Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Bound For Italy: Chianti Classico
--Danielle Cernilli, the founder and editor of chief of Gambero Rosso
Tomorrow, I fly off to Florence, Italy, the first stop on my journey to the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany. As part of a media trip, hosted by the Consorzio del Vino Chianti and Balzac Communications, I and four other writers will be exploring Chianti Classico during the Chianti Classico è, a ten day festival celebrating the wines and foods of this region. We will participate in some of the festival events while also visiting wineries and visiting other historic and interesting destinations.
Even before the ancient Romans arrived in the Chianti region, the Etruscans, who called themselves the Rasenna, inhabited the area, growing vines and producing wine. After the Romans seized control of the region, there was a great demand for Italian wine though the Romans generally preferred the sweet southern wines over the drier wines of Tuscany. The Romans controlled this area for about 700 years. Wine making continued throughout the centuries, despite wars, plagues and other disasters.
Tuscany is a historically rich area, and many famous personages lived in, passed through and/or enjoyed the Chianti region. From the famed poet Dante Aligheri to the extraordinary Leonardo da Vinci, from Amerigo Vespucci (where we derive the name America) to Giovanni da Verrazzano (the discoverer of Manhattan), from Galileo to Machiavelli. Michaelangelo was especially fond of Chianti, and presented some of their wines to the Pope as a gift. It will be amazing to follow in their footsteps through this intriguing area.
It was not until the latter part of the 14th century, that the wines of this region became known as Chianti. Prior to that time, the red wines were usually called vermiglio and the white wines were known as vernaccia. It would not be until 1716 that the geographic region of Chianti would be officially established. Then, in 1924, a consortium was created to protect the name and identity of Chianti wine, choosing the Gallo Nero, the black rooster, as their symbol. Later, in 1932, the territorial lines were redrawn, and the Chianti Classico region was created.
Some people still think of Chianti as a wine that comes in a straw basket, and which often end up as candle holders. That item originated during the 13th century, when the wines of Chianti started to be placed into a fiasco (a "flask"), a squat bottle inside a straw basket. Most modern producers no longer use the fiasco though a few still do and it was much more popular in the past. Interestingly, the term "fiasco" is used in other words too, such as fiaschetterie (wineshops).
Today, the Chianti Classio region occupies about 175,000 acres with 18,000 acres of vineyards and 25,000 acres of olive trees. Olive oil is still a significant industry. In 2011, the region produced about 7.3 million gallons of wine. During the last couple years, sales of Chianti Classico have been increasing, mostly due to exports. For example, 2010 saw a 24% increase in sales over 2009 while 2011 saw a 4% rise in sales over 2010. About 78% of their production is exported and the U.S. is the prime market, purchasing about 28% of the production. Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland occupy the next export spots. Italy itself has been drinking less Chianti Classico, from 26% in 2009 down to 22% in 2011.
During our journey, we will be visiting wineries including Castello d’Albola, Felsina, Castelli di Starda, Barone Ricasoli/Castello di Brolio, Isole e Olena (one of my favorite producers), Fontodi and Poggio al Sole. We will participate in festival events such as Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) & Street Food Festival and the Homemaker’s Trophy, a cook-off with local housewives. In addition, we will attend a few other tasting events, with the opportunity to taste many different wines from a variety of producers in the Chianti Classico region.
I also look forward to the cuisine, La Cucina Povera Toscana, which has a strong peasant tradition. From bistecca alla fiorentina (a large and rare t-bone steak) to pecorino toscana, a mild sheep's milk cheese, from acquacotta, a very thick soup, to panforte, a Sienese cake. I want some of the "tuna" of Chianti, which is actually suckling pig. It is thought that in ancient times, authentic tuna was an expensive delicacy, and thus poorer individuals used pork instead, as a tuna substitute.
You also have to love a region where a political party originates, fighting to ensure your steaks are properly large. In 1953, Corrado Tedeschi started the National Florentine Steak Party whose primary principle was that every person was entitled to 450 grams of steak per capita, though a kilo would be an even better portion. One of their slogans was "Better a steak today than an empire tomorrow."
I won't be returning home until next Wednesday night, so will be online only sporadically. But hope to have plenty of great stories for when I return.