Cooking a great dinner on a weeknight is easy: all you need is time to plan, time to shop, and time to prepare a delectable dish. Right? I’m laughing to myself as I type this because, yes, it does sound easy; reality, however, usually looks a little different, at least in my house. Sometimes I’ve got a fridge full of beautiful ingredients just waiting for my direction, ready to pull themselves into a home-run meal. Lots of other days, though, it’s a toss-up, with a rather unsavory combination of leftovers daring me to put them together. (And my none-too-picky husband raising an eyebrow at the potential concoction.)
But there are solutions to these problems. And the first one is wine! I always have a bottle or two of a reliable, food-friendly red wine on hand; something that will be a real treat for us, enhancing our dinner and pampering us at the same time. There are several wines I consider regular go-to options, but nothing fills the bill better than a Sangiovese-based wine from Chianti or Chianti Classico.
The Italian Food Wine & Travel group (#ItalianFWT) has spent the past two months exploring the wonders of Chianti, sampling wines from different sub-regions and producers. One thing we all wholeheartedly agree upon: while these wines come in a range of styles, they are almost always approachable in their youth, easily paired with a wide range of food, and relatively affordable. The best part? They are widely available at wine shops, restaurants, and markets.
We will be chatting about all things Chianti this Saturday, November 4th at 11 am ET. If you’d like to weigh in on your favorite wines or simply want to listen in, join us on Twitter at the appointed time, using #ItalianFWT and making sure to add it to all of your tweets. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for links to articles written by each of our members. There’s bound to be something that entices you to dig into Chianti a little more!
What’s So Special About Chianti? Sangiovese, Baby!
Sangiovese, in its many guises, is the backbone of red wine production in Tuscany, particularly in Chianti and Chianti Classico. Depending on vineyard site, it can give rise to light, fruity, early-drinking wines or full-bodied versions intended for further aging. In cooler sites, the best vineyard spots will occupy the mid-slopes, facing south or southwest to take full advantage of the sun’s warmth. For early-ripening grapes like Sangiovese, additional protections such as forests help guard against frost and the chilly north wind known as the Tramontana.
All wines from Sangiovese share some characteristics, including flavors of sour cherry and other red fruit, herbs, and earth. As they age, more complex aromas and flavors emerge, notably tobacco and leather. But perhaps the most important elements are acidity and tannin: both help determine a wine’s structure and ability to age. Acidity makes a wine taste fresh, enhancing almost any food served alongside it. Classic pairings come to mind – tomato sauce and Chianti work together because both are acidic and neither overshadows the other. In my opinion, Chianti and Chianti Classico are wines that deserve a permanent place on every wine rack.
Pizza Night and Chianti Classico – Perfect When the Fridge Is Empty
My husband and I don’t eat pizza often but, when we are caught empty-handed at the end of a busy day, we’ll make an exception – especially if we’re in New York City. And we always order the same pie: a large Newman with red onion from Two Boots Pizza. It’s a scrumptious white pizza topped with sopressata and sweet Italian sausage, plus our onion addition. As with all their pies, this one is named after a film or TV character – in this case the diabolical mailman from Seinfeld. According to their website, it is one of the three most-requested pizzas, along with the Larry Tate (Bewitched) and Mr. Pink (Reservoir Dogs.)
When the pizza arrives, I crisp it up in the oven and serve. But before the delivery guy has even picked up our order, I’ve cracked open a bottle of Poggio Al Sole Chianti Classico and said goodbye to my stressful day.
2013 Poggio Al Sole Chianti Classico DOCG (13.8% abv; about $25 retail)
Purchased in 1990 by the Davaz family of Bundner Herrschaft in Switzerland, Poggio Al Sole once belonged to the nearby abbey of Badia a Passignano, located between the communes of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Greve. It is esteemed for its soils of schistose and clay, which contribute earthy, mineral notes to wines made here.
