Awesome 1997 Chianti
by Jonathon Alsop
Sometimes government intervention is a good thing, like in a natural disaster, for instance. Other times, it can be its own natural disaster, like in 1932 when the Italian government decided Chianti should be "a fine table wine and not a superior table wine." They expanded so enormously the scope of what could be called Chianti that the name came to mean nothing but "cheap Italian red," and the reputations of even the greatest wines languished in the US for decades.
The government returned with new regulations in 1984 for Chianti Classico, the historical core of all Chianti, and they reinvigorated the wine and the region. By reducing the amount of white juice that was strangely required in reds and allowing the addition of other grapes like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah into the blend, the door was opened to bigger, brawnier Chianti that would compete with the cabs and merlots of the world.
Now, a dozen years later, comes the 1997 vintage, anointed by the hugely influential Wine Spectator magazine as "Vintage of the Century" (20th or 21st?), confirming Chianti's rehabilitation. That's the good news. The other good news is that even cheap wine tastes great in a great year like 1997, so the buy flag is up on bargains in the vintage. The bad news is the upward pressure on prices these scores naturally create.
Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva is the first beauty from this beautiful year, a big, delicious ruby-red wine that is born to match up with Tuscan steak. This wine is rich and chewy, almost meaty, with fruit flavors of raspberry, blackberry and fig, and a layer of olive and eucalyptus for good measure.
Buy now and drink through the winter; not cheap but not impossible either at about $18. Distributed in Massachusetts by Whitehall and available at The Wine Vault and others.