The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Inside IWM, December 7-10, 2015: Feel the Love

A look back at the week that was

Antonio Ferrari Solaria Jonica 1959It’s a week filled with love. We ended with John Camacho Vidal on learning to love old wines, and we began with a guide on giving wines from the heart. In between, we really, really enjoyed a delicious under $20 Chianti Classico, and Emery Long poured out his delight in dessert wines–and showed how to give them as gifts.

Our experts were similarly motivated by their feelings. Garrett Kowalsky can’t contain his passion for Champagne, picking  a pair from Roger Coulon and Krug. Nebbiolo is Michael Adler’s grape of choice, but the two tasty Nebbiolo wines he chose could not be more different. Crystal Edgar shares this love for Nebbiolo, but she went for a pair of cru Barolo from Rocche dei Manzoni.

As you hit the holiday season in full stride, we hope your heart–and your glass–brims with good things.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: La Maialina 2010 Chianti Classico

A cheery, complex, and classic under $19 Chianti Classico

RD8749-2We all have that favorite little wine that drinks nicely and sates the wine craving any night of the week. It’s always disappointing when you finish a bottle, go to restock, and find the wine is sold out. Now you will have you to wait for the next vintage to be released.

One of those go-to wines in my house is La Maialina Chianti Classico. La Maialina is all about Tuscan history, culture and cuisine. Wine has been made in Chianti since the thirteenth century, and the Chianti Classico region was settled by Etruscans, followed by the Romans, and the area has been prized since antiquity for its rich soil and favorable growing conditions for the cultivation of grapes and olives. The name La Maialina translates to little pig, and it’s a reference to a breed of pig, the Cinta Senese, that originated in the Siena area during the 1300’s; it’s the only Tuscan native pig to survive extinction.

Recently, I got very excited when I saw that more of La Maialina Chianti Classico had arrived in the showroom. La Maialina 2010 Chianti Classico shocks with its complexity, finesse and structure. The nose is full of ripe cherry, violets and a slight hint of eucalyptus followed by hints of smoke and earth. The palate is full with well-blended acidity and tannins, and the finish lingers nicely with lots of tart fruit. This is very classically styled Chianti that offers great quality for its $19 price tag; it’s a perfect wine for everyday drinking. Giving the price point and quality of this Chianti Classico, I plan on always being stocked.

Inside IWM, November 9-12, 2015: Surprising Wine Edition!

A look back at the week that was

All roads lead to Chianti

All roads lead to Chianti

We kicked off the week with a history lesson in Italian wine, most specifically how we got Chianti Classico (and it wasn’t a simple journey). Then Stephane Menard poured out a terrific under $25 Chianti Classico with a delicious ragù Toscano, recipe included! Finally, John Camacho Vidal wrote about his melting pot Thanksgiving and suggested three palate-pleasing wines that are versatile enough to accompany a wide array of foods.

Our experts split along French and Italian lines this week. On the French side of the divide are Crystal, who picked a pair of Pousse d’Or Volnays, and Garrett, who opted for two Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet bottles. On the Italian side, both Francesco and Michael chose a red bottle and a rosato bottle. Francesco’s are from Il Conventino and Cupano, while Michael’s are from Biondi-Santi and Le Macchiole; all are surprising!

Here’s to being always surprised by wine, its history, its differences, its range, and our love for it!

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Castello di Selvole 2012 Chianti Classico  

A tasty under $25 Sangiovese Chianti Classico that’s anything but ordinary!

RD9047-2When you think about Tuscany, you probably think of Chianti, one of the most famous wines in the world. The beautiful Castello di Selvole Chianti Classico 2012 is not your ordinary Chianti. A historic producer whose roots stretch back to 1070, Castello di Selvole embodies the role that Chianti Classico has had in shaping Tuscan identity. This Chianti Classico, which is among my personal favorites, is crafted in a mix of traditional and international protocol; this wine ages in barrique before bottling, where it rests for three months before release. It’s a delicious, evocative Chianti Classico that makes food sing.

