Photo credit: B*2's flickr
When most of us think of Chianti, we conjur up images of a straw covered bottle (called a "fiasco" in Italy) on a red checkered table cloth. However, Chianti is a region in Tuscany that makes wines primarily from the sangiovese grape varietal. Like many old world regions there are several laws that govern the production and therefore labeling of Chianti.
Typically you'll see Chiantis labeled as Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva. By law, Chianti Classico must be made up of 75% to 100% sangiovese, up to 10% canaiolo, up to 15% other red grapes including cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and up to 6% white grapes. Chianti Classico Riserva abides by the same laws, except white grapes are not allowed. However, Chianti Classico Riserva has additional requirements, namely oak aging. By law they must be aged in the barrel for at least 2 years and in the bottle for three months. Riservas are not typically made every year, rather winemakers make them only during the best vintages and from the best vineyard sites. Hence, you should expect them to cost more and they typcially do.
Flavor wise, you'll see that Chianti Classicos are dominant in red fruit like cherry and plum and have fairly high acidity. Riservas benefit from that aging in oak and take on much more complexity including cedar, vanilla, smoke, spice, fig and chocolate.
We opened a 2005 Davinci Chianti Classico Riserva the other night. We were having pasta with broccoli rabe, italian sausage and onion and we thought an Italian wine would be a perfect match for this classic Italian pasta dish. This is a wine that doesn't disappoint. True to expectations, it has a great deal of complexity and quite a bit of acidity, making it a good wine for food.
This deep ruby red wine has aromas of cherry, cranberry, and cedar. Like most old world wines, it is earth driven and you can smell the dusty, earthiness plus a good deal of smoke and cured ham, almost like proscuitto. On the palate you can still detect all that red fruit and earth plus a good dose of wood from the aging. It has moderate levels of alcohol and has a fair bit of tannin. Even though it was good, it could be even better with a couple of more years in the bottle to smooth out the tannins.
It was a far cry from the straw covered bottle. Give it a try sometime if you get bored with cabernet sauvignon.