Strictly classico! Be anti-Chianti no longer…—

Chianti is an ogre in ballet shoes. It’s bigger than Bordeaux, stretching nearly 100 miles south of Florence, and aside from being one of the most picturesque places to sip some of Italy’s most graceful reds, it’s also capable of producing brutish bottles that really ought to come with a muzzle and leash. Happily, quality is on the rise – and there are a few easy tips to ensure you pick a Darcey Bussell rather than a hairy howler.

The headline grape is Sangiovese, which at its best produces wine with a savoury resonance and cherry-like thrill. When aged for decades these bottles can turn a meal into a banquet. But be careful: some Chiantis, are weedy and tangy enough to curdle a pint of milk at 100 paces. The reason? The lower-end reds can be blended with white wine. But since 2006, anything with ‘Classico’ on the label is made from 100 per cent red grapes. Not only that, but it must contain at least 80 per cent carefully selected Sangiovese grapes, with the remainder blended from Canaiolo, (a deeply coloured red grape), Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘Riserva’ on the label indicates that the wine has been aged in oak for longer and will be a seriously rich offering, with a rolling thunderous bass-line of woody spice.

The good news for anyone buying Chianti today is that this hitherto rather hit-and-miss wine is now far more reliable. And I’d go further; tasting several Chiantis from the 2010 vintage recently with The Wine Society inspired me that in vintages where the vines receive a balance of light, warmth and rain, the results can be genuinely stellar.

Beyond Chianti, if you prefer a lighter style of red, Italian Barbera is a splendid alternative and works wonderfully with red tomato sauces thanks to its tangy twist.

And if you’re a fan of beefier reds you could look to the ‘Super Tuscans’, which are huge in flavour and led by grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

But as autumn slides into winter, I’d recommend making friends with the balletic side of Chianti, and sip the very flavours inspired and coaxed into life by the golden glow of late Italian summer.

With a slab of top notch Parmesan to nibble alongside, your taste buds will leap almost as high as Darcey.

First published in EVENT magazine on 17th November 2013.