A Chianti Fit For The Seder Table
Review of the Terra di Seta Chianti Classico Reserva 2009 and a look at the feud over Tennessee Whiskey.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week March 19, 2014
Mention Chianti to most folks and they are as likely to imagine squat, straw basket enclosed bottles of wine used as candlesticks, covered in multicolored wax drippings as the wine itself. Yet Chianti is so much more than this. Chianti is a picturesque region of Tuscany where castles, terrific food and some outstanding wines are plentiful.
Chianti encompasses a sizable portion of Tuscany and is divided into several wine producing sub-regions that release over 8 million bottles annually. The central portion of nearly 100 square miles extending from Florence to Siena is designated as “Chianti Classico,” the trademark of which is the Gallo Nero (black rooster or black cockerel) which adorns each bottle—except in the United States.
In 1991, the Gallo Winery in California successfully sued the “Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico Gallo Nero” trade association to enjoin them from using the “Gallo Nero” term in the U.S., despite the roughly 800-year association of the Gallo Nero symbol with Chianti.
Chianti Classico wines are legally required to contain at least 80 percent Sangiovese grapes, and quality Chianti is typically fruity and floral with medium body, and the tannins are balanced with sufficient acidity to make the wine very food friendly.
The Sangiovese grape has been cultivated in Italy for centuries and is the principal component of many different notable wines, including Brunello di Montalcino and the newer styled “Super Tuscans” (which are permitted to include non-traditional varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). Sangiovese thrives in the limestone-based soils of the Chianti Classico region, the wines of which are widely considered the finest of all the Chianti sub regions.
Chianti Classico is also the home of the only completely kosher winery in Italy: Terra di Seta. Established in 2001 as a part of an organic family farm 1,574 feet above sea level, near Siena, it became kosher certified in 2008. Owners Daniele Della Seta and Maria Pellegrini also produce olive oils and honey and have a bed-and-breakfast with several guest rooms for visitors.
Their Terra di Seta Chianti Classico Reserva 2009 is slightly softer than their previous vintage but does not compromise on flavor or structure. This 100 percent Sangiovese vibrant beauty opens with violet and raspberry aromas which extend into layers of red berry, black cherry, currants, spice and licorice. This would make a fine accompaniment to brisket or other traditional meaty Passover seder foods.
Spirits-wise, we’ve been following the latest hubbub in American whiskey—the fight over the soul of Tennessee Whiskey. On one side of the divide is the Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp., parent company of the Lynchburg, Tenn.-based Jack Daniel’s Distillery and brand, the best selling American whiskey in the world. On the other side is the U.K.-based Diageo PLC, the world’s largest drinks company, and the parent company of the Cascade Hollow, Tenn.-based George Dickel Distillery and brand. Dickel is the—fairly distant—second best selling Tennessee Whiskey.
The fight is about regulations. The principal regulator of the beverage alcohol industry in the United States is the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). All the TTB requires is that claims of geographic origin must be true, so “Tennessee whiskey” must be whiskey made in Tennessee, but that’s it.
Then last year Brown-Forman got Tennessee lawmakers to regulate the term “Tennessee Whiskey” to mean exclusively a whiskey made in Tennessee from fermented mash of at least 51 percent corn, filtered through maple charcoal, aged in Tennessee in exclusively new oak barrels, and bottled at a minimum of 40 percent abv (80 proof). That is, they essentially regulated that the designation “Tennessee Whiskey” is reserved for bourbon made in Tennessee that has been filtered through maple charcoal before aging.
This year, however, Tennessee lawmakers—at the behest of Diageo—are poised to change this definition to exclude the maple charcoal filtering process and, far more worrisome, to relax the requirement for exclusively using new oak barrels.
As we watch this unfold from the sidelines, we will hope for the best while enjoying a measure of the following iconic American whiskey:
Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey (40 percent abv; $20): this pleasant, off-dry, medium-bodied whiskey works extremely well as a mixer, though is a bit rough around the edges when taken straight. It presents with an interesting jumble of caramel, vanilla and roasted nut aromas that follow through on the palate along with hot-fireball candy-type spiciness, corn syrup, a distinct background note of licorice, and with slightly murky notes of white pepper, and caramel popcorn; finishes hot and sweet, with additional notes of white pepper, caramel and walnuts. L’Chaim!