One good way to learn wine is by tasting wines that clearly exemplify their region, grape variety or style ... wines that could be used to illustrate their definition in an unabridged wine dictionary.
This notion of "benchmark wines" becomes increasingly important in an era when so many producers, for better or worse, chase the market by making wines in an increasingly "international" style, fruit-forward and soft and easy. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but for those of us who admire a wine that proudly expresses its own heritage and sense of place (what the French call gout de terroir or "taste of the soil"), it's useful to take passing notice of the wines that show their regional character, and those that don't.
This week, though, I'm in a Tuscan mood, with my Tuscan Seminar presentation with the Italian Trade Commission in NYC coming up on Thursday, so a modest but representative bottle of Tuscany's trademark wine, Chianti, seemed just the thing for today's report. With more than seven centuries of history behind it, Chianti may be the most classically Italian wine; and in modern times it has fully shed its old wicker-wrapped image as cheap "spaghetti wine." Even the simple Chianti, without any fancy "Classico" or "Riserva" tacked on, remains one of my favorite wines when I'm in the mood for something warm, comfortable and food-friendly.
Today's featured wine, Piazzano 2004 Chianti, is a fine example. I doubt that it would receive, or expect, a 90-plus rating from the usual suspects, but it hits the center of my target as a fresh, crisply acidic and characteristic Chianti.
Piazzano 2004 Chianti ($9.99)
Clear dark ruby in color, with the characteristic reddish-orange glints of a Sangiovese-based wine. Ripe cherries and spice aromas are right on target for Chianti, as are its tart red-fruit flavor and appropriately sharp acidity, shaped by an earthy hint of tannic astringency. Not at all complex, but an enjoyable drink, especially at the dinner table. U.S. importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y., and other regional importers; from Marc de Grazia. (Nov. 30, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: If it's a cliche with pizza or red-sauced Italian dishes, that's because it works so well. It fared just as well with a simple dinner fashioned from leftovers: Shredded chicken sauteed with green peppers, onions, celery and garlic.
VALUE: At $10 a bottle it's a fine buy, not all that much more expensive than I used to pay for those wicker bottles in pizzerias years ago.
WHEN TO DRINK: Basic Chianti isn't really meant for long-term cellaring, but it will certainly hold up for a few years on the wine rack.
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Just in time for holiday gifting, let's take another look at one of my favorite wine-education accessories: Steve and Deborah De Long's Wine Grape Varietal Table. This quality fine-art poster - accompanied with a densely-packed, informative pocket-size book - displays nearly 200 wine-grape varieties, sorted by color, body and acidity, in a tongue-in-cheek format modeled after the classic periodic table of the elements.
Whether you're looking for a grape as common as Pinot Noir or as obscure as Hondarrabi Zuri, you'll find it on the Varietal Table. Each entry is loaded with concise information about the grape, its identifying characteristics, the wines it's used in, and where it's from.
The boxed set is $35 for the deluxe edition with the 88-page index book, $25 for the chart alone. If you buy one (or more) using this link, we'll earn a small commission to help pay the rent at WineLoversPage.com:
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Friday, Dec. 1, 2006