chug this! bargain wine o’the week: 2014 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico

If you’re anything like me, I lived most of my winey life without knowing there was a difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico. Before we even start, though: I feel like I need to defend the oft-maligned, sometimes wicker-basketed former before singing the praises of the latter.

Over the past 40 or so years, as the American market started asking for ever more variety, there was a flood of table wine from all over the globe, much of it of not the highest quality. Chianti in particular would frequently taste cheap, or single-note, or maybe the bottles destined for the heathen shores of the new world weren’t the best examples. This is a known phenomenon, by the way. Would you send your best product to a market that doesn’t even know what it wants? A market that was, until only recently, drinking fortified sweet wines or rot-gut jug white Zinfandel?

If you answered, “yes” you’re a more generous soul than I. I’m with the Italians here: make sure the exported fine wines ended up in the hands of people who might actually appreciate them, and then if it seemed appropriate, branch out to a larger audience from there.

And that’s what happened. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t good Chianti on both sides of the Atlantic; you just had to be a bit of a sleuth to find it. Although this bargain of the week is a Chianti Classico (I’ll explain the difference in a minute, keep your hair on), I drink regular Chianti all the time- much of it below the $15 mark, and nearly always enjoy it.

Chianti, you weirdo

As is the French custom, Italians name their wines after places. Hundreds of years ago, there was a fairly small region named “Chianti”, and that’s where Classico comes from. It’s particularly high quality land that produces wonderfully acidic Sangiovese grapes— Chianti Classico is usually 70-80% Sangiovese. Chianti non classico frequently is blended with as much as 10% white wine WHAT HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS

I know. As weird as this sounds, there are a few wines that end up being blended this way. Sure, there are blush wines, though those are usually juvenile red wines: white juice from red grapes that is left in contact with the skin for a short time to impart some of the color, tannin, and bigger flavors. Champagne, Côte Rôtie, and the occasional Syrah (Shiraz/Sirah) are also sometimes blended across colors.

But it makes sense when you taste it, doesn’t it? Chianti is a light, cheerful red wine with acidity that reminds me of…

Aw hell. It always did remind me of white wine and I just didn’t put it together until like 6 months ago. Anyhow, Chianti Classico tends not to be blended with white juice, although I can’t find anything written that says it’s forbidden. I’ll keep looking.

What we now refer to as plain old Chianti is wine from a much larger region. Think of it like the LA basin. Half the mail I received when I lived in Northridge still said “Los Angeles” on it. The city is immense, and grew over time to encompass smaller villages that began connecting to each other. Chianti normale comes from Chianti sprawl, an entire region that has several official chunks to it, but all of it under the “Chianti” umbrella. Chianti Classico comes from the small patch of land originally designated as a special viticultural area waaay back when. So Chianti Classico is like living in the Valley. Only part of is it called Northridge, or Sherman Oaks, or Van Nuys, but it’s still Los Angeles.

Quick joke:

Q: What’s the quickest way from Beverly Hills to the Valley? 

A: Marry a musician. 

either you are withering with laughter or this is not a joke for you. 

So the thing that makes this bargain such a hit is that it has everything to love about Chianti Classico at about 1/2 the price you normally expect to pay. This was $13, and I swear I poured a little taste to swirl and evaluate and pretty much drank half a bottle “just tasting to be sure”.

I enjoyed it with some salty snacks (pre dinner) and an assertively garlicky walnut pesto (for dinner) afterward. The next day, I finished that sucker with a sandwich for late lunch. Such an enjoyable wine. Cheerful, like you expect from the name, but with well balanced fruit and tannin.

Thirsty Cellist score: 9/10

Pros: a friendly wine that stands up to food and lends itself so easily to snacking and wine times with friends. Just a generally wonderful wine. 

Cons: At this price point, I really can’t find any. Might make you text someone the truth if you end up opening two bottles in one go, but such is the risk with wine and modern technology, eh

Recommendation: buy a case, give to people you love, drink now, drink often


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