As fall is unfolding with its beautiful light and colors, I wanted to make a comforting dish that would be ideal for the crisp weather. The ragù Toscano that I chose to cook is actually the first Italian recipe I learned how to prepare. When I first moved to Italy, one of my good friends named Giovanni was an apprentice chef and shared with me this recipe he originally got from his Tuscan grandmother.

I highly recommend opening the beautiful Castello di Selvole Chianti Classico a couple hours before tasting. The high acidity of the Sangiovese grape is perfect for the tomato-based ragù, and it pairs perfectly. This ’12 Chianti Classico has great balance, and after aerating for a couple of hours, it shows beautifully. Open a couple of bottles of this $25 Chianti Classico, invite a bunch of your friends, and celebrate the fall with my friend Giovanni’s recipe for ragù Toscano.

Ingredients for fettuccine al ragù for 8-10 people:

Extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half

2 carrots, finely diced

4 celery sticks, finely diced

One bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley

Three sprigs of thyme

One sprig of rosemary

A few fresh basil leaves

2 bay leaves

2 bottles of Castello selvole Chianti Classico

3 Pounds of ground meat (ideally 50% beef and 50% veal)

2 classic Italian sausages.

Canned peeled San Marzano DOP tomatoes (approximately 70 oz)

3 teaspoons of tomato concentrate

Salt and pepper to taste

soffrittoFinely dice the onion, carrots, and celery and mix them together.

In a very large pot gently heat some extra virgin olive oil and add the vegetables, let cook this soffritto for 5 min at medium heat or until the vegetables have softened.

ragu meatIn the meantime, open up the sausages and mix together with the ground meat in a very large bowl.

Add some olive oil, salt, pepper, minced parsley, thyme and rosemary to the meat. Mix well.

ragu meat cookingAdd the meat and the garlic cloves to the vegetables in the pot; increase the heat to HIGH and stir well. Once the water released by the meat evaporates, add ¾ of bottle of Chianti Classico. Keep the heat on HIGH to let the alcohol evaporate for approximately 7 minutes.

tomato cookingOnce the alcohol has evaporated, add the peeled tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of tomato concentrate and a cup of water. Adjust the salt level. Mix well and bring to a boil.

ragu near finishedLower the heat to LOW and cover. Let cook for 3 hours.

You can stir gently every 45 minutes. For the last 45 minutes of cooking, you can take the lid off and let your ragù evaporate a little bit to reach desired consistency.

Toss the pasta in a 5-quart pot filled with salted water. Once the pasta is cooked, put it in a large plate, cover with the ragu sauce and add some leaves of fresh basil. You can use long pasta like pappardelle, tagliatelle, spaghetti, or you can use short pasta like paccheri, or rigatoni.

Tm6aWg0MS1vV5TNA2ZWPlEKRr26KMmBMNC-zKftjoLGKMGUlh5Purs3VC1HOE21H-tbtSg=s2048Then settle back and enjoy the warmth of friendship, home cooking, and Chianti Classico!

How We Got Chianti Classico

Why Chianti Classico embodies the whole history of Italian wine

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All roads lead to Chianti

As much as Chianti Classico is the embodiment of Toscana, it is also a quintessential illustration of how deeply problematic DOC laws can be. The history of Chianti Classico–both its geographical location and its wines–is more or less the story of a restless conflict between the wine producer and the governing body, and how, in the end, though the latter may try to shape the former, the wine producer wins.

In some ways, it all begins and ends in the eighteenth century. In 1716, the Grand Duchy of Toscana Cosimo III de’Medici wrote the first set of laws regulating the cultivation of grapes and vinification of Tuscan wine and designated the hilly region nestled between Siena and Firenze as Chianti. This geographical designation stayed in place until the 1932 Dalmasso Commission (a DOC precursor) expanded the region and added additional sub-zones to the Chianti name; these included San Casciano Val di Pesa to the west, as well as Chiocchio, Strada (in Chianti), and San Polo to the north. This enlarged area became the geographical basis for the 1967 DOC designation, during which time there was no DOC distinction between Chianti and Chianti Classico. It was all just Chianti.

What this rezoning meant was that Chianti Classico, other than gaining in size and going from a relatively tidy zone to a bloated region, also saw its wine tradition become suddenly more diffuse. This diffusion, however, wasn’t exactly anything new. Historically, Chianti had been made of Canaiolo, Sangiovese, and Mammolo and Marzemino. But Chianti also was as much a region as a style of wine, for historical slang called any vermillion or Florentine wine “Chianti.” In an attempt to codify his region’s most famous wine, nineteenth- century nobleman, Baron Bettini Ricasoli advised that the Chianti formula be crafted using Sangiovese for its basis, along with added parts of Canaiolo and white grapes, and in fact he mandated that the region’s vineyards grow specific percentages of these grapes.

Panzano's Fontodi gives a view of the Conca d'Oro

Panzano’s Fontodi gives a view of the Conca d’Oro

Taking the Baron’s somewhat apocryphal recipe as a form of gospel, the DOC officially made it the formula for Chianti in 1967, requiring Chianti to use Sangiovese (from 75-100%), with ample doses of Canaiolo (max. of 10%), and up to 30% of white grapes (Trebbiano Toscano and/or Malvasia Bianca). While the Baron created his Chianti mandates with the best of intentions, he ended up paving the road to bad wine, for those good intentions essentially gave a blank check to the impoverished producers of 1960’s and 70’s Italy to make wine for sheer quantity, not quality.  The cheap, pizza-place, fish-shaped, straw-covered fiasco Chianti was born.

But if it’s true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then it’s equally true that necessity is the mother of invention, and so in 1924 some producers in what had been the original 1716 Chianti region–and what would later become Chianti Classico–staged a revolt. These producers did two things: they banded together to create the Gallo Negro, or Black Rooster, a consortium of like-minded producers, and they made great wine that staunchly refused to fit the DOC paradigm.  Producers like Antinori, Fontodi and Tenuta San Guido rebelled by making wines that were 100% Sangiovese, or Sangiovese mixed with international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, and thereby they gave birth to the so-called Super-Tuscan movement. Sitting outside the DOC paradigm, these wines were called vin da tavola and designated IGT–or table wine–the lowest classification. It didn’t matter. People bought them. And soon the DOC realized they had to change.

In 1984, two DOCG designations, Chianti Classico and Chianti, were created that forever split the region. Chianti Classico’s geographical area essentially replicated the original 1716 Chianti designation. In addition to a smaller, neater region of 17,000 acres, DOCG regulations for Chianti Classico limited the grape production, so while those same 17,000 acres produced 8.5 million gallons of wine in the late 1980s, by 2004, production dropped to about 6.5 million gallons.  In fact, the 1984 DOCG Chianti Classico laws support the Black Rooster’s aim of making Chianti great: in addition to maximum production amounts, DOCG laws set minimum extract amounts (extracts are the solids in wine that provide flavor), longer aging requirements and more flexible varietal requirements.

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Castello dei Rampolla unfolds in biodynamic rows

The Chianti Classico DOCG laws that followed in 1984 decreased the allowable usage of white grape varietals to a maximum of 6%. Conversely, the laws allowed international varietals—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah in a maximum of 10%. Producers responded by making improvements in the cellar like installing temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, replacing older botti with smaller barriques, and implementing longer maceration periods. The end result was Chianti that tasted like Toscana: bold, powerful, earthy, and redolent of fruit and violets.

In 1996, Chianti Classico DOCG once more revised the initial laws established in 1984 to include a maximum of 15% international varietals—making the white grape blessedly optional. In 2006, an additional provision was mandated; starting with the 2006 vintage, wines labeled Chianti Classico DOCG must be comprised of 80-100% Sangiovese and 20% other permitted red grape varietals. Other than geography, this elimination of the white grape requirement delineates the main difference between Chianti Classico DOCG and Chianti DOCG. (Chianti DOCG retains the 1984 laws, which allow for a higher percentage of white grapes and a lower percentage of international varietals.)

For a list of IWM’s fine Chiantis, go here. There are some beautiful Sangiovese wines from them there Tuscan hills. And don’t miss the 2010 La Maialina Chianti Classico featured in today’s eLetter. It’s under $19!

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