Chianti is Calling

sangiovese1I love Chianti. I love everything about it. The region. The grapes. The aromas. And oh yes, the flavours. The incredible flavours. The reflection of the ruby red colour is truly a thing of beauty.

Chianti is the heart of Tuscany and Sangiovese, its star grape, is the soul. Eight million cases of Chianti  are produced each year.  The characteristic aromas of cherry, raspberry, plum, leather and tobacco can be heavenly.

I must admit, if I were forced to have but one grape varietal in my wine rack, it would be Sangiovese (but I would still cry over the others).

Some recent favourites:

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009
Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

I am starting out with the splurge this time because this time was so good, so smooth, so utterly perfect – I could have closed my eyes and been in Italy. It was the first bottle I opened after I returned home from Maine, and it made me miss the beach a little less. This is wine-making at its best. 100% Sangiovese grapes and scored an impressive 92 by Mr. Robert Parker’s peeps. $35.00 SAQ



Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010

Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010
Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010

The medium-bodied fruity wine also got a great nod from those with more refined palates than mine. I loved it. The cherry notes have a fruity finish. It is perfect Friday night wine to start your weekend. In fact, I plan to pick up another bottle this weekend. $24.95 LCBO




tenuta di treccianoTenuta de Trecciano Colli Senesi 2011

A respectable Chianti at the right price. It is a medium-bodied fruity wine for everyday sipping. Grown in the hills around Siena, you will recognize raspberry and currants. A nice easy drinking wine. $15.95 LCBO

Favourite Chiantis

If you have ever wondered what the difference is between a Chianti, Chianti Classico, or a Chianti Classico Riserva, here you go:

Chianti  – a minimum 75% Sangiovese grape and 25%  blend of other grapes that can come from anywhere in the Chianti region.

Chianti Classico – the largest of the seven sub-regions of Chianti. The percentage of Sangiovese jumps to at least 80%.. The minimum alcohol level is 12% with at least 7 months aging in oak.

Chianti Classico Riserva – same grape requirement as the Classico, but a Riserva must be at least 12.5% alcohol and aged 27 months.

Chianti Superiore DOCG – is produced with stricter guidelines than most Chiantis. The grapes can come from anywhere in the region except the Chianti Classico sub-zone and must be aged for a minimum of 9 months.

And then there is the..

The highly lauded and appreciated Brunello di Montacino, this King of Sangiovese could  technically bear the Chianti name as it is produced from a clone called Sangiovese Grosso. But it chose to Go Your Own Way, just  like the Fleetwood Mac song says..

And of course the wine often referred to as Baby Brunello, the Vino Nobile de Montepulciano of the Prungolo Gentile grape. Smooth, powerful and more affordable – it is one of my favourites.

Let us know if you have a Chianti favourite. I could spend years testing and tasting and never get tired of the adventure.

Discovering Gaja

Piedmonte’s Langhe Region

Discovering Gaja

Just when you thought all roads to Italy’s greatest wines end in Tuscany, welcome to Piedmonte’s  Langhe region.  This is home to two of the country’s greatest wines and some of its  greatest producers. Where the B’s that get  straight A’s are Barolo and Barbaresco.  My initiation to the Shangri-La of wine was no less breath-taking than the family vineyard responsible for putting two of Italy’s Super B’s on the map.

The history of Gaja is wrapped around the history of wine in this region.  Its ancestral tree belongs on a vine. Above all,  Gaja is about family.
Five generations of Gajas  have  produced wine here, each improving, innovating, and invigorating the vines, the grapes, the techniques.  They were equally committed to improving  the lives of families living in the region, giving them a trade, pride and most  important, a way to support their own families.
The valley, 40 minutes outside Torino,   looks like a postcard for  Lost Horizon, the novel by James Hilton published in 1933.  The lush green valley was once the pathway of pilgrims and warriors. Legendary military general Hannibal led his war elephants and  troops 40,000 strong from Barcelona down this valley to Rome in 218 B.C.
Today the only conquering that happens in this valley is in the field, nurturing  only the best quality grapes to create wines   celebrated around the world.
Gaja shares more than the Alps with  its French neighbors.   Patriarch Angelo Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde Rey brought style and a business acumen that helped secure the future of the winery.  Clotilde pushed her son  Giovanni to savour the tradition and focus on quality. She encouraged her son to  use the skills and techniques honed over generations to make only the best wines. Like a good Italian son, Giovanni listened to his mother and never looked back. But  it was really Giovanni’s son Angelo who took his grandmother’s principles and changed the industry.
Today the Nebbiolo grape (named from Nebbia or fog which descends on the valley) is one of a select few known for producing unforgettable wines.
My discovery of Gaja came accidentally. At a random wine-tasting, I sampled Ca’Marcanda – a wine produced in Tuscany’s Bolgheri region and sold at the LCBO. I felt like my taste buds had come home. I actually dreamed of this wine. It was when  I looked it up and learned about the legend that is Angelo Gaja and his influence on two of my favourite wines.  Since I would be in Northern Italy  visiting family in the next month, why not ?

