Above: Miro and Marisa at Cafè Michelina.
One of my closest and oldest friends in the wine biz, Mary Anne Sullivan (head of PR for Terlato Wines, one of the biggest importers of Italian brands), called me last week asking if I’d like to take part in an “under-$25 2005 Chianti tasting” at Cafè Michelina, a wonderful old-school family-owned BYOB Italian restuarant in Hoboken where we often gather (Mary Anne, her husband Miro, and their daughter Mara live nearby in Jersey City Hts.).
We were also joined by Slowfood friends Amy Thompson and Cecily Upton (click her name to check out her blog), Marisa Huff (who works in the food writing biz) and her friend Veronique Colaprete (Marisa and Veronique, it turns out, went to highschool together at Bishops in La Jolla where I grew up), and my friend and fellow French rocker Dan Crane aka Jean-Luc Retard aka Bjorn Turoque.
We tasted nine 2005 Chiantis, all under $25, including the soon-to-be-released-in-this-country Santa Margherita Chianti Classico, which Mary Anne’s company will be launching shortly. Mary Anne wanted to see how the wine would show compared with other brands on the market. Earlier in the week, we had purchased the other wines from Astor Wines & Spirits where they currently carry eight 2005 Chiantis.
Above: Amy and Cecily.
Cafè Michelina is a small and delightfully classic checkered-tablecloth Italian restaurant run by a very nice Palermitan family who lives across the street. Highlights from our meal were the sine qua non “antipast” (perfectly sliced prosciutto, salame, and mozzarella with freshly sliced tomatoes), Penne served with Sautéed Zucchini and Fresh Mozzarella, and a beautiful Veal Carozza (breaded veal scaloppine layered with eggplant rounds that had been dipped in egg and then fried, topped with a tomato sauce).
Above: the “antipast” would surely have made Hoboken-hometown-hero Frank Sinatra proud.
The informal winners in this very casual and super fun tasting?
At a disadvantage because it was the first wine tasted, the Ruffino Chianti Classico was a bit anonymous but showed the “sour”, “tart mouth” notes that — to my palate — are indicative of honest Chianti when the Sangiovese is allowed to muster its bright acidity. “Smooths out once it hits all the points in my mouth,” wrote one taster.
The Chianti Borghi d’Elsa by Melini (which, I believe, comes from vineyards in the province of Florence) surprised some of us, receiving comments like “very smooth + easy going. me likey” and “very classic Chianti.”
Fèlsina’s Chianti Classico was arguably the most traditional-style wine in the flight: “complex nose… well-balanced”, “good acid”, and “most complex” (my personal favorite).
For some of us, the Chianti Classico by Santa Margherita was the favorite: “big nose. chocolate. black cherry… yummy!”, “earthy”, and “hangover in a glass!” (this last observation intended to express the taster’s delight).
I was very curious to try the Santa Margherita, which is a 100% Sangiovese aged in new wood. I genuinely liked it but found it more of a Super Tuscan (i.e., more modern) than a Chianti Classico: it was very tannic (to drink in a few years?) and concentrated, very big in the mouth. It is a well made wine (although too modern for me). In a blind tasting I would have placed it in a price point higher than $25.
A straw-flasked Banfi earned comments like “cough syrup”, “jam!”, and “awful”.
Gallo’s Da Vinci: “Something unpleasant about it”, “too jammy”, and “too alcohol-ly”. It’s a travesty, really, that they’ve named this wine after Leonardo.
The wind-up? There’s a lot of Chianti out there… some good… some — not surprisingly — bad… I have always been impressed by the Italian wine program at Astor Wines & Spirits and I applaud the buyer there for offering a wide selection of wines at good prices, some of them true bargains. Although the better Chiantis tend to be a little too fruit-driven for my palate, there are some well-priced options that show balanced acidity and fruit, perfect for pairing with wholesome, tasty Italian American cuisine prepared by a nice Palermitan gent whose lives across the street from his neighborhood-favorite Cafè Michelina in picturesque Hoboken with his wife and two daughters (all of whom work in the restaurant with him, the mother in the kitchen, the daughters on the floor).
Above: Dan Crane aka Jean-Luc Retard aka Bjorn Toroque is also known affectionately as “Snackboy Jr.” for his inimitable ability to snack out. We have shared many an excellent meal and bottle together, whether on the road with Nous Non Plus or at our favorite NYC steakhouse Keens.
In other news, I was Bar Mitzvah 27 years ago today.