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The charm in the old Italian restaurant of a short, fat bottle of wine that’s covered in straw is undeniable for many Americans of a certain age. The wine inside of that iconic Italian imagery, unfortunately, didn’t do the great Chianti wines of today any favors.

grape-sense-logoChianti is the most-recognizable red wine of Italy. It’s a table wine and a fine wine but it has a checkered past. Chianti producers were making swill and taking liberties with their wine blends until the international explosion of wine sales started in the 1990s. It was about that time, along with a younger generation of winemakers, that Tuscany wines took a leap in quality. New Italian government regulations narrowed how the wines were to be made.

Chianti is a wine region largely encompassing Florence down through Siena, Italy. The heart of Chianti is a designated grape-growing region for the best wines, Chianti Classico. The grape of these wines is Sangiovese. Chianti Classico can be 100 percent of the varietal but must be at least 80 percent Sangiovese to be called a Classico. The Italian grapes Canaiolo and Colorino are often used in the blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also used to round out the flavor.

Chianti wines are most associated with red sauces. Or yes, pasta dishes and Chianti wines are the great pairing we know and often enjoy.

Chianti is not a sipping wine its best paired with food. Chianti often has bold acidity and can be quite tart but that’s why it pairs so nicely with red sauces.

Basic Chianti can always be found under $20. Chianti Classico has a bit of a higher price point but is worth the extra dollars. Classico usually has softer fruit and a more pleasing roundness to enjoy with your food.

Here are a couple of recent Chianti wines I’ve enjoyed:

Cecchi 2014 Chianti Classico – Tart cherry flavor and great balance. The Cecchi label is widely available. The wine can be found anywhere from $15 to $22. Cecchi Chianti Classico is a great value entry point for red Italian.

Castello di Albola  2013 Chianti Classico – Another entry level wine that is a bit softer on the palate but lighter on the fruit. The Albola was missing the typical pronounced acidity. I’d recommend this wine to folks trying Chianti for the first time. The wine can be purchased for around $16.

There are lots of Chianti choices in most wine shops, even liquor stores. There are too many for specific recommendations. A safe bet is to go with the Classico and enjoy Italy’s great Sangiovese grape with a good red sauce and pasta.

Buon Appetito!