After enjoying the sights and history of Florence, Lucca, and Pisa, we turned our attention to the Wine Road through the Chianti Region of Tuscany.
Our first stop was in Greve, the home of Chianti’s largest annual wine festival and the center of Chianti wine production. It was our first visit to a typical Tuscan walled town on a hill.
Greve has historical connections to America. The statue in the town square was of Giovanni da Verrazano, the explorer who “discovered” New York harbor and for whom the Verrazano Bridge is named. Another local hero is the explorer Amerigo Vespucci who was born near by and who first publicized the New World and was rewarded with having it named for him. Columbus should have been a better writer.
The Chianti Region is six times larger than Napa Valley and one of the oldest wine–growing areas in the world, over 700 years. Unfortunately, after WWII, cheap Chianti wine appeared in sidewalk Italian restaurants in the US. Chianti became college students drug of choice and the squat, straw–covered bottles became candleholders for beatniks and, later, hippies. It was shunned by connoisseurs.
Realizing their quick–buck mistake, the vintners of Chianti trashed the straw bottle much to the chagrin of my fraternity buddies. They cultivated a finer grape (Sangiovese), put its juice in a Bordeaux–shaped bottle, and created a promotion board.
To raise profits the winegrowers set standards:
• Chianti is the everyday drinking wine and lowest in price. Each subzone has its own Chianti, i.e., Senesi from Siena, Fiorentini from Florence, and Pisane from Pisa.
• Chianti Classico is of higher quality, higher alcohol content, and marked with the black rooster.
• Chianti Classico Reserva is a step higher with slightly more alcohol. It must be aged 27 months.
To determine for ourselves whether “Chianti is better than ever,” our guide, Alan Shoemaker, led us to Castello D’Albola, a famous vineyard deep in the heart of Chianti.
The castle (manor) was established in the 15th century by the noble Acciaioli family. Owned today by the Zonin family, the estate has been restored to its medieval condition, and the winery has been modernized.
The manor house, naturally, sits on a Tuscan hill surrounded by rows and rows of vineyards with a few olive groves thrown in for good measure.
As our hostess presented each type of wine, we followed the time–honored method of wine tasting:
• Color (the eye): Is it red, white, or pink (rosé)? What is the rim color when the glass is tilted? (Purple, good; orange, bad) How is the body when it is swirled? If it is thick, it has more alcohol and has “good legs.”
• Smell (the nose): Swirl the wine, and stick your nose in the glass. Take a deep whiff. Hold the aroma and contemplate its effect on your mind, body, and soul. Don’t label, feel it.
• Taste (the mouth): Take a big sip. Let your senses awaken, then slosh the wine around in your mouth. Is it light or rich, smooth or harsh? Swallow. Is the aftertaste short or long, pleasant or unpleasant?
Each taster had his/her own preference. Mine was the Chianti Classico Reserva. It was ruby red tending toward gamecock garnet. The aroma was an elegant blend of violets and cherries. The flavor was harmonious, dry, yet vigorous with a velvety structure. The aftertaste was so pleasantly appealing I had to have more…and more…and…more…
(Next week: Let’s make pasta!)
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