This time of year my attention turns to red wines that are especially suited to summer drinking. The sort of fresh, lively, uncomplicated wines that can be served chilled at summer lunches of cold meats, olives, and cheese. Unchallenging, accessible wines to sip around the barbecue.
Chianti is an obvious candidate for this role. The Sangiovese grape from which it is made is refreshingly unambitious. In the wrong hands it can be exceedingly dull, but in the right, utterly charming.
One delightful example is the latest wine of the week, the Chianti Classico Rocca delle Macie 2008 ($16). It’s a lovely modern Chianti, bright and fresh. It glows with the essence of strawberries and cherries touched with appealing earthy tones, all rounded off with just a touch of oak.
Rocca delle Macie’s owner explains his approach: "Our target is to have a wine clean, easy to drink. … We believe a lot in Sangiovese, but we also believe that the Chianti Classico has to be a little bit more than [it was] some years ago."
"Now we produce less grapes for a plant (vine), so we have more concentration. The balance between alcohol and acidity is better than some years ago."
Yes, the secret here is balance—a balance between ripe fruit and acidity. A balance that walks the fine line between easy accessibility and flabbiness, between enough oak to add a touch of richness, but not too much to overwhelm the freshness and vivacity that is the charm of Sangiovese.
In this respect Zingarelli’s approach is commendably judicious: "We use [oak] just for a few months, because we believe it can give the wine more complexity, but we want to preserve the bouquet from the grapes."
Yes, balance again, and he’s got it just right in this ideal wine for summer. Now please pass the salami—and that bowl of olives.