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Chianti Classico worth the wait

By Dave Buchanan
chianti vert.JPG This last month's wintry weather had me searching for something to ward off the chill and perhaps offer a memory of warmer climes. Comfort food leads to comfort wine and there are few wines more comfortable than Chianti. The best Chianti is Chianti Classico, which comes from a specified area in Tuscany and is made primarily from the sangiovese grape. Small percentages of other grapes, including cabernet sauvignon and merlot, also are allowed. However, after its boom in the 1970s Chianti became a sad victim of its own popularity when winemakers responded to the increased demand by pumping out factory lots of poorly made Chianti. Today, inexpensive ($12 and less) Chianti tastes like, well, cheap Chianti. In his book, “Making Sense of Italian Wine, ” (Running Press, 2006, 180 pages hardbound, $24.95) writer Matt Kramer said “Chianti Classico is ‘il vero coure,’ the true heart of Tuscan wine.” Today’s Chianti Classico remains true to its Tuscan roots. John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “When we think about Chianti, we think about red bricks.” I imagine they refer to the laid-back, refined elegance and rustic simplicity of the Tuscan countryside, something appealingly rural yet not Huck Finn. Using those international varietals to soften and fill out the native sangiovese, along with the adoption of new sangiovese clones, has restored Chianti Classico to the sort of wine you love to drink simply because it tastes good. The 2004 vintage is recommended as one of the better recent vintages. It goes well with roasted chicken and root vegetables as well as the as-expected Italian fare. And why the wicker basket in those earlier Chiantis? According to one story, in the early days of glass making bottles, wine bottles in particular, were round, without a flat bottom. The solution was to make a stand for the bottle to sit in, and the next step was wrap the entire bottle in wicker, which also protected the delicate glass from breaking. It must be true. How else was that bottle ever going to stand up with a candle burning in its mouth? *There's no telling what selections of Chianti Classico you'll find in local stores. Look for the 2004 vintage, which is said to be one of the best in recent years. The Black Rooster on the label is the definitive sign of Chianti Classico.