We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

I love Chianti, especially with garlicky, tomato-y pasta dishes, so when I ordered that at a caf?the other day, I also ordered a bottle of Chianti.

There was nothing technically wrong with it except that it didn't taste like Chianti.

That reminded me of how many lives Italy's most famous wine has been through in the four decades. Buffeted from here to there since the 1970s, Chianti has a more checkered history than the tablecloths on which it often sits.

And in its latest new suit of clothes, some Chiantis feel and act like something they should not be: soft, plush, silky, with less acid and more tannin. It more resembles the doorman at a Park Avenue high-rise; it once looked like the door of a family caf?

Those who can't recall what real Chianti was all about, back in the 1970s and earlier, may not know it once was a tough dude, with callouses and a grim grin. It was a rustic, pale red wine with a brick color and aroma overtones, and was swarthy enough to do battle with the heartiest meals.

The Chianti "formula" that was then the ruling word had been passed down from decades earlier. The original definition of Chianti was written in 1874 by statesman and political leader Barone Bettino Ricasoli, owner of the Tuscan house of Brolio. His formula said Chianti had to be 80 percent indigenous red grapes Sangiovese and Canaiolo, and 20 percent white grapes including the pale, light Trebbiano.

Clearly this made a lighter red wine, one that wouldn't age as long as a wine made entirely of red grapes. But it was written into law as the Chianti formula. What didn't become part of that formula was Ricasoli's added text: If a producer wished to make a longer-lived wine, white grapes could be excluded.

Since that language was never codified, Chianti still had to be made partly with white grapes. Those wishing to make a deeper, longer-lived red wine left out the white grapes, but could not call the wine Chianti. Making a darker wine meant calling it the d?lass?Vino de Tavola -- then a sign of poor quality wine.

The first to challenge tradition was the quality leader of Tuscany, Piero Antinori, who put out a wine that was a Vino de Tavola, a wine called Tignanello from the fine 1971 vintage. He charged a lot for it, an unheard-of idea, and it got raves reviews.

That began a series of efforts to rewrite Italian law to better define what represented a quality Chianti.

Italy's Chianti regulations had been written in 1963, establishing a class of wines called DOC, the government's seal of quality, Denominazione di Origine Controllata. (Later Italy re-wrote the laws to add a G to the DOC for Garantita, making it DOCG, a higher class of wines.)

Rules defining Tuscan wines then changed in 1984, again in 1990, and again in 1997. Eventually the requirement to use white grapes was eliminated, allowing Cabernet and other grapes to be used in Chianti.

What has resulted, in addition to the so-called Super Tuscans that have far fewer restrictions, are wines that are called Chianti, but which smell and taste more like Cabernet.

And such wines get even more complicated by the use of new French oak barrels for aging, a tactic never seen in Chianti until fairly recently. The taste of oak in Chianti is a shock to purists.

Want to check out holiday lights close to you?

Here are some best bets:


1201 San Juan Way

601 8th St.

1907 Winchester Lane

1292 St. Francis Drive

49 Wilmington Drive

91 Wilimington Drive

1622 Lancaster Drive

109 Rose Petal Court

1803 Hartman Lane

1691 Sutter Court

1724 Clairmont Court

Santa Rosa:

The Miller’s house, 2235 Vallejo St.

2440 Valley West Drive

252 Brittain Lane

4481 Montecito Ave.

200 Arboleda Drive

1632 Jenna Place

1673 Hopper Ave.

2045 Filamina Place

5421 Evonne Ave.

Rohnert Park:

1190 Cielo Circle

1128 Emily Ave.

959 Emily Ave.

6026 Elsa Ave.

4529 Fairway Drive

954 Emma Court


1019 Ventana Drive

530 Quince St.

9511 Lazy Creek Drive

For more, check out the PD's 2016 Holiday Lights Map

If you know of an impressive light display we've missed, send the information to crissi.langwell@pressdemocrat.com.

A binding thread in all these wines is Sangiovese, a superb and tart grape that gives Chianti its lean, tough taste when the wine is young. But many Chiantis today are deeper, more complex wines than they were 40 years ago. And some are most un-Chianti-like.

And the average consumer can't tell from looking at the label what style of wine is inside.

It remains to be seen if another set of wine laws will bring more sanity to the Chianti scene.

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.

Show Comment