Your humble narrator was out with friends last week, and we were looking for a nice meal out while sharing a few bottles of wine.
It’s hard to go wrong with a choice from any of the holy trinity of old-world wine producers, made up of France, Spain, and Italy. Unfortunately, Spanish cuisine is under-represented in Alberta, while French cuisine has the reputation of being a bit snooty. Luckily, everyone still loves Italian food and wine, so we ended up in a nice little Italian eatery for dinner.
Italy is the world’s 2nd largest wine producer, trailing only their French neighbours. While plenty is exported around the world, they somehow find the time to knock back around 42 litres per capita each year, which brings shame upon us Canadians, who only manage to guzzle a mere 12 litres per capita.
The wine industry in Italy goes back thousands of years, predating even the Roman Empire. The ancient Etruscans and Greeks were the first to plant vineyards, but it wasn’t until the 2nd century C.E. that viticulture really took off under those booze-loving toga-wearing party animals known as the Romans.
The map of Italy is divided into 20 major wine growing areas, which basically correspond to each provincial administrative region. Those 20 major areas are further subdivided into hundreds of sub-appellations, each with their own unique terroir and distinctive wines.
Most readers will be familiar with the Italian wine region known as Tuscany, made famous by countless movies, which is home to the much loved vineyards of Chianti.
It is important to note that Chianti refers to the specific villages that the wines were originally produced from, and not a particular type of grape.
Chianti wines are primarily made from the Sangiovese grape, whose name translates to Blood of God, which shows how impressive the Italians think this grape really is.
Unfortunately for us Canucks, the Sangiovese grape does not grow well in Canada’s cool climate, so you will not find any domestic wines on the shelves of your local liquor retailer. Luckily, there are plenty of Italian imports to pick up the slack.
Overall, the Sangiovese grape produces a fairly light-bodied wine with high acidity, so it is generally blended with small amounts of other varietals to provide more structure.
There are records of Chianti wine dating as far back as the mid-1200’s, but the type of grapes used have changed significantly over the centuries.
While individual winemakers do have some flexibility with blending different grape varietals, Chianti wines are generally a minimum of 75% Sangiovese grapes, up to 10% Canaiolo grapes, and up to 20% of assorted other approved varietals.
Some adventurous winemakers go with 100% Sangiovese, but it is more common to blend with small amounts of other grapes to create a more balanced flavour profile.
The Chianti wine growing region covers more than 16,000 hectares, and there are even 8 legally delineated sub-appellations within the Chianti region.
If you see a wine that is simply labeled as Chianti, it is likely from grapes from multiple sub-zones of the entire region. However, if the wine label includes Chianti Classico, Rùfina, Aretini, Senesi, or several others, it indicates that all the grapes came from a specific sub-zone of the Chianti wine region.
The largest region is known as Chianti Classico, and makes up most of the wines you will find on the shelf of your local booze merchant.
The Chianti Classico wines tend to be medium-bodied, with floral any nutty aromas, and a well-defined tannin structure providing a rich mouth feel, with flavours of cinnamon, tobacco, and leather.
If you are feeling like Daddy Warbucks, consider trading up to a Chianti Superiore, which has much more stringent regulations for production.
Chianti Superiore only makes up 1% of total Chianti production, and can only be picked from a few specific vineyards, and must be aged for longer than other styles of Chianti.
As you may imagine, the rarity of the Chianti Superiore lets it command a high price, so this type of wine is very difficult to obtain in Alberta.
For your day-to-day swilling needs, a regular Chianti is good enough for millions of Italian wine drinkers, so it’s got to be good enough for us. There are plenty of bottles of Chianti to be had for under $20, so pick one up soon!