Ask the man on the street to name an Italian wine and, if able to do so, “Chianti” will likely be the answer. There are reasons for this, though not necessarily good ones.
There are the ubiquitous straw-encased Chianti bottles with candle wax dripping down their sides that were once de rigueur for those restaurants purporting to serve Italian food.
Then there is the infamous line from the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” spoken by the villain, Hannibal Lecter, who says, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
But what is Chianti and what makes it nice?
First and foremost, Chianti is the name of a geographic region located between Florence and Siena in the Italian region of Tuscany. “Chianti” is also an all-encompassing word for wines of varying quality from this region.
Chianti the wine is made predominantly from the Italian varietal sangiovese, the major red grape of Tuscany. Small amounts of white and other red varietals are also allowed in the blend.
There are varying Italian government classifications meant somewhat to indicate quality. These classifications are not necessarily quality-related, but merely a recognition that a wine comes from a region recognized for quality.
On a ladder, Vini da Tavola, simple table wines, are the bottom rung. IGT, Indicazione Geografica Typica, are the next level up, followed by DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, with DOCG, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, at the top. Confused yet?
Information about Italian wine classifications was shared in my last column, where I wrote about the superior wines provided by Lars Leicht, director of trade development for Banfi wines, at a tasting a few weeks back at Tyson’s Fine Wine and Things in Anniston.
Not included in the previous review were three wines from Chianti. You won’t find these wines in straw-covered bottles, but you will find these wines with depictions of stunning Renaissance art on their labels.
In addition to the government classifications of Italian wines, there is an additional layer of classification specifically for wines from Chianti. These wines are labeled “superiore,” “classico” or “classico riserva.”
When a lesson in Italian art history and an outstanding red wine from Italy is required, try one of the following Chianti wines by Banfi, all to be available soon at Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things:
Banfi Chianti DOCG Superiore 2016. $10.50. The label features a famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting known as “Lady with an Ermine.” While there are several hundred Italian wine regions given the designation of DOC, likely fewer than 100 can claim DOCG designation. The “Garantita” in this top classification does not guarantee quality. DOCG refers to an entire region in which greater and lesser wines are made. “Superiore” on the label is not an indication of quality either. It simply means fruit is sourced for this wine from any DOCG designated area in the region of Chianti.
Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG 2015. $13.50. Art for this label is taken from a fresco circa 1492 in the Cathedral of Siena, created by Sienese artist Pinturicchio and a team of assistants including Raphael.
“Classico” is more site-specific than “Superiore.” Fruit for Classico comes from a very small region in the middle of Chianti, recognized as the original and historic growing region.
Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2014. $17.50. This label features an equestrian portrait of Charles V by Renaissance artist Titian. Here, the addition of “Riserva” indicates this wine has been aged for at least 24 months before release.
I found all these wines pleasant, but expect subtlety. These are not California cabernet fruit-bombs but dry wines with little residual sugar noted and generally lower in alcohol, averaging 12.5 percent by volume.
Expect floral notes on the nose and a taste profile of red cherries and tart plums laced with lively acidity. I favored the Riserva because its extended aging rounds out the tannins, giving it a more pleasant mouthfeel
These are versatile wines that should pair well with an array of foods.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at email@example.com.