Back in 2016, I did that thing, where you rent a villa in Tuscany with friends and while my friends were excited about the scenery, the dolce vita lifestyle, the food, the wine, the quaint, historic villages, I was mainly excited about the WINES! I was especially excited about visiting the HQ of a producer I had worked closely with – Cecchi. Before we go one word more, let’s pronounce it: Check-ee. (This is how I learned that a single “C” is “ch” like in chicken, and a “CCH” is like a “K.” You’re welcome.) Ok, let’s rock.
Cecchi is located in Castellina in Chianti, and it was founded in 1893 by Luigi Cecchi. Today, it is run by fourth generation brothers Andrea Cecchi, who leads the winemaking team, and Cesare Cecchi, who leads the business and sales operations. They are two of the warmest, kindest, most generous people ever, and their wines are everything that excellent Chiantis should be: expressive, balanced and delicious!
Before I get too far into Chianti wine, let me say this: if you are planning a trip to Chianti, Checchi has a magnificent restaurant on their property called La Foresteria, where you can enjoy the famous bistecca fiorentina (and much more) with a bottle (or two) of their beautiful Chianti wines
That’s me with Andrea Cecchi, when we had lunch there.
Chianti Basics Before I start gushing about the two wines I received (samples, thank you very much Cecchi and Terlato Wines), I’ll drop a few fun facts on you about Chianti.
The primary grape in Chianti is Sangiovese and it is the most-grown grape in all of Italy.
In order to be called Chianti (basic Chianti DOCG) the wine must contain at least 70% Sangiovese – simple, right?
But to be Chianti Classico, the wine must be made in one of seven subzones of the Chianti region and must contain at least 80% Sangiovese, be at last 12% alcohol by volume, and cannot be released for sale until a year after harvest. Riservas must be aged two years after harvest, and must be an additional .5% of alcohol.
There is a new category called Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which must come from estate-owned vineyards and must be aged for at least 30 months before releasing for sale.
You know the black rooster – known as el gallo nero – logo that is on every bottle of Chianti Classico? There’s a cool back story.
Back in medieval days, the Florentines and the people of Siena hated each other and were forever battling for control of the territory where Chianti Classic is now located. To end the dispute they dispatched two knights to leave each city at sunrise and wherever they met – that would be the border between the two. They were to depart when the rooster crowed at dawn. The Florentines had a black rooster and the Siena people had a white one. The Florentines kept their rooster in a dark chicken coop and didn’t feed it for a few days, so the minute it was set loose, it crowed like crazy … before the sun was up, in fact – and so…. the Florentine knight took off earlier and got a nice head start, meeting the Siena knight just 12 miles outside of Siena. Florence for the win – and the wine territory!
Remember those straw baskety type bottles from back in the 60s and 70s? They were called fiascos and they were all the rage in “cheap red-sauce joints” in big cities. The wine was okay, and the recognition of that straw-covered bottle branded Chianti as kind of a mediocre wine. Today, Chianti makers use standard Bordeaux-style bottles for most of their wines – and the quality has increased sigificantly.
Okay, let’s drink!
Cecchi Chianti Classic 2020 Storia di Famiglia DOCG ($27) All black cherries, cigar box, and cassis with an appealing graphic (pencil lead) note. Oh, wait … here comes a little bit of anise, some toasty pie crust – like a cherry Pop Tart. Yassss! This wine is bright and fruit-forward, but has enough savory elements to make it really interesting and delicious.
You’re going to get some fine tannins that add an elegance to the wine. At $27, I think it over-delivers on quality.
The food pairing: Pizza, pizza, pizza! Full disclosure, I had a very specific craving for pizza, and when there’s a bottle of this wine on your counter – well, it’s a no-brainer. The sweet acidity of the tomato sauce with the richness of the cheese – and the yeasty crust – is a dream pairing. The wine cuts through the richness and it’s a great example of the food and the wine complementing each other.
This wine would be a dream with anything tomato-y – all your classic Italian favorites like spaghetti, lasagna, etc. But it also would work with grilled sausages and peppers. (Also, while the suggested retail is $27, you’ll find it much lower at most stores.) Next!
Cecchi Chianti Classico Riserva 2015 ($48) Well, now we’re goin’ uptown, with a wine that has more age and more complexity. As a Riserva, that means it spent at least two years in the bottle before release and has just a little more alcohol (14% ABV versus 13.5% on the Chianti Classico 2020). The added aging lends a note of dusty cherries (I know that sounds weird, but it’s what came to mind!) and mocha, with some dried porcini mushrooms, cedar and other earthy elements. It was a little less fruit-forward than the Chianti Classico. My tasting notes say, “savory and silky, lean and bouncy with nice acidity.”
The food pairing: steak! This wine has the muscle to slice through a bite of rich beef like a knife through butter. It’s a match made in Tuscan heaven, if you ask me. I think it also would be amazing with anything truffle-y. Like, pasta with a truffle cream sauce, or even a burger accented with truffle salt. Mushroom risotto? Shut up. Osso buco (braised veal shank)? Yes, please. This wine is elegant and complex and I love it.
But wait, don’t go yet! We’re having a Twitter chat on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 10 a.m. Central time. Just search for #italianfwt and join us. My wine-writing friends below are posting their own articles on Chianti and food pairing ideas, so check them out. And maybe add some Cecchi Chianti Classico to your shopping list (or just Chianti Classico if you can’t find Cecchi) this weekend. Cin cin, friends!
Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator
Camilla Mann at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Jennifer Gentile at Vine Travels
Susannah Gold at Avvinare shares her thoughts on Chianti
Wendy Klik at A Day in the Life on the Farm
Linda Whipple at My Full Wineglass
Rupal Shankar at Syrah Queen shares her thought on Chiant
Robin Renken at Crushed Grape Chronicles