In vino veritas

Posted by on Sep 8, 2011 | 0 comments

This time of year, the air becomes sweet and sticky in the countryside of the Chianti district, the part of Tuscany fortunately situated between Florence and Siena. The grapes, already fermenting on the vines, make their presence felt with every intake of breath. These same little fruits, plucked and squeezed, will ferment and mature in wood and then glass until that magical moment when it is decanted, then swirled, sniffed, and sipped.

Tuscany has been producing wine since it was Etruria, home to the ancient Etruscans. They almost certainly picked up their knowledge and love of wine from the ancient Greeks, who also taught them the custom of sweetening it, adding spices, and mixing it with water before imbibing. Wine at the time was very strong and not at all delicate; the Romans later developed better palates and more refined wines, breeding at least 91 varieties of grape and learning to drink their wines without added sugar and spice. Today Italy boasts more than one thousand varieties–an eighth of the vine varieties found around the world.

In the Chianti district (which gives its name to the majority of the local wines), for at least five centuries the main grape has been Sangiovese, a descendant of the vines the Etruscans themselves grew in this area 2,500 years ago. This is mixed with a combination of any of four other local grapes to make a medium-bodied tannic wine that easily cuts through hearty Tuscan cuisine. Chianti Classico wines come from a stricter area of production than regular Chianti, but both are protected names. Uncork them an hour or so before serving, and drink them with red meat or hearty rustic foods like ribollita.

The majority of the wine of this region is made to be consumed young. (That’s the excuse locals give, at any rate.) Often Chianti wines are not even given the chance to mellow in a bottle before being sold directly to local restaurants by the cask. A few small towns, like Poggio a Caiano just outside Florence, go a step further and celebrate the new wine season by pumping hundreds of liters of it through the towns’ public fountains for festivals that, understandably, draw thirsty celebrants from all over the world. Don’t forget to bring your own mug for dipping–cups are in short supply.