Posted on 02.10.20 Wine of the Week

#WOTW: medal winners to reconnect with Chianti Classico

My regular haunt in the late 1980s was an Italian restaurant called Pinocchio’s. It served up the kind of fare that might kindly be described as ‘comfort food’. Cheesy garlic bread (something I have never seen on a menu anywhere in Italy), avocado with prawn cocktail (ditto) and, of course, Spaghetti Bolognese, which no self-respecting Italian would recognise by that name. Most guests ordered a bottle of Chianti, normally in a green glass flask-in-a-basket called a fiasco. The empties served as candlesticks, the hardened wax forming a grubby crust on the straw surround.

That sort of Italian restaurant is rarely found these days because, frankly, we have moved on. And so has Chianti. Where once the wines could be rustic and thin, now they tend to be vibrant and more complex, as producers drive up quality to compete with so-called ‘New World’ rivals. Although familiarity remains important, the name ‘Chianti’ on the label isn’t enough on its own for today’s savvy wine buyer.

I recently judged the ‘central Italy’ category for the International Wine and Spirits Competition and I was struck by the high quality of most of the Chianti put before us. We always judge blind, so we only find out which wines they were as everyone else does. My wine of the week scooped a prestigious silver medal.

Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 (£22.99 at Noble Grape) comes from some of Tuscany’s best sites for Sangiovese, hence ‘Classico’ and also ‘DOCG’, Italy’s legal definition for its top wines. The tasting note from our judging session sums it up perfectly: “Bold, powerful, but elegant style. Well defined savoury and earthy aromatics with lovely soft tannins to follow. Hints of violets and leather with a long, fine finish.” This will partner any meaty pasta dish and would also be wonderful with steak.

If more than twenty quid seems a bit steep, then do consider its stablemate, Primo Colle Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 (£14.99 at Noble Grape and also the Oxford Wine Company), a lovely wine, a little less powerful, with a charming floral nose, bright black cherry character and smooth, silky tannins. My judging panel gave this one a bronze, which is still high praise, and I think it represents good value for money.

As for the fiasco, good luck trying to find one these days. At least you won’t have trouble finding the cheesy garlic bread.

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