Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
Chianti is surely one of the most recognisable names in the world of wine. It is both a wine and a wine-growing region.
With some people, it will still conjure up memories of Italian restaurants with red and white check tablecloths, and wine in a straw basket or flask, known as a fiasco. There was a practical side to the wine baskets, namely they protected the bottles during shipment. Most producers now bottle chianti in more standard bottles although I have noticed recently the fiaschi making something of a comeback on the shelves.
Chianti can range from light and fresh with cherry and strawberry flavours, to older more complex wines with hints of tobacco and coffee. Not surprisingly, good Chianti is the perfect partner for fine Italian cuisine.
The main grape used in the production of Chianti is Sangiovese although traditionally it was blended with a small amount of other local grapes such as Canaiolo or even Malvasia bianca, although white grapes are no longer allowed. In recent years some of the top producers have experimented with using less traditional grapes from France, although in the premium growing areas, by law, the wine must consist of at least 80 per cent Sangiovese grapes. Some modern Chianti consists of 100 per cent Sangiovese.
The Chianti growing region covers a large portion of Tuscany with the finest area squeezed in between Florence in the north and Siena in the south. At its most basic, Chianti DOCG is a fresh, fruity, somewhat astringent easy drinking wine. Wines from the finest growing area are classified as Chianti Classico and carry the familiar Black Rooster on the label. The Classico region is clustered around four villages or ‘communes’, Castellina, Gaiole, Radda and Greve-in-Chianti. This is a popular area for wine tours, with many of the wineries having their own restaurants and offering accommodation set amongst some of the most scenic Tuscan countryside. The finest Chianti Classico wines I have tasted come from the producers, Isole e Olena, Antinori, Coltibuono, and Carpineto.
Looking for value, keep an eye out for wines from a number of sub-regions, such as Chianti Rufina from the foothills east of Florence, or Chianti Colli Senisi from Siena.