Drink Now 

Some might call these Chiantis 'cheap' — we call them 'timely.'

We've all seen enough Italian-themed TV and magazine ads, and — dare I say it — chick flicks to know that in Italy, time is not the binding construct that it is here in the United States. Birthplace of the Slow Food movement and home to nearly half its 80,000-plus members, Italy is a place where things happen when they happen — a concept that's alluring but also a little unsettling to us control freaks.

Appropriately, certain Italian wines — particularly high-alcohol, hearty Amarones as well as wines made from the Nebbiolo and Sangiovese grapes — are prized for how gracefully they age. They're considered worth the wait — which can be as long as 25 years. Don't have that kind of time? That doesn't mean you have to miss out altogether. Consider instead Chianti, which many of us associate with the straw-wrapped fiasco bottles from the Italian restaurants of our youth. A blended red wine from Italy's North Central Chianti region made from Sangiovese and several other grape varieties, Chianti can vary dramatically in terms of quality and how well it ages. Wines that lack the esteemed Chianti Classico designation are usually more affordable and preferable for immediate drinking.

During our tasting of bargain Chiantis, one of my favorite fellow control freaks reminded us of a variable that's entirely up to us: when to drink. Morning would have been a brash choice, but FCF went straight for 5 p.m. — his happy hour Chianti was the Gaetano D'Aquino Riserva 2003 ($5.50). "Sunny garage" is how he characterized the aroma, while Mrs. FCF, whose sense of smell puts the rest of us to shame, detected daffodils, grass, and a cheese-like sharpness. A simple medium-bodied wine, its taste also had a pleasant tinge of cheesiness.

For 10 p.m. drinking, FCF preferred Marchese de Petri's Il Valore Chianti Riserva 2003 ($5.99). My favorite, this hearty wine smelled like new growth on a tree and had a smooth taste of cherry, chewing tobacco, and apples. Mrs. FCF, who preferred the Gaetano D'Aquino, found the Il Valore's aftertaste a bit too medicinal. FCF and I both imagined drinking this one without food and/or other people.

While none of us picked the Aquila D'Oro 2005 Chianti ($3.99) as our favorite, this one would be my pick to serve with food. "Wet metal chains!" cried the ever-descriptive Mrs. FCF when asked about the aroma. As for the taste, we all detected red fruit and a bitterness that would be nicely tempered by a well-seasoned meat or poultry dish or the briny flavor of olives and certain hard cheeses. Our token winemaker, who ranked this one second, commented that its flavor started strong but quickly fell flat. Just one more reason to live in the now. — Blair Campbell

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