California wine giant E. & J. Gallo has boosted its portfolio of Italian table wines with three Tuscan reds, including the impressive new Da Vinci Chianti 2003 and the Da Vinci Chianti Riserva 2001.
The wines were produced in collaboration with the Cantine Leonardo da Vinci cooperative winery, located 20 miles west of Florence, near the town of Vinci, the birthplace of the Renaissance artist.
Gallo's interest in Tuscany and the Sangiovese grape, which is the foundation of all Chianti wines, is not new. The company already imports around 80,000 cases of Ecco Domani Chianti into the United States each year, as well as 100,000 cases of Bella Sera Sangiovese Toscana IGT.
The 2001 Da Vinci Chianti Riserva (90, $20), a silky, full-bodied beauty, was launched this spring. The 2003 Chianti (87 points, $12) is being released this month; this juicy, fruity, medium-bodied wine is a serious buy at its price. The entire production of both wines -- 35,000 for the 2003 Chianti and 2,000 for 2001 Chianti Riserva -- is destined for the United States. Chris Kalabokes, vice president and general manager of imports for Gallo, said production should hit 100,000 cases in a few years.
The grapes for the Da Vinci Chiantis come from the 1,235 acres of vineyards managed by the Tuscan cooperative, which has 180 grape-growing members. The cooperative's enologist, Alberto Antonini, one of Italy's best-known consultants, worked on the wines with a Gallo team.
"The goal was to produce a Chianti with softer, more approachable fruit character," Antonini said. "Chiantis are often marred by the tendency of Sangiovese to offer slightly astringent and acidic fruit character," he added. "We wanted to avoid this, but without losing the Sangiovese character of the wine."
Gallo also launched a Da Vinci Chianti Classico with the 2001 vintage, which is still in the market. This is a blend of nonestate wines, sourced in the designated Chianti Classico area between Florence and Siena. The 2002 Chianti Classico (84, $15), a simple, fresh and fruity red of which 5,000 cases were made, will hit U.S. retailers in September.
Gallo will also import 500 cases of the cooperative's own super Tuscan Santo Ippolito 2001 (87, $35), a 50-50 blend of Merlot and Syrah, with pretty aromas and fine tannins. It will be available this month as well.
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