Hailing from some of the highest vineyards in Chianti Classico, this 100% Sangiovese has a pedigree that goes back to the 12th century when olives and grapes were first grown in the area. The wine was fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and matured in used oak barriques for 14 months.
Color: Medium garnet, noticeably paler at the rim.
Nose: Red and black cherry, plum, and thyme top notes, followed by earth and hay.
Palate: Sour cherry, plum, and red berry; then wet rocks, forest floor, and tea. Acidity is high; tannins medium+; alcohol medium+.
Verdict: an elegant wine that gussied-up our delivery pizza to Spago status. It would be quite comfortable in much fancier company (think prime steak or osso buco.) It is a wine of structure and balance, one that could age for a while before it gives up all its secrets.
Herb-Roasted Veal Chops and Chianti Riserva – Treat Yourself!
Sometimes the work day flies by in what seems like a minute, leaving you wondering what hit you. And sometimes that’s okay because, when you open the fridge you realize there’s actually food in there. Good food! This happened to us last week when I discovered, much to my surprise, two veal chops in the meat drawer. And there was a package of fresh arugula. I felt like I had won the lottery! I salvaged the few fresh leaves of rosemary and oregano that were languishing on the top shelf, chopped a garlic clove or two, and dinner was a few minutes away.
My next task was to pick a wine to accompany the chops. I knew I had a hodge-podge of sample bottles in the wine cooler, along with a few bottles I’d bought. As soon as I opened the door, I knew we were in for a real treat: I Tre Borri Chianti Riserva from Corzano e Paterno.
2014 Corzano e Paterno I Tre Borri Chianti Riserva DOCG (14% abv; about $45 retail)
Swiss architect Wendel Gelpke bought two storied estates in the San Casciano subzone of Chianti, promising the owners of each that he would keep the parcels intact, protecting them from residential development or subdivision. To this day the 140-hectare property remains much as it did in the 1970s, producing olive oil and sheep’s milk cheese in addition to wine. The family also runs an enotourism business that makes use of the restored farmhouses and cottages on the estate.
The grapes for I Tre Borri come from vines planted in 1973 – vines yielding so few grapes that only about 5,000 bottles are produced each year. I Tre Borri is 100% Sangiovese and undergoes malolactic fermentation in barrique, then ages in barrel for 21 months before bottling. An additional 3 months of aging occur in bottle.
Color: Medium garnet with flecks of gold throughout. It looks alive!
Nose: Black cherry, sage, vanilla, and caramel waft from the glass.
Palate: Cherry, cranberry, and herbal notes, with medium tannins that gently scratch the back of your throat. There’s lively acidity to balance the fruit and oak flavors, and the finish is long.
Verdict: Definitely a splurge for a weeknight dinner, but what a treat after a long day. It made a wonderful pairing with the herb-roasted veal chops, giving my husband and me the luxurious feeling of enjoying a fancy restaurant meal while lounging in our sweats. I can imagine pairing this wine with roast pork with rosemary or even a grilled steak.
Italian Food Wine & Travel Meets the First Saturday of Each Month – Join Us!
As promised, here are links to articles penned by the rest of the Italian Food Wine & Travel group. I’ve had a sneak-peek at a few of them and I can’t wait to read further. There are some really tempting recipes, as well as a few comparative tastings. Check them out:
Gwendolyn from Wine Predator will tempt us with Four Chiantis and a Vermentino Paired with Puttanesca (#ItalianFWT).
Jennifer from Vino Travels will be Venturing through Chianti with the Sangervasio Winery.
Katarina from Grapevine Adventures brings us 2 Chianti Classico Wineries, 2 Different Sub-Zones at #ItalianFWT.
Tracy from The Traveling Somm shares her experience of Living the Dream in a Relais and Chateau in Tuscany.
Next month we explore Wines for the Christmas Feast, with our host Susannah Gold of Avvinare. I hope you’ll come back for a first taste of the holiday season!