Young Man’s Guide To Becoming ‘The Chianti Wine Guy’

fancyness-levels

Wine is great choice at every social occasion. Fancy dinner? Wine. Hanging with hobos? Jug wine. Church? Priest wine. Tailgating? Box wine. Office party? Wine spritzer (stay sober-ish around boss). House party? Wine & Coke (sounds weird, but the Spanish do it and it’s delicious).

Unfortunately, due to wine’s weird foreign names, pretentious jargon and general misconception that it’s only for stuffy, old white people, young guys usually avoid it. But it’s easier than you think to get into wine. If you’re a beginner, just pick one common type of wine, learn the basics of it and you’ll be able to confidently walk into any wine store, wine bar or carry a bottle into any party and not seem like a vintage dope.

chianti

My suggestion, choose Chianti as your wine. It’s a classic Italian wine that’s not sweet, but not overly bold (it doesn’t punch you in the face). “Guy food” pairs really well with it: pizza, spaghetti, sausages, steaks, burgers, etc. In fact, the wine gets better with fatty foods on your tongue. Chianti is common enough in the States where you can find it most places, but not so “everyday” as a Merlot. There’s an array of vintages, brands and types, so you can buy a cheap bottle for burger night ($6-$9) or for a special occasion, grab a baller-bottle of Riserva for $40+. People who don’t know about wine will be impressed by Chianti’s foreign name. Wine snobs will be impressed when you confidently declare yourself as “a Chianti guy.”

It’s worked for me. I went to Italy once in college and I’ve been “a Chianti guy” ever since. I like all kinds of wine. I drink it weekly. I’ve been to loads of fancy wine parties and tastings. Yet, I still don’t really know crap about wine. I just fake my way through the conversations and fall back on my “Chianti guy” crutch.

Recently, I visited Castella di Gabbiano outside of Florence, Italy. Gabbiano is one of the largest producers of Chianti and Chianti Classico wines. I got to tour their facilities, meet their winemaker, Federico Cerelli, and do tastings of their wine with him and actual hardcore wine journalists. By listening to them and coupling that with my previous experience, I can relay everything you need to know about how to be an armchair “Chianti Guy” in three steps.

1. Picking The Chianti

GAB_09Chianti_wWinery_PPT

First, look for the bottles with a black rooster seal and/or a pinkish label with “DOCG” on the neck. That ensures they’re actually Chianti from the correct region. If price is your biggest concern, just go with the cheapest. It’ll still be good. If you’re looking for something in particular, ask the shop owner which one is “fruit-forward” (if you want sweeter), or “medium-bodied” (if you want it in the middle) or “full bodied” (if you want higher alcohol, strong ‘wine’ taste).

Chianti_Classico

Don’t get too caught up in the distinctions between Chianti, Chianti Classico and Riserva. The difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico is mainly what region they’re from in Italy. “Riserva” added to the end of either name means the wine is aged longer and/or is made from higher quality grapes. Those bottles are more expensive, but not necessarily better — depending on your taste.

2. Drinking The Chianti

gabbiano-wine-tasting
This was one tasting at Gabbiano. I drank all of it. No spitting.

Open the bottle, but don’t chug it right away. Let it “breathe.” Sounds cheesy, but it will affect the flavor. Pour it in a glass (preferably a wine glass, but even a coffee mug works) and swirl it around. That gives it more air.

If other people are watching, stick your nose in the glass and smell it. Nod approvingly, then drink. You can even make a slurping sound. That’s not rude, it’s how serious wine geeks “really taste it.”

3. Talking The Chianti

chianti-talking

People don’t drink wine to drink wine. People drink wine so they can talk about wine. If your friends don’t care about wine, then don’t say anything. You’ll annoy them. But if someone wants to talk Chianti, here are some key terms to use:

Sangiovese: The main grape used in Chianti.
Old vines: Wines made from old grape vines impress people who know about that stuff.
Corked: That means the wine has gone bad.
Tannins: The stuff in some wines that makes your mouth pucker.
Spit or Swallow: Not what you think. At many wine tastings, people spit the wine in a bucket after tasting, so they don’t get drunk. I know, I know … seems weird to me too.
Nose: The smell of the wine. “Complex nose” = smells pleasant.

Words to use when describing Chianti’s taste:
Alive
Rich
Elegant
Jammy
Minerals
Soft
Woody
Citrus
Tobacco
Chocolate
Cherry
Complex
Pepper
Blueberry

You can freestyle some of your own words, but avoid descriptors like:
Grapey
Bong water
Condom
Flintstones vitamins
Carmex
Blood
Mud
Jagermeister

All right, that’s it. You’re all set to go out there and be the “Chianti guy.”

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Ryan McKee (@TheRyanMcKee) is the editor of Guy Code Blog