Recent, Reasonably priced favorites

I thought I'd run through a couple of fun wines this week, wines I have enjoyed on a regular basis and are reasonably priced.

Anyone who has read my column for any length of time understands how much I love Chianti. There is something wonderful about Tuscan wines, which seem on many levels if one takes the time to do a little research, to be quite astonishing. First of all, the history of Tuscany is simply overwhelming. We can look at the art and the architecture and marvel at the seemingly endless generations of lasting beauty. We can also look at the lovely gardens and varied agriculture of Tuscany and taste for ourselves where fine Tuscan cuisine comes from and realize that its rich soil has generated from this part of Italy some of the great international dishes. With this varied agriculture comes, arguably, the most recognized red wine in the world; Chianti. Once known for the ubiquitous straw laced bottle, the fiaschi, Chianti began hitting the shores of the United States in enormous numbers just after World War II. First seen in the larger cities, primarily New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco, where Italians and Italian-Americans resided in great numbers, one could buy Chianti at every Italian restaurant around.

It was also true that the little mom and pop stores in the larger cities pioneered Chianti, helping it became the biggest seller of imported red wine in the United States. It was possible in the 1960s to purchase a 750 ml bottle of Chianti for under a dollar! The bad news was that a great majority of these Chianti were very marginal in taste and were not handled with the best of care. Chianti was thought of as a "kick around" red wine of a non serious nature to be quaffed and enjoyed with anything "pasta related." It is not a wonder that Chianti was never seen as a great wine and has suffered accordingly and is still suffering from the glut of cheap wines imported from 1945 to the middle eighties. This is a shame and the Italians have a lot to do with this image. In the 1920s the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) consorzio of Chianti producers began to try to regulate and devise guidelines for Chianti but much of what came into this country was, sadly, dismal. The truth is that in today's market Chianti, when made well, is a charming, complex and elegant wine that sits with the best red wines in the world.

There are three levels of Chianti today. These levels, unlike the cheap rarely regulated Chiantis arriving just after the war, are highly regulated by the Italian government and are looked closely after by producers, importers, retailers and consumers. The first release is "Chianti" which can come from anywhere within the delineated growing area of Chianti which is, roughly, between Siena and Florence. The "Chianti Classico" comes from a more selected area within Chianti and the "Riserva" which must also reach stringent standards and not be released from the winery for a longer period of time. Winemaking has become so wonderfully advanced in Italy and the competition so great that today's Chianti are marvels of taste and complexity; we are seeing lovely wines from all levels of Chianti regardless of which designation they come from.

The 2004 Poggio Vignoso Chianti. This is a superstar Chianti from a venerable estate with five years of age and shows seductive, soft flavors. These vineyards have had grapes on them since the year 1300. The wine is made from older vines and can be regarded as one of the more classic, elegant and complex Chianti around. This wine is simply made for Italian cuisine of just about any kind including pasta, meat sauces, beef or pesto. At just under sixteen bucks a bottle, this wine is a wonderful example of Chianti at its best. This is the pick of the week. Have fun, and see you next week.

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