Italian wines are perfect with food--their flavors meld with a meal, making both taste better. But as Italy has embraced modern winemaking methods, the wines have changed a bit, still food friendly, but fresher and more fruit forward. Nowhere is that more true than in Chianti. Gone are the round-bottom bottles encased in a straw fiasco: great candle holders, not so great wine. Today's Chianti, even at the lower end of the price spectrum, is world-class wine worthy of a place at your table and in your glass. Here's my take on the panel's top picks:
2003 Coltibuono Cetemura Chianti, $9.99
Made from a blend of Sangiovese (90 percent) and Canaiolo (10 percent), this Tuscan charmer offers soft cherry fruit aromas with a light earthiness in the background. The flavors are nicely balanced between fresh, sweet berry and lightly tart cherry with just a touch of orange on the finish. Ripe tannins softly coat the mouth, as the flavors linger on nicely. Very good wine at a very good price.
2003 Pietraserena Poggio Al Vento Chianti Colli Senesi, $12.99
A single vineyard wine from the Colli Senesi (the Hills of Senesi), showing fairly deep and concentrated aromas of raspberry, light plum and violet with a nice hint of clover. With 90% Sangiovese fruit, this well structured wine provides lavishly sweet cherry flavors backed by good, appropriately crisp acidity. Finishes with a soft kiss of almond and blackberry. Another good value.
2001 Tiziano Chianti Riserva, $11.99
Reserve Chiantis spend more time in wood (12 months for the Tiziano), and more time in the bottle before being released. The result when things go right is more complexity and depth of flavor. The only 100 percent Sangiovese wine in the group, the aromas here are fairly rich with sweet plum, caramel and ripe berry. The flavors open with light oak and a nice combo of dark berry and soft cherry fruit backed by earth, black pepper, herb and spice. You would expect to pay significantly more for a Riserva than the bargain basement asking price of this one.
This week's panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.