One of the surest symptoms of encroaching age is that one starts thinking of times a generation past as "just a while ago."
And so it is for me with Italian wine. A lot of wine lovers who have reached drinking age since Y2K weren't even born in the late '70s when this was going on, but it seems like only yesterday ... eh? Where was I? Oh yeah. Back in those not-so-distant years, a roguish band of Tuscan wine makers started defying tradition (and the Italian wine laws) by tinkering with the historic recipe for Chianti, adding such outlandish grapes as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Sangiovese and dropping white grapes out of the blend. Failing permission to use the historic name for these new wines, they defiantly labeled them "vina da tavola" ("table wine"), a generic category intended for inexpensive everyday wines of no particular interest.
These new-age wines quickly gained consumer attention, and demand drove their prices up, soon reaching levels unheard-of for Chianti itself (which at the same time was just emerging from its old reputation as wine best suited for swilling with spaghetti, poured from a wicker-wrapped bottle best suited for recycling as a candlestick).
Wine writers dubbed the new wines "Super-Tuscans" to point up the distinction between them and the cheap vino da tavola; and the rest is, well, history.
More recently, however, the wine-regulatory system has begun catching up with the real world of the marketplace. The Chianti regulations have been revised with added flexibility, converting some of the formerly heretical blends into new traditions as permissible as hamburgers on Friday.
And, in the past decade, a new Italian wine classification called "Indicazione Geografica Tipica" ("I.G.T."), allows wine producers in every Italian state to experiment freely with combinations and blends and label them as typical wines of the region.
In Tuscany, this opens the possibility of inexpensive wines made from Sangiovese, the workhorse red grape of the region, labeled not as "Chianti" but as "Rosso (di) Toscana IGT." These wines are becoming all but ubiquitous, and they often provide good value. Since most of them show up at the other end of the budget scale from Super-Tuscans, I've jokingly dubbed them Sub-Tuscans. Be assured that no insult is intended here: I buy them, and enjoy them, often.
Today's tasting features one such wine, and for the sake of comparison, a Chianti Classico Riserva of the same vintage (aged in wood for a period specified by regulations) at more than twice the price. Although I tasted the wines about two months apart, my tasting notes show surprising similarities, suggesting that despite its purported low status, the IGT is, indeed, "typical of the region."
MORE FROM ITALY: With some 4,000 exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors, a visit to this month's VinItaly wine fair in Verona could be a grueling experience even for the most ardent wine enthusiast. But it provides a look into the Italian wine scene like no other. Correspondent Tom Hyland is back from VinItaly, and offers us a quick report on the highlights in his column, "Guide to Italian Wines." For more, click
Castello di Cacchiano 1998 Rosso Toscana ($8.99)
Clear garnet, with a light scent of spicy cherry compote. Its flavor is ripe and tart, bone-dry but juicy fruit given structure by tangy lemon-squirt acidity. Clean and fresh in a medium finish, with softly astringent tannins showing up as the flavors linger. U.S. importer: Vin DiVino Inc., Chicago. (April 22, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: A natural match with a guinea hen (faraona) roasted Tuscan-style with pancetta, garlic, rosemary and sage.
VALUE: Good buy for well under $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Best drunk soon, although soft tannins and acid balance suggest that a year or two on the wine rack won't do it any harm.
WEB LINK: The importer's site contains no information about this specific wine, but offers a list of distributors by state in the U.S.:
Castello d'Albola 1998 Chianti Classico Riserva ($19.99)
Very dark ruby, with a reddish glint. Spice and black plum aromas add a distinct note of dark chocolate with airing. Tart black-fruit and spicy oak flavors give way to warm tannins and lemon-squirt acidity in the finish. U.S. importer: Wine Wave Inc., Jericho, N.Y. (Feb. 16, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: You can thank that lingering, almost sour tartness for Chianti's particularly affectionate marriage with tomato-sauced Italian dishes. It was a fine match with rigatoni and sausage in a spicy, fennel-laced tomato sauce.
VALUE: The $20 neighborhood is becoming standard for Riserva Chiantis, but at that point it's starting to push the limits of my tolerance.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drinkable now but will reward a few years' cellar time.
The Castello d'Albola Website is available in Italian and English. Here's the English version:
Penfolds Brings Red Wine Recorking Clinics to the United States
Penfolds, Australia's most famous wine, brings the ultimate in after-sales service to the United States with its Penfolds Red Wine Recorking Clinics. In October 2003, Penfolds will hold two Red Wine Recorking Clinics – in New York City on Oct. 24 and Chicago on Oct. 28. Penfolds has been conducting these clinics in Australia and the U.K. since 1991. In the last 12 years, Penfolds has opened more than 50,000 bottles of wine for over 7,500 consumers and trade. The clinics are popular with personal collectors and those that trade on the secondary market.
At the clinics, Penfolds winemakers will open and test any bottle of Penfolds red wine 15 years or older. After tasting, the Penfolds winemaking team will top, recork, re-capsule and certify that the wine is good, if the condition is found to be sound. Penfolds provides this service at no cost to the customer. To register for the clinic email email@example.com or call 1-800-255-9966. To find out more about the clinics visit
Australia's most famous wine, Penfolds Grange, today holds iconic status around the world, and has been described by esteemed wine writer, Robert Parker, as a leading candidate for the richest, most concentrated, dry red table wine on planet earth. To stay in the know about events like the recorking clinics, sign up for the Penfolds quarterly newsletter – Work in Progress. This educational publication is full of tasting notes on new releases, including the much-anticipated 1998 Grange, information on the winery's history and heritage and events in your area where Penfolds is participating. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-255-9966.Administrivia
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Wednesday, April 23, 2003