Aboard the Tasting Treadmill

Aboard the Tasting Treadmill

Wine of the WeekAntinori 2003 Villa Antinori ($24.10, 88 points), TuscanyTasted three times within the past three weeks, this old standby on the LCBO general list has subtly changed recently, and, in this ripe vintage at least, the change is all for the better. Formerly made as a Chianti Classico under Italian regulation, it moves to the broader IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designation which allows cheaper sangiovese grapes to be sourced outside the Classico zone, and allows a higher proportion of non-traditional grapes like cabernet, merlot and syrah. It still comes across as authentic Tuscan red however, with ripe red cherry, currant, cedar and tobacco flavours. The change is more textural, softer and richer, with comforting warmth and fine tannin. Very good length as well. Ready to enjoy now but should hold well through 2010.

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This week begins my daily tasting for the Toronto Life Eating and Drinking Guide (on newsstands on Nov. 1) and the Food and Wine CityGuide (shipped to subscribers with the December issue). Listing the top 400 wines continuously available in the LCBO general list and in Vintages’ Essentials program, these are the most comprehensive, and most widely used, consumer wine guides in Ontario.

I am averaging about 40 wines per day, and will be doing so constantly for the next two or three weeks, with the odd day break along the way. To some, this may sound like a three-week party or bender, to others like complete drudgery. To me, it is indeed work but fascinating and rewarding at every turn. It’s a constant education, providing a polishing of perspective on the entire world of wine, and what consumers are drinking in daily life—not what collectors are collecting for special occasions (although I’d love to be tasting those too).

The Food and Wine guide is organized by country, so each day of tasting I tackle different regional groupings, and do a detailed study of what is happening in certain places, and how quality and value compare from producer to producer, as well as within a broader global context. Yesterday, for example, I did a swath of Italian reds, beginning with the less well known (and thus cheaper) wines of the south (Puglia, Abruzzo, Sicily) then working north through Marches and into the more expensive Tuscans, then into some of the bigger Valpolicella ripasso and amarone reds of the northeast. Quality generally improved commensurate with price among the $20 to $40 Tuscans and amarones, but they were not miles ahead of what is happening in the south for $10 to $15. And a couple of the big guns, such as Banfi 2002 Brunello di Montalcino, are vastly overpriced at $60.

In some cases, there is surprising quality as well under $10—particularly among the small group of sangioveses from the Terra di Chieti zone in Abruzzo. Modern winemaking is being applied to very inexpensive, high yielding vineyards in hot conditions. The result is quite full-bodied, ripe reds with some oak complexity and warmth. They tend to be a bit sour, and the depth of flavour is not great, but there is plenty of character and drinkability at the price. For pizza or grilled meats, or when serving a large group, they are ideal.