“I much doubt if Florence wine,” wrote Sir Peter Beckford in 1781 (Familiar Letters from Italy), “though Cosimo [de' Medici] III made presents of it to most of the Sovereigns in Europe, and though Queen Anne is said to have preferred it to any other, will please a palate accustomed to Claret, Champagne, and Burgundy. The most esteemed are the Aliatico, Chianti, and Monte Pulciano [sic]. That which you drink in England for Florence wine is Chianti — even to this, brandy is added at Leghorn [Livorno] to give it strength. No other will bear the sea. The common wine of the country I conclude is weak, as you seldom see a man drunk in the streets, and in good company, never.”
By the 1950s, perceptions of Chianti in Britain had changed radically, of course.
“To the Englishman in the street,” wrote Peter Dominic in The Wine Mine, a guide to the wines of the world published in Britain in 1959, “all Italian wine is ‘Chianti.’”
This wonderful example of synecdoche — where part of something represents the whole — gives insight into the legacy of Italy’s most recognizable wine brand.
Perhaps more than any other Italian category, the enonym Chianti is familiar to English speakers in the same way that Bordeaux (Claret), Champagne, and Burgundy resonate within Anglophone culture.
I’ve been thinking about Chianti this morning, in part because we’ve enjoyed a bottle of Selvapiana Chianti Rufina over the last two nights at our house; and in part because, earlier today, I came across a wonderful article on Chianti by one of my all-time favorite wine writers Ed McCarthy, “Chianti: Still Tuscany’s Flagship Wine?”
Ed is one of the most gifted tasters I’ve ever had the pleasure of sipping with.
I’ll never forget watching him call out the grape, appellation, and vintage of a Brunello di Montalcino that had been included as a ringer in a blind tasting of Xinomavro a few years ago in New York.
He’s also our country’s leading expert on Champagne and one of the nicest guys in the business.
I can’t recommend his article highly enough: it’s a beautifully written, concise primer on Chianti and it offers a shortlist of the best Chianti available in the U.S. today.
And you can probably already guess what wine he highlights as Chianti’s greatest value and best-kept secret.
Thank you, Ed. Ubi major, minor cessat.