For ten years we’ve been reading about the extraordinary transformation in Italian wine: new vineyards, new wineries, new technology, even new uses of old quality designations. It was all great to read about, but two things bugged me. One was that happy little quaffers such as Soave and Montepulicano d’Abruzzo that I used to buy for $2.59 shot up to $11.99. Even worse, the nifty Chiantis I used to get for $11.99 seemed to evaporate. A few huge Chianti labels swarmed into the stores, and I didn’t like any of them (Gabbiano, anyone?). Then their
prices went up, too. I sucked it up and spent $25 for good Barbera and better Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but I pretty much stopped drinking Italian on a regular basis. Now I might have to start again. A certain Italian-American family known as the Gallos have more or less taken over a long-standing growers’ cooperative in Chianti and created a new label called “Da Vinci.” The wines, including three Chiantis and a Brunello di Montalcino, are now for sale in the U.S. The Gallos are working with Alberto Antonini, one of Italy’s best-known “flying winemakers,” so you might guess that the wine is made in the “international style” that now rules the import world. This style intentionally rounds off the corners and smoothes out the textures on whatever wine it encounters, so there’s little to intrigue you (or, more to the point, to slow you from pouring another glass or two down your throat). The good news is that Antonini, a proud and intelligent man with a quick smile and piercing wit, was born and raised in Chianti and still lives there. So he was not about to sacrifice Chianti to the international style just to make another few million dollars for the Gallos. He calls the Da Vinci wines “Chianti for the third millennium,” meaning they’re modern but you can still tell immediately where they came from. After tasting the wines, I have to agree. On the side of place and tradition are flavors of dry cherries, with hints of tobacco, cedar and soft leather, and alcohol of just 13% (hooray!). On the side of modernity? Soft textures, lingering sweetness, and fairly serious color, size and weight. And the prices are quite reasonable. As Joe Bob Briggs used to say, check it out. – Thom Elkjer
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