Sonia Franco, personal assistant to Angelo Gaja

We could not have been made to feel more  welcome by our most gracious guide Sonia Franco, personal assistant to the man himself.  We  toured. We tasted. We bonded over the history of the region, the story of a family and wines that I will never forget.  Wines named after Angelo’s daughter Gaia and grandmother Clotilde Rey – the best of the past and the best of the future. A white wine so full-bodied it felt like a red. Or a Barolo  named Sperss, after the Piedmonte word for nostalgia, another coincidence since I had just left family members who I had not seen in a decade.

Angelo’s house overlooking the vineyard

Or my favourite “Darmagi” – the expression meaning “What a Pity” which apparently exactly is what Angelo’s father said when he found  out his son had replaced a field of beloved Nebbiolo grapes with, how dare you,  Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
I came away with one more thimble full of wine knowledge.  And I learned that wine will always be a  journey of discovery and if you are lucky enough to stumble upon a place like Gaja and a guide like Sonia you understand it is full of people only too willing to share.

Weekend Wine Picks

A Wine for All Reasons

Friday: An extra  long week that began in Nunavut, combined with the siren call of a bottle of wine chilling in my fridge led me to drive a little faster than usual.  It was just me, a good book and a bottle of Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2009, rich and creamy with notes of citrus and honey. It heralded the start of a weekend of no commitment and it was delicious. Honey-coloured, balanced with some body to it.  This  evening, it was the perfect pairing to my Bruce Springsteen playlist.  There is something about sipping a good glass of wine while listening to 10th Avenue Freeze Out on a sultry night that releases the stresses of the week.   I love pairing wines and playlists. I would have normally said Bruce deserves something bigger, bolder, with lots of tannins. Darkness on the Edge of town with a Barolo. Chardonnay feels more Adele-y, Hall and Oates, or a little Steely Dan.  But in the heat of this night – this cool elegant pick from Niagara-on-the-Lake is the perfect match. $30 at the LCBO.

The Glory of Gamay

Saturday: Always begins with a trip to the Farmer’s market in Withrow Park.  I love buying local. Even things I don’t quite know what to do with – like garlic scapes. So drinking local makes sense to me.  We stopped off at Stratus Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake  a couple of weeks ago for a tasting. Sommelier Austin Shynal helped us navigate through the flight of four wines. Loved Stratus Red  and Stratus White (each $44), a blend that changes with the sun and the mood of winemaker, J.L Groux. But one of Austin’s picks sent us shopping. The Stratus Gamay 2009. It gave me new respect for the grape, one of 11 red wine varietals grown at Stratus.

When I think of Gamay, I think of the spritzy Beaujolais Nouveau of which I am underwhelmed – despite the years when people would line up each fall to snag a few bottles from the Quebec’s SAQ.  But my strongest memory is the gallon of Gamay  my Dad used to keep under his seat at the kitchen table. That wine was as much a part of my family history as the stories my father shared whenever we got together. It cost about $7 in the 60s, and lasted about three weeks. No wonder I used to think all red wine tasted like vinegar and old socks. The Stratus Gamay 2009 is $29 – but well worth it.  Give it 20 minutes in the fridge before serving and it is guaranteed to please. Incredibly balanced and  with flavours that keep on giving. Thanks Dad, your stories will never be topped, but can’t say the same for your Gamay. Old memories and new ones.

I love weekend wine picks.