Producer Aims to Restore Chianti's Nobility

Article excerpt

Italy's Tuscany region boasts a delicious array of cold-weather dishes that match beautifully with chianti, the region's famous trademark red wine. And who better to speak about chianti than an ambassador?

In this case, Roland Marandino serves as wine ambassador for the Cecchi (pronounced CHECK-kee) family, one of chianti's leading producers. Marandino traveled a circuitous route to his current role. After obtaining a doctorate in English Renaissance literature, he taught at the university level. But passions for wine, food, travel and opera led to a more worldly business career as a technical writer.

Eventually, at the age of 55, Marandino founded a highly successful Web site -- www.Tablewine.com -- dedicated to demystifying wine and lauding affordable everyday drinking wines. His mission naturally embraced chianti's terrific table wines.

"The beauty of Italian wines is they are made for the table, not for the wine judges' stand," Marandino says. "In Italy, wine is food and made to accompany meals."

Chianti's centuries-old wine-growing pedigree epitomizes this philosophy. Aiming to create food compatibility and refreshing balance, the traditional chianti "recipe" allowed five grapes -- the three red-skinned grapes of sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero and Colorino, and the two white-skinned grapes of Malvasia and trebbiano.

After World War II, however, Europe's chaotic economy moved many struggling chianti producers to increase the recipe's proportion of the more prolific, less-expensive white grapes. Production quantities increased dramatically to generate cash flow, but quality suffered significantly. Chianti's infamous squat "flask" bottle in a straw basket became synonymous with inexpensive wines of dubious quality.

"Little by little, producers said this is not the way to make true chianti," Marandino says.

Seeking to restore chianti's noble heritage of exquisite table wines, the chianti producers' consortium eventually prohibited using white-skinned grapes and required a minimum of 75 percent sangiovese, unquestionably the recipe's most noble grape.

New regulations also permitted quality international grapes such as cabernet and syrah, but Cecchi's estate, according to Marandino, uses only traditional red-skinned grapes to achieve truly authentic character and quality. …