Who doesn’t love Italian neighbourhood restaurants? So much fun and never expensive — but have you noticed that many of them now pour Chilean or Aussie house wine? Whenever I ask why, I’m told, “We’re just trying to please our customers.” To which I reply, “Well then, shouldn’t you be also serving burgers?” Remember the movie Big Night?
One of your responses to my “search for value wines” last month was how pleased you were with the Italian selections. The provinces of Abruzzi, Puglia and Sicily are making hearty reds that should be on the tables of your local Mario’s or Luigi’s. But some Italian restaurant owners don’t have confidence in their own wine and, for fear or losing customers, they pour popular Shiraz or Merlot.
But there’s another Italian red that should get poured: Chianti — the original, from Tuscany. The quality has improved and it’s ready for a comeback. I realize Chianti does not fit the current perception of “good” wine (being somewhat light and tart), but those features are great for stimulating the appetite and gulping. Italian food and restaurants invite gulping. Generous amounts of food, wine and good times. It’s all about liveliness, not richness.
If you’re feeling a little over-fed by today’s whopping big reds, maybe you’re ready for the lighter, livelier Luigi life. And a bottle or two of Chianti. I think you’ll find it feels just right with a bowl of pasta and good company.
Today’s selections are the light, invigorating Rocca Delle Macie 05 Chianit “Straccali” — gutsy, traditional Chianti at its best. Pass the pasta, and the chili peppers. And the fuller Frescobaldi 05 Chianti “Castiglioni” — more heft and gusto here. For heartier pastas or meat off the grill.
Billy Munnelly is author, wine critic and publisher of Billy’s Best Bottles Wineletter and Billy’s Best Wines For 2007, a guide to the best wines at the LCBO, available in bookstores or through www.billysbestbottles.com. Sign up for his free wine e-letter at www.billysbestbottles.com.