Steak or pasta with Tuscan reds?
You're looking forward to a good Chianti or even a fine Brunello with dinner. What will you serve to show off this amiable red wine at its best?
This is not as simple a question as it seems. In discussing these favorite Tuscan reds in our Wine Focus on Sangiovese and Tuscan reds this month, it became clear that many of us see a plain-vs-fancy distinction between "upscale" Brunello (and upscale Super Tuscans and trophy-level Chiantis) over "everyday" Chiantis and low-end Toscano Sangioveses.
Cheap Chianti? Pasta with red sauce calls its name. So does pizza. And there's a reason for that, as forum member Joy, a sommelier in the Midwest, pointed out: "The acidity in Sangiovese makes it a nice companion to tomato-based sauces or stews. ... I love Sangiovese with pizza."
I agreed, but fell back on the conventional wisdom: "The usual companion to Brunello or other high-quality Sangiovese is beef. A good rare steak or roast beast. It's a match made in heaven. If you or a guest prefer to avoid red meat, grilled chicken will work. If you want to keep it plant-based, something cheesy." Or, for vegans, maybe something showing off deeply browned onions and red lentils.
"With a basic Chianti - which I love - I couldn't agree more. When I've got a Brunello on the table, though, I tend to move toward more upscale dinner choices, even though spaghetti with 'gravy' or a sausage pizza would certainly work."
Our colleague David brought us back down to earth: "I have never understood the need for 'elevated' food with a great bottle of wine. If the match works have at it!"
And that's the truth. Just to prove it, I opened a nice, if not high-end, Toscana, the La Spinetta 2009 "Nero di Casanova" Toscana Sangiovese from Giorgio Rivetti, a classy blend of 95% Sangiovese with 5% Colorino. And I served it with an iconic family-style Italian dish, spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce ("gravy") and fennel-scented Italian sausage. No steak needed: As I knew it would be, it was an outstanding match.
Our Wine Focus discussion for January is World Sangiovese, Tuscan reds. We're tasting and talking about Sangiovese from anywhere in the world this month, and also zeroing in on all the reds of Tuscany, whether they're Sangiovese-based, full Sangiovese or non-traditional Super Tuscans and Baby Tuscans.
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Today's Tasting Report
La Spinetta 2009 "Nero di Casanova" Toscana Sangiovese ($19.99)
Made by the respected Italian wine maker Giorgio Rivetti, this blend of 95% Sangiovese with 5% Colorino, a regional grape.It's blackish-purple in color, as the name "Nero" suggests, fading to garnet at the edge. Good Tuscan scent, black cherries and dried fruit, adds more than a whiff of warm spice. Flavors follow the nose, a big mouth full of black fruit shaped by firm, structural acidity and appropriate 13.5% alcohol. There's a touch of tannin, but it's resolving, not rough or harsh. Good food wine, well balanced and still showing good fruit. U.S. importer: Indigenous Selections LLC, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Jan. 8, 2015)
FOOD MATCH: We resolved the red-meat or red sauce question in favor of pasta: Spaghetti with Italian-style sausage and garlicky tomato sauce; thin shavings from a block of Parmigiana-Reggiano made a delightful pairing for the second glass.
WHEN TO DRINK: You can certainly drink it now, but my impression is that a few more years in a good cellar would do it no harm. More recent vintages have already reached the market, and they should probably be held for a while.
VALUE: I got a good buy on this older bottle at $15, but I'd be delighted to pay an upper-teens price for a recent vintage. $18 U.S. average reported on Wine-Searcher.com. Reported prices cover a surprising range from $15 to $24, so buyer, beware.
Click for the winery's good, English-language account of its Casanova property in Tuscany. The importer's fact sheet on La Spinetta will be found here.
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Find vendors and check prices for La Spinetta 2009 "Nero di Casanova" on Wine-Searcher.com. For U.S. wine lovers, here's a clickable map of distributors by state.
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