There’s something almost therapeutic when one’s home is awash in the aroma of an old-time spaghetti sauce. A grim and rainy Sunday afternoon can be foiled by a slow-cooked Bolognese sauce – or other meat-laden “gravies” that dress any large helping of pasta.
Luckily, it’s also pretty easy to find a reasonable Chianti that complements this saucy Italian classic – or “Classico,” so to speak. The venerable Tuscan red has many guises: bulbous, straw-clad bottles, and stately, big-shouldered standards. The former are panned as truly cheap, and not recommended. But there are some values to be found among the uprights that will top off a perfect Sunday pasta dinner. It is the often the go-to wine among the Italian reds.
Most Chianti is characterized by firm tannins. But its flavors can range tremendously – usually based on regional differences – from delicate and light to structured and bracing.
“The concentrated, slightly tarry flavor of Chianti really complements Bolognese and red meat-based sauces,” says Galen Pejeau, Wine Consultant at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. “The Cetamura Chianti ($11) is somewhat on the lighter side, but it has the acidity to stand up to meat sauces. It’s not harsh, like some other, similarly priced Chianti.”
Another of Pejeau’s recommendations is the Querceto Chianti Classico ($12), which “has that deep quality that’s very typical of Chianti.”
The Italian baron Bettino Ricasoli (whose family has exported wines since the 16th century) came up with the modern formula for Chianti in the 1890s. The dominant grape is the Sangiovese, although the question of what makes up the remaining blending grapes stirs some debate. Ever since 1995, however, Chianti can be made with 100 percent Sangiovese.
Other options from Tuscany include the red “Toscana” wines. Often quite succulent and supple, these can be affordable alternatives to Chianti (which, other than the examples above, can get pricey quickly). The Monte Antico Rosso 2006 ($12) is 85 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and five percent Merlot. Another great pairing with meat sauce, the Monte Antico is, according to Pejeau, “an Italian Claret.”
Although the history of Chianti and Sangiovese is as rich and interesting as other international regions and varietals, it’s not about high culture and stilted refinement. Rather, it’s the ties to simpler times and the flavors of comforting meals that make these wines so appealing – the nice prices included!