finish. This wine needed pasta. I liked it, but no one else did, so we compromised on a 'medium acceptable' rating. 14.9% alcohol. $23
2007 Rocca delle Macié Chianti Classico Riserva - This Riserva was aged in new French oak for 4 years. It was clear, medium garnet with tar, earth, copper, cocoa powder and dark berries on the nose. On the palate, acid hit first, followed by cherry, blackberry, rhubarb, dates, and something interestingly almond-milk-ish, with tree bark, pie cherries and a little bell pepper on the finish that turned bitter. Again, this wine needed food, possibly pasta in a vodka sauce. Acceptable. 14.0% alcohol. $25
2007 Principe Corsini Le Corti Chianti Classico - Marya was very excited about this wine, as she had actually visited this winery and tasted the Riserva version of this wine. We were all very jealous. Clear, light garnet in color, this wine is 95% Sangiovese and 5% Cannaiolo, another grape native to the Chianti region. The nose was earthy with dried cherries, amaretto and great minerality. In the mouth, almond, great acid balance, dried fruit, violets and that wonderful minerality, with a long finish. Someone suggested barley salad with Parmesan cheese and olive oil and tomatoes...we were getting hungry! At 13.5% alcohol and a $14.99 price tag this wine was not just acceptable, it was yummy. Yes, yummy is a technical term.
We ordered our dinner at this point, with instructions that it not be delivered until after we were done tasting the wines.
2008 Brolio Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico - Ricasoli is the oldest winery in Italy, the second oldest in the world according to their website - the family has been involved with wine since 1141. Today it is the largest winery in the Chianti Classico area where Baron Bettino Ricasoli invented the Chianti formula in 1872. That's what the website states! Dark garnet color, oak, chocolate, coffee, earth, and pine in the nose. On the palate spice, roses and some green steminess complemented the dusty tannins. A long finish of cocoa and mocha made us want to pair this wine with something spicy. 13.5% alcohol. $22
1999 LaGioia Riecine, IGT Toscana - SuperTuscan - SuperTuscan Blend refers to wines which feature a significant Sangiovese component combined with grapes not traditionally associated with Italy like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. This separates it from "Sangiovese blend" which is used for wines which are predominantly Sangiovese and combined with traditional Italian varieties. There is often confusion as many wines most famous associated with the term "Super Tuscan" like Sassicaia, Masseto and Ornellaia have no Sangiovese and are more like Red Bordeaux.
In fact, Super Tuscan was a term coined to refer specifically to wines such as Sassicaia and Tignanello. These were wines that "fell out" of the official DOCG classification of Italian wines because they either contained grapes not permitted (international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot,) were aged differently (i.e., in barrique) or were 100% Sangiovese - which was not permitted at the time for Chianti. Forced to be classified as simply "Vina di Tavola" (table wine), these wines quickly found favor in international markets and commanded prices above the highest quality DOCG Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino wines at the time. The wine industry and press began to refer to these wines as SuperTuscans because of their popularity and quality, but also because of the prices. Subsequently, the Italian authorities, under the Goria Law of 1992, redrew the classifications, and included the category IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) to classify the SuperTuscans.
This particular SuperTuscan was the color of old brick, with burnt cherry and leather in the nose. On the palate chocolate, coffee, almond, cola led to a "WOW, that's a flavor!" exclamation from Rico. It was delicious, and didn't need anything else. $22 - rather amazing for a wine with such age.
Having tasted them, we all agreed that the California wines might have been better tasted after the Italians. Still, it was very educational - and fun - and we enjoyed drinking the wines with our dinner.
Next month: Pinot Noir! I can hardly wait to see what our hearty band of Wineaux will bring to the table. Cheers!