Chianti wine tastes as rich and varied as the landscape itself, the sun-drenched slopes and gentle rolling hills allowing the Sangiovese grape to flourish to its full potential. Various sub-regions with their differing soils, climates and elevations all help express the grape’s character in their own special way, creating various levels of power, ripeness and finesse.
Sangiovese is a grape that creates fruity, juicy wines with strong cherry notes and high acidity. But of course it is never that simple; there are many quality levels ranging from inexpensive to premium, all adding a different voice and personality to this unique wine. To really appreciate and understand a wine one of the best places to experience the various flavours and expressions is the vineyard itself. Chianti as a region is picture-postcard perfect; the breathtaking landscape offers a stunning environment to enjoy a wine in its natural terrain, and at the vineyard itself you will have the opportunity to taste the variety of wines from that particular producer, learning about what makes their wine special. Rather than just opening a basic Chianti, or deciding to taste the one you’ve had resting in your cellar, you can experience anything from an inexpensive wine to a beautifully aged Gran Selezione.
And when tasting a wine, the conditions come into consideration. Has it just been opened or has it had chance to breathe, are you having it with food or without. I recently opened a Gran Selezione 2011 and decided to start the tasting when it was fresh out of the bottle. It was still closed, and the primary fruit aromas were struggling to deliver, the secondary notes of oak coming through but in a somewhat flat manner. I decided to wait half an hour, and allowing the wine chance to breathe brought out the true potential of the bottle. The mouth gripping tannins suddenly softened, the ripe cherry and raspberry were complemented perfectly by the balanced acidity. The tertiary aromas flourished both on the nose and the palate, black pepper predominated with delicious notes of bitter espresso and sweet spice coming though as well as dried prune and fig with hints of fresh herb. Giving the wine chance to rest and breathe allowed the complexity of this wine time to develop and express itself.
And then I sat down to eat, and this is when Chianti really comes into its own. This is a wine, with its sharp acidity and gripping tannins, that is made for food. Hearty, earthy meals filled with meat and tomato bring out the flavours of the wine. Chianti’s high acidity stands up to the natural acidity of tomatoes, the coarse tannins soften the meat and bring out its succulent flavours. Just as perfect a pairing is the classic ‘Tagliere’, a wooden board piled high with mouth watering Italian cheese, salumi and prosciutto. The salty meat and creamy cheese drizzled with sweet dried fruit conserve or honey all bring to the forefront the rich, fruit flavours whilst also softening and balancing the wine.
And so the conclusion is, the best way to taste Chianti is in Italy! The vineyards offer a beautiful setting and the food complements the wine perfectly. All the flavours of the wine suddenly make sense as they resonate around you. Balsamic, oregano, coffee, pepper, fresh cherry; all flavours integral to Italian life, and all to be found in a beautifully balanced and well rounded glass of Chianti.