30 Second Wine Advisor: Speaking of Italian classics

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Speaking of Italian classics

By the ancient standards of Tuscany, Ruffino Chianti is a relatively recent arrival, tracing its history "only" to 1870 in a region where many existing producers boast a heritage back to the 1200s.

But that being said, Ruffino's 132-year history spans the entire modern era of this classic Tuscan wine. And it certainly seems old to me, as I've been enjoying Ruffino Chianti since before I was old enough to drink it legally, back when it came in a wicker-wrapped bottle and seemed the perfect answer to the question, "What shall we have with this spaghetti or pizza?"

I had been thinking about Chianti ever since last week's column, "Red wine? Pass the cheese," spoke of alternatives to Chianti with traditional hearty Southern Italian dishes and their robust Italian-American offspring. The other day I spotted a newly arrived bottle of Ruffino's "Aziano" Chianti Classico bottling and realized, "D'oh! I could have had a Chianti."

Chianti's "recipe" has changed a bit in modern times, and currently allows makers to choose a full-varietal Sangiovese or to blend in up to 20 percent of other regional and international varieties including the native Canaiolo, Colorino, Ciliegolo and Malvasia Nero or the international Cabernet or Merlot.

This allows some individual variation, and permits makers to choose either very traditional or very "modern" approaches. Yet I find that Chianti - and particularly Chianti Classico, which is a bit more regulated and limited to grapes from the historic central part of its ancient Tuscan region - boasts a consistent style that goes back at least as far as I can remember and likely a whole lot longer.

Tart, fresh and crisp, aromas often evoking black cherries, natural but never over-the-top fruit and perhaps a whiff of subtle spice, opening up mouth-watering acidity and sometimes soft tannins, even in its cheaper manifestations Chianti generally brings to the table everything it needs to marry well with food. Especially those tomato-based sauces, long-simmered and sweet, with which it makes such a stereotypical match atop red-checked tablecloths, plastic grapevines and candles flickering in old wicker-wrapped jugs.

Or you can serve it with a steak, a burger, pizza or cheese. Good food wines, in their nature, are accommodating and rarely need be limited to a narrow choice of options.

I'm happy to report that Ruffino 2009 "Aziano" Chianti Classico ($15.99) is a fine example. If it's a bit on the simple side - I think it would reward a year or three in the cellar - it's already ready to serve with tomato-sauced dishes, roast chicken or steak. (The winery suggests also penne al ragù, omelet and bacon, mixed grill, Pecorino cheese and more.) You'll find my tasting report below.

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Today's Tasting Report

Ruffino 2009 "Aziano" Chianti Classico ($15.99)

Ruffino Aziano

Clear ruby with reddish-orange glints. Black cherries, a touch of spice and just a hint of dark-roast espresso. Fresh and bright on the palate, tart cherries and palate-cleansing acidity. Alcohol at 13% is in range for table wine. A bit simple - a year or two in the cellar might help with that - but already a fine food wine in the Tuscan style, a natural match with tomato sauces, beef or roast chicken. Ruffino Import Co., Rutherford, Calif. (March 6, 2012)

FOOD MATCH: Testing the assumption that simple Chianti and simple Italian fare work well together, it was fine with a fresh cacciatore dish over conchiglie (mini-shells) pasta. Fine, too, with red meat, burgers or steak, roast chicken or pork.

VALUE: My mid-teens local price was within range in Wine-Searcher.com's list of U.S. prices between $10 to $20, but with many vendors tagging it at $10 to the lower teens, shopping around may pay off.

WHEN TO DRINK: Good now, and as noted, capable of possible evolution toward a bit more complexity with two to five years under good cellar conditions.

WEB LINK: Here's the Ruffino website's English-language page on the Aziano.

Find vendors and compare prices for Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico on Wine-Searcher.com.

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