Welcome to Uncork Italy!
Ciao a tutti and welcome to Uncork Italy – the newsletter dedicated to Italian wine. We are Lauren, Luca & Luca, one Californian and two Tuscans living in Italy who are passionate about Italian wine (with varying sommelier certifications between us). We’re going on a journey through Italy to learn as much as we can about Italy’s wine Renaissance and we’re taking you with us!
We’ll be following the seasonal growth of the vines from the soil to the glass and learning directly from Italy’s wine makers because… who knows more than they do?
It looks like this very week Wine Spectator has launched their own wine education newsletter which makes us feel pretty proud that we are right “on trend” … only the Uncork Italy newsletter is focused only on Italy and the real people behind the wine.
We are starting with Chianti Classico in the heart of Tuscany and the Sangiovese grape.
Watch the Video
Watch the video below (password: TUSCANY)
Meet Walter & Fietri Winery
Chianti Classico – not the stuff in flasks
Chianti Classico is one of the six DOCG wines in Tuscany (the highest level denomination for wines in Italy).
Chianti Classico is Luca B’s favorite wine but before we started this endeavor Lauren and Luca M thought he was a little bit insane. The Chianti Classico we were drinking was harsh and tannic – it’s all well and good to say you have to drink it with food (yes, you really should), but it felt like every time we had a glass of Chianti we were being punched in the face by the intensity.
But often what is exported outside of Tuscany is nowhere near as good as the stuff you find IN Tuscany. Even a few hours south in Rome, the Chianti Classico Lauren found in restaurants was either not that special or would dry out your mouth faster than chewing on an old piece of bark.
In the mid 20th century, the Chianti wine being exported was usually served in a heavy bottomed flask wrapped in straw and was just considered table wine. It was nothing special that you’d age and savour and cherish because that’s how wine was viewed by the people of Italy for centuries. While the French were getting fancy with their crus, the Italians were drinking wine as a food group. For calories. It was a meal supplement often mixed with water which is how many Italians still consume their daily wine at home to this day.
Hence incredible wine prices in Italy for some great wine, many of which aren’t even considered for export.
Chianti Classico ain’t Chianti
Let’s zoom in on where we’re talking about exactly. Chianti Classico is a subregion of Chianti which is right in the centre of Tuscany, the region in the centre of Italy (capital: Florence). Chianti Classico is an area of about 100 square miles and the region is characterised by hills with most vineyards between 820-2,000 feet above sea level.
Now, if you are in Chianti Classico and start talking about “Chianti wines” you will immediately be corrected. “It’s not Chianti, it’s Chianti Classico,” they’ll say. So don’t save your syllables. The rivalry will never die.
Fietri is a medieval “borgo” or village that, like so many of these tiny, isolated towns in Italy, was slowly becoming abandoned over the last century. It still has a population of a couple people but when the property was bought in 1939 by a family from Rome, they brought new life to Fietri. They planted vineyards and olive trees in the surrounding hills. (For info on their Agriturismo, watch our video and blog post here.)
Walter is the enologist at Fietri, and we couldn’t start with a more wonderful person. You’ll see in the video above, that he’s passionate about Chianti Classico wines and full of knowledge about the area.
At dinner, he told us that when he grew up, his father kept the flasked wine at the foot of his chair. When it was needed, he’d pass it around the table to his seven siblings and always made sure it was returned to him and placed securely at his feet, something to be doled out as the “capo famiglia” (family boss) saw fit, not placed in the center of the table for anyone to grab.
Stay tuned for special prices and packages on Fietri wines for UncorkItaly subscribers, available in the coming weeks.
The Sangiovese Grape: Blood of the Gods
One of the top ten wine varietals planted in the world and the number one grape varietal in Italy, its most famous location is now Tuscany though it’s not native to the area (just like Lauren!). It’s from Emiglia Romagna just north of Tuscany. It is thought to be from a cross of Ciliegiolo grape and Negrodolce or maybe it’s the father of Ciligiolo meaning… the Sangiovese family tree is a little confusing.
What does it look like? How does it taste?
Sangiovese is usually a transparent ruby red. Tilting the glass you should be able to see through most Sangiovese wines. Some can be lighter or darker depending on the soil.
Sangiovese wines from the area of Chianti Classico are usually medium bodied and well structured with notes of tart or sour cherry, red fruits, violets, and sometimes liquorice and nuttiness. When aged it reveals notes of leather, tobacco, and forest floor.
Nobody is totally sure the origin of the name Sangiovese but it could derive from “sangue di Giove,” or The Blood of Jupitor which is the Roman name for the Greek god Zeus. Delicious.
Other famous Sangiovese wines
We simply have to start with Sangiovese because it pops up literally everywhere. It’s the grape in Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, Prugnolo and Prugnolo Gentile that makes the wine of Montepulciano, Nielluccio on Corsica, and Toustain in Algeria. They’re all Sangiovese!
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Next week we’re going deep into the History of Chianti Classico. We’ll answer questions like why is Noah always shown half naked in Italian art? What did the Medici duke-dictators have to do with wine? And how did a California winery seriously mess things up for the Chianti Classico brand?
What you hear over and over again in Italy is winemaking doesn’t happen in the cellar, it happens in the vineyard and understanding the treatment and characteristics of the soil are essential to understanding the wine in the glass. So we’ll also have another Fietri video on how to prepare a vineyard for planting and the special soil in Chianti Classico and Fietri that produces such good wines.