WineInk: Christmas In Chianti
Of all the wine regions on earth, I think I would most like to spend Christmas in Chianti.
There is just something about the rustic beauty of the Northern Italian villages, the religious celebrations of the catholic citizenry, and yes, the splendor of the sangiovese based wines that resonates, at least for me, as the perfect place for the holiday repast. Of course, this is a Christmas that will not offer up the opportunity for wine travel.
For a variety of reasons, most having to do with the NFL schedule which keeps me stateside for December (I toil in the trenches for Sunday Night Football), my sojourns to Chianti have all taken place under the heat of the summer sun. Don’t get me wrong, I love to walk amongst the vines that hang heavy with the fruit of the coming vintage on the hot afternoons. To swim at dusk in a cool pool after a smoldering day talking and gesticulating in pidgin Italian with the passionate winemakers, who always seem to educate despite the language differences, is one of my favorite things in life.
But the winelands of the northern hemisphere are different in December. The pace slows to a snails crawl as the vines lie dormant, recuperating from the previous season’s production and resting in anticipation of vintages to come. It is a time of reflection for those who handle the harvest and the winemaking in the preceding weeks. And it is a time for family.
Right now, with the lockdowns in place, the concept of Chianti and the Tuscan countryside seem like fantasy, a parallel reality that is out of reach. The tiny fortified towns from ancient times, the vineyards that fall from the hillsides to the valleys in perfect rows nurtured by the power of the low hanging sun. Images online, on an iPhone screen or in the books I have on the region can tease that that reality of a place of history and character actually exist. But it is so hard to believe that right now.
That is, until I put my nose into a freshly opened bottle of Chianti Classico, inhale the natural aromas and take a sip of the liquid that was born in those very vineyards. That is the thing about wine. It has the power to take you in a glass on a trip to the place of its origins.
I decided this was the week to take that virtual trip in a glass and opened up a sampling of delights from the region of my ardor. I was fortunate to have received samples of wines from the Frescobaldi Family of wines who have a half dozen exquisite estates spread across the Tuscan countryside.
The Frescobaldi family name has been a part of the history of Tuscany going back 30 generations with significant banking interests. But today they are best known for the wines they produce. I began with a Frescobaldi Chianti Castiglioni 2016 and a pizza on a workday weeknight. This wine was a veritable basket of summer fruits that would not only be impossible to gather this time of year, but even in the middle of the summer growing season would be difficult to assemble. Berries, in particular, blue and black ones mingling with cherries, were so obvious on the tongue that you could swear there were pits in the glass. Light, fresh and just a bit tart on the finish, it was an immensely pleasurable wine for less than $20. It was less than the pizza.
So enamored was I that, the next night, I purchased some fresh four-cheese raviolis from Francesca’s Pasta Market in the Aspen Business Center. This time I upped the anti by pouring another Frescobaldi wine, the Tenuta Perano Chianti Classico Riserva 2016. This wine comes from a vineyard in the DOCG designated region of Gaiole that sits high on a hillside in a natural amphitheater. While the variety was the same as the Castiglioni sangiovese, this was more like an Alfa Romeo compared to the Fiat that was the fruity Castiglioni. Elegant and plush, the tannins of this wine, aged for two years in Slavonian oak, gave it structure and bones. The heat and texture played perfectly with my pasta and sage-brown butter sauce. While still a reflection of the fruits of summer, this wine was much more. If I closed my eyes, I felt like I had flown Al Italia to Chianti for the holidays.
While I’m not sure what your holiday journey wine wishes would be, if they are beyond your reach this year, try taking a trip in a glass.
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