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Lots of food and lots of fans.

The primary grape in this typically blended wine is Sangiovese, Italy's workhorse red grape and most widely planted variety. But the blend can include a seemingly limitless number of native and international grape varieties, including Colorino and Canaiolo (indigenous to Tuscany and held to be the traditional blending grapes in the appellation) and Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, among others (international grapes that tend to dominate the more delicate Sangiovese).

The newly formed Houston Press Tasting Panel gathered recently to taste five expressions of Chianti. Loosely based on New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov's tasting series, the panel was (on this occasion) composed of HP managing editor James Brock, Houston-based journalist Angela Shah, 60 Degrees Mastercrafted wine director Vanessa Treviño-Boyd and Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca wine director Nathan Smith, who hosted the gathering in the restaurant's private dining room and wine cellar.

The wines were not tasted blind, and the panel made a point of pairing them with dishes from Dolce Vita's kitchen in order to evaluate them in terms of how they worked with (or against) the food.

All the wines cost less than $30, and all of them are available in the Houston market. (Spec's had the widest selection of Chianti, while the Houston Wