Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chiant vs. Chianti Classico

If you've never tasted a Chianti and a Chianti Classico side by side, you might wonder what the difference is--besides the price.

Chianti and Chianti Classico are both Tuscan wines, produced under strict regulations that limit what grapes go into the wines (mostly Sangiovese) and where the grapes are grown. There are actually eight Chianti wines, each coming from a different region of Tuscany. They are: Chianti Classico; Chianti Montalba; Chianti Colli Fiorentini; Chianti Montespertoli; Chianti Rufina; Chianti Colli Senesi; Chianti Colline Pisane; Chianti Colli Aretini; and just Chianti, which covers vineyards in areas outside these more specific places. Many of these regions produce small amounts of wine, and they are not common in the US market.

We are awash, however, in Chianti and Chianti Classico. New vintages of Chianti come into the market after March 1 of the year following the harvest. Chianti Classico arrives later, after October 1.

What most of us care about, however, is how do the wines taste? Here are my impressions of two wines--one Chianti, and one Chianti Classico--from the same maker. One is available for around $10, the other fpr $15-$20. Both wines represent very good QPR--but they taste very, very different, and would suit different kinds of food.

The 2006 Tiziano Chianti (available for $8-$11), for example, stuck in my mind as the Italian equivalent of a Gamay from the Beaujolais. There were fresh sour cherry aromas and flavors. It wasn't a particularly complex wine, but it would be great with pizza and pasta with red sauce, served slightly colder than you would most red wines. And it cost about the same as an ordinary Beaujolais, which means it's an affordable everyday red.

The 2004 Tiziano Chianti Classico Gold (available for $15-$20), on the other hand, was much more complex. I detected richer cherry, violet and leather aromas and flavors. This wine was smooth and velvety on the tongue, and the 12 months it spent in French oak barriques produced a wine that was heavier in the mouth and tasted more robust than the Chianti. For food pairings with the Chianti Classico I'd think more of grilled beef, or something like the excellent baked pasta dish with a pork sugo that we had with these wines. (Tip: this is one of those dishes designed for hassle free entertaining on a day you have some time to be at home and let the sauce simmer on the stove. Assembly is quick, and then you pop the casserole in the oven 45 minutes before you want to eat--during which time you can sit down and enjoy the evening with your guests.)

I confess that I've been a bit snobbish in the past when it comes to Chianti, and since Chianti Classico or Chianti Classico Riserva bottlings can often come in at over $20 I've not been drinking much Chianti lately. This side-by-side tasting changed all that. Not only were both these wines affordable, they provided two different flavor profiles. It wasn't a case of one wine being "better" than the other--they were just different. And deliciously so.


Joe said...

I love these comparisons of same winemaker, same grape, different vineyards. But could the difference in flavour profile be a product of vintage variation (seems like both '04 and '06 were both good vintages) and bottle age?

Robert M. Oliva, ND, LMSW, MA said...

Just found your site. Very nice and very helpful. The Chianti question has actually perplexed me somewhat. I do agree with your assessment of the differences. I have found Chianti fine with a nice pasta dinner while Chianti Classico with it's greater complexity has a wider application.
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