Da Vinci Chianti DOCG 2006
Cantine Leonardo da Vinci is a grower's cooperative located (unsurprisingly) in Vinci in the
Chianti region of Tuscany. This particular DOCG Chianti is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, the
traditional grape of Chianti, with an addition of 10% Merlot to round out the tannins a bit
(Chianti must be at least 75% Sangiovese). The American market sees 168,000 cases of this
popular wine at $16 suggested retail (real world, just over $10). Alberto Antonini, Chief
Winemaker for the cooperative, sources his grapes from 1200 acres of Chianti vineyards in
which vines are on average 15 to 20 years old. Chianti, as many are aware, is something of a
quality minefield. The area is relatively large, production is extensive, quality varies widely
and hence uncertainly often reigns. There is no need to have the slightest bit of uncertainty
about this well-conceived wine, however; it is an excellent, well-made value for its price
range; in fact I feel it offers a few aromatic extras that easily transcend that range.
I've enjoyed previous vintages of this wine at restaurants, where it has performed well with food, but this is the first time I've put it through a formal tasting. The wine has a deep purple hue, barely yet palpably transparent. I let this wine open up two hours before tasting, then enjoyed a nose of black cherry, prune, dried cherry, nutmeg, black pepper, mushroom, and freshly tilled earth. My first impression in the mouth is a little alcoholic heat matched well with characteristic Sangiovese acidity. Redder fruit came on the palate: good ripe red cherry, dried red cherry, a touch of raspberry, the piquancy of black pepper and a slight yet satisfying bitter tinge of nutmeg. The tangy acidic pucker frames the initial attack of the wine, but the mid-palate brings more earthy tones. The finish, medium long, has a lovely smoky earthy mushroom-like element to it. The tannins, as one would expect from Sangiovese, are soft, round, and yet hard-working, highlighting the finish quite nicely. This wine does not see much wood (13% aged six months in new and used American oak) but I did enjoy some fragrant cedar on the finale.
Ultimately, the da Vinci is a wine that performs a few key vinous tasks exceptionally well, a
wine I consider food friendly above all. Winning acidity and its accompanying fruit is the
main show, but those aromatic extras I mentioned—a bit of smokiness, earthiness, stimulating
spice and a real sense of place, are quality extras. I rarely comment on a wine's label, but
this one is extremely tasteful, a simple sketch of a woman's face; the artist the cooperative
hired for this bit of artwork has obviously got a real future in the wine label business.
Verdict: Excellent well-made value.
When Chianti is good, it defines a certain wine category that is like no other, but you have to sit down to dinner with it.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman