Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chianti Under Foot, Not Your Old Time Fiasco

T I I A N C H – seven lonely letters tumbling from a scrabble bag to create a winning word that you can experience underfoot and enjoy as it slips over your taste buds – Chianti.

Chianti, the region located between Sienna and Florence, is best known for its lush landscapes, great wine and light green hued olive oil. From the village of Greve, it’s a short bus ride through an agricultural mecca to the Castello di Verrazzano, an actual castle dating back before the VII Century. The castle sits peacefully atop a hill overlooking a panorama of rolling hills and another castle in the near distance. The 220 acre property is a patchwork of agriculture with groves of olive trees and vineyards. The organically fertilized varietals include Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The formal gardens are groomed with an ease, making them more friendly and welcoming than stand-offish and manicured. Boar sausage is a specialty of the house and you can easily see a family of wild boars in a fenced area of the woods.
Does the name Verrazzano sound familiar? It should to the passengers in more than 190,000 vehicles who cross the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York each day. The double decker suspension bridge connects Staten Island and Brooklyn over the Narrows, a tidal straight. Giovanni de Verrazzano was born right here in the castle in 1485 and went on to discover New York Bay and the Hudson River. Wow.

Chianti is approximately 100 square miles with an excellent climate, making it the premiere grape growing region in Tuscany. The moist sea breeze floats over the land while a mountain range offers shelter and the renewing warmth of the golden Tuscan sun kisses life into the grapes.  
Unlike the old version of Chianti we recall as being poured from the straw covered bottles (called fiasco in Italian) which we were anxious to transform with candle dripping ornamentation, todays Chianti boasts an air of dignity and provides a good excuse to ask for another glass. There are several areas of Chianti and several types of Chianti, but a day trip to the heart of this wine country serves up Chianti Classico. 

To be designated “Chianti Classico” the grapes must have been grown within the old traditional Chianti region and wine must contain at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. The Italian government ensures the authenticity of wine by having it analyzed and tested by licensed government personnel. The approved wines are labeled with the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) meaning  controlled designation of origin guaranteed). A pink numbered DOCG label, bearing the  image of a Black Rooster, is sealed across the cap or cork to indicate the bottle has passed the quality review.
If you’re not staying the night (yes, there is overnight lodging in the castle) there's also a great tour down into the barrel rooms, a gift shop where you can buy wood wine boxes branded with the Verrazzano logo, as well as olive oil from orchards, honey, and balsamic vinegar – be sure to have lunch and arrange for a wine tasting. Swirl, sniff, taste, and, if you’re adventurous, finish it off with a warming shot of grappa. What are three seven letter scrabble words for Tuscany?  Friends sharing Chianti.  

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