For those trying to learn more about wine, Italy can be tempting and confounding in equal measure. Italy is carpeted with vineyards and rivaled only by France in terms of total wine production, even though the whole country is smaller in area than California. Italian wines are made in more than 400 regulated appellations, or “protected regions of origin,” spread across all 20 of its political regions. More than 300 native Italian grapes are authorized for use in these wines, far more than in most other countries. On top of this, Italian wine law features a number of unique label terms not used elsewhere, which helps contribute to the unfamiliar word salad that Americans can find so perplexing in the Italian wine aisle. Take the word Classico, for example. Tasting this Sangiovese-based blend, one might assume the term refers to “old-school” winemaking, since the wine does indeed taste quite traditional for a Tuscan red; bone dry and bracingly tart, its slight bitterness and flavors of unsweetened cranberries and sour cherries are the epitome of the “classic” Italian style. But on a label, “classico” has a different legal meaning, as an honorific of sorts designating the “original” territory of a famous wine district whose boundaries have been expanded over time. In this case, less than half of the vineyard acreage of the larger Chianti appellation falls within the more respected subzone of Chianti Classico, so the term can help identify wines of superior quality potential.
Cecchi Chianti Classico. $14.99 (regularly $16.99; sale price through April 28). PLCB Item #4132.