09/07/2009 - 00:00

Something old, something new

09/07/2009 - 00:00

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FOR many wine drinkers, the word chianti conjures up images of red and white checked tablecloths, men (and often women) with an abundance of chest hair, and those squat, cane-wrapped bottles of brick-red wine more suited to stripping paint than accompanyi

FOR many wine drinkers, the word chianti conjures up images of red and white checked tablecloths, men (and often women) with an abundance of chest hair, and those squat, cane-wrapped bottles of brick-red wine more suited to stripping paint than accompanying pasta.

Thankfully, things have changed. But don't get too excited, I'm referring to the wine, not the chest hair.

The grape variety in all chianti is sangiovese, and when it's done well it produces alluring, subtle, dusty wines that are packed with character, medium bodied and come to life with broad, robust peasant-style food. It's also a grape that seems to do well in an increasing number of Australian regions, and is therefore making its way on to wine lists and into the hearts of foodies across Australia.

But there's a problem. There are two distinct styles of Aussie sangio on the market and those aforementioned foodies are getting confused.

There are the traditionalists who are making European-style sangiovese - complex, nuanced and designed to go with food. And there are the non-traditionalists who are making crass, simple, high-alcohol sluggers that bray up from the glass and dominate the food, the conversation ... the whole evening, really.

Choosing between these styles is similar to the decision you make at the video store - do you go on a journey of self reflection and enlightenment with something dark and brooding from the foreign language section or do you sit back and see how many fart jokes Eddie Murphy can cram into 90 minutes? I don't know about you but I see merit in both camps and it's easy to know which is which; it's on the label.

If the wine has less than 14 per cent alcohol, then you're in for a food and wine experience. If it's over 14 per cent then get ready for a straightforward, charming, affable bottle of red.

Either way you choose, sangiovese has come a long way from its humble cane basket beginnings and is definitely worth a look. Here are some I like.

2006 Pizzini Sangiovese (King Valley, Vic) $27. Earthy and tight, lovely firm tannins. Has a dark chocolate and cherry feel to it, a little like a Cherry Ripe. There's a bright line of acid running through it that lifts and begs for food. Almadova all over.

2006 Chalk Hill Sangiovese (Maclaren Vale, SA) $25. Whack! This is a brute. Just unctuously voluptuous, all that alcohol gives it a warming, simple approachability. Eddie Murphy in a bottle.

2005 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) $45. This is the real deal, has a lovely smoky ham-hock nose; crushed, dried herbs and a hint of that cherry again. It's still pretty grippy but with some air it really opens up. Great wine, no vague film analogy needed.

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