I was walking my dog this morning and we walked by a recycling bin containing an empty cardboard box that was once a case of Chianti. I won't name the Chianti, because I can't say anything nice about it, but it did fire my brain on this topic--that this wine (and others like it) bothers me. It is here that people are immediately suspicious of where I'm going with this, and some have even said, "Oh, so it's not good enough?" or "What, you can't imagine someone is actually drinking that?" Um...in truth, there are better choices, but that really doesn't bother me at all. Indeed, it is a necessity, because--while I am annoyed that the wine is from a HUGE production cooperative that masquerades as an estate--it is cheap, potable wine that people buy by the case, and this is one of the principal engines of the wine industry. What bothers me actually has more to do with politics.
The Chianti region is a DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), which is an Italian designation for wine of superiority, modeled after the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system in France. The rank of Italian delimitations goes, from the humble to elite, DO to DOC to DOCG. The Chianti zone is supposedly in the top class, yet its wines can be so uninteresting! Thanks to political maneuvering, it is the same exalted level as is assigned to the Chianti subregions of Chianti Classico and Chianti Rufina, both of which produce decidedly more captivating and significant wines. In fact, some of Italy's finest wines come from Chianti Classico.
I'm not suggesting that every wine be "significant", because that would be BORING. DOCGs are supposed to stand for a certain level of quality. At least, since the wines have to pass a panel tasting to be approved for the classification, one might reasonably conclude that this is a quality assurance step. There is no evidence that it will assure my enjoyment of a Chianti. At a minimum, it assures that the DOCG designation means LESS than it should. I'd reclassify Chianti as a Denominazione di Origine, because DO is seldom used and is about as noble as the average Chianti. There are certainly some Chianti producers whose wines are superb, but as a class, they are not reliable as anything other than a good steady drink. There's something to be said for that, but that isn't supposed to be the definition of a DOCG.
It's not like the Italians are the only ones guilty of this. In France, all wines submitted for Appellation approval have to be anointed by a tasting panel...except in Burgundy, which is the area that MOST NEEDS TO MEET A STANDARD!!!!! So you could pay $200 for a Grand Cru Burgundy and get a pretty bad wine, because the Burgundy wine establishment pulled the ultimate snow job to get out of having to submit every wine to meet approval. Burgundy is so fragmented, they argued, and estates often have so many wines, that it would be confusing, and someone might be able to slip a second bottle of good wine in the place of a substandard one so both would pass consideration. They also questioned whether there were enough qualified tasters to adjudicate the proceedings, and of course, tasting young wines is such a difficult thing to do. So to keep the governing body (the INAO) that determines these things from being overwhelmed, the growers suggested that they submit only one wine as a representation of an estate's portfolio...and that is how it is. That's BS! If ever there was an entity that was efficient with bureaucracy, it would be the French Government, and here is one sure way to screw the consumer without having to be responsible! "It's not my fault--the INAO gave the wine its approval...."
Based on this, you might wonder "why bother with Burgundy?" Well, once you've tasted a great one, you'd understand without having to be told. Besides, I can report that things are improving in Burgundy, as a new generation of growers take over and strive for quality in a way that their forebears thought economically unfeasible.
For the most part, the systems of regional quality control in France and Italy work well, but political wranglings have weakened them, but the soiled spots are routinely exposed by writers who specialize in the regions, and of course, none of these things can be perfect. In these days of retooling the Health Care system, these things seem rather small, but they are also perhaps an object lesson.
Popularity: 11% [?]