Three summers ago, Josh and I went to a wine tasting dinner down a winding back alley in Rome. It was one of those magical evenings you happen into by accident, where complete strangers become friends, and you wonder how the whole world can still be whirring by outside while you’ve caught lightning in a bottle on one perfect night. Wine flowed for hours, complimented by neat little plates of food designed to pull out and play on the nuances of each bottle. The sommelier in charge of the evening danced between guests and the map on the wall where he kept pointing out various regions of Italy and the varietals of grapes and wines grown and produced there. There are 20 major regions in Italy growing over 850 varieties of grape (350 are officially documented, with over 500 additional types in wide circulation). I’m pretty sure the Somm new every single one.
At one point in the evening, he brought a Chianti to the table, and I’ll never forget what he said about it…
“Anyone who serves you Chianti in a bottle wrapped with straw basket, is not really serving you Chianti. They’re serving you swill.”
Ironically, that basket around the bottle is called a “fiasco,” and I’m pretty sure the Somm thought they were fiascos indeed. As they serve no real purpose on the bottle or for the wine, he warned that they were a quick tourist trap meant as a decorative piece or a souvenir. You’d find real, palettable, Chianti, he asserted, in a regular bottle with the rest of the red wines.
Recently, we had dinner at an authentic Italian restaurant in town, and decided to order a bottle of wine. Among the extensive list of options for Italian reds was Lamole Lamole 2015 Chianti, and because Chiantis aren’t something that show up on a ton of curated wine lists around here, I decided to go for it.
Chianti is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape, a thin skinned fruit that produces a red wine with a “thin” color. While I’ve written in the past about dark, deep red wines whose color makes a first impression, Chianti can look almost translucent in comparison, trending almost toward burnt orange than a deep, “wine colored,” purple. That color may vary slightly if the wine is blended in larger ratios with something like Cabernet or Merlot. The higher percentage of Sangiovese though, the lighter you should expect the color.
The best description I ever read about the taste of Chianti explained it this way: Imagine walking through an Italian grocery store…that’s Chianti! Dried herbs, tart balsamic vinegar, dry salami, aromatic tart cherries, fresh ground espresso, these are the flavors of Italy and the heart of Chianti. As red wines go, it’s dry, tart, and acidic, not three qualities I generally love in my red wine, but there’s something about it when it’s put down in front of you with a hunk of warm, crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of parmesan. It’s high acidity make it the perfect wine to pair with food, especially richer foods with a higher fat content (read: oil oil soaked pastas and fatty meats and cheeses). It also holds its own with tomato sauce.
It is (along with Zinfandel) one of the few red wine varieties that I’m pretty confident I could identify by taste alone more times than not.
Back to Lamole Lamole! It should come as no surprise this is an Italian import. You can’t mimic or fake Chianti! We had the 2015 vintage, which is marked as Chianti Classico. The “Classico” designation means the grapes were grown in the Chianti Classico sub-region, and that the wine includes at least 80% Sangiovese grape. Chianti Classico is considered the top end of Chianti production, so if you’re picking randomly in your local wine shop, it’s a good label to look for. The true flavors and characteristics of Chianti will come through fully!
First impressions of the wine was that it’d make you pucker. The tartness and acidity were extremely present, and there were sharp, bitter tannins that cut into the cream based sauce of my pasta dish nicely. The fruit flavors complimented that “pucker” feeling with tart cherries and cranberry accounting for most of the fruit flavor. There was some mild oak, but it was mostly kept in check by the acidity. That wine mellowed a bit, allowing some of the nuances in flavor and aroma to shine through, as it breathed on the table over the course of dinner. By the time we hit our dessert course of flourless chocolate cake, it was the perfect compliment to the sharpness of the chocolate and richness of the whipped mouse filling.
It was not the cheapest bottle of wine we’ve ever purchased at dinner, though certainly without the restaurant markup you’ll save quite a bit. Finding the 2015 vintage in the $25-35 range seems about right. If you’re looking for an introduction to “real” Chianti (not basket Chianti!😂), and/or you want an excellent pairing for your next Italian dinner party, this one’s a winner.