This past week, Laima and I were the lucky recipients, courtesy of Balzac Communications, of an invitation to the Chianti Classico Grand Tasting, Chicago. Held in the Allerton Hotel on the Magnificent Mile, this was our first "open" wine tasting event, where the wineries were arrayed around the edges of the ballroom and we walked with glasses from table to table. It's a neat way of doing it, as you get a chance to visit with each winemaker or winery rep and learn a bit about their philosophy.
Not all the wine produced in the Chianti zone is Chianti Classico. Chianti Classico rules require a minum of 80% Sangiovese, though other red grapes grown there can be used for the remaining 20%. These grapes include natives like Canaiolo and Colorino as well as varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chianti Classico can be met via the standards or exceeded, as the Riserva -- minimum required maturation for the Riserva is 24 months including three months of bottle fining.
18 wineries were represented, of all different sizes, pouring between 2 and 5 wines for tasting, and we were impressed with the high level of winemaking on display. To a bottle, the wines were very well made -- even though not every wine was to our taste, each was crafted with care. No duds present. We tasted Classicos, Riservas, single-vineyard bottlings, even olive oil. The olive oil had an intense "green" flavor, very grassy, not to our taste, but very cool to find out there are different ways of making it. In between several tastings, we repaired to the room's center, where bread, cheese, water, and fruit gave a respite to our tastebuds. After a lap around the ballroom to visit each of the wineries to taste their reds, a return visit was in order for some of the tables to try their Vin Santo, a style of Italian dessert wine. These wines are often made from white grape varieties such as Trebbiano and Malvasia, though Sangiovese may be used as well. Since these wines can be rare, it was a treat to try those as well, and a nice way to end the afternoon.
Though all the wines were quite good, my favorites tended to be the ones utilizing natives like Canaiolo and Colorino, a welcome confirmation that sometimes tradition is the best way.
Being downtown in the late afternoon, we headed over to The Purple Pig, to try their Mediterranean fare, appropriate to the occasion and amazingly tasty to boot. For wine we left Chianti Classico, rather imbibing efforts from Portugal, Sicily, and Crete.
Looking forward to more opportunities like this one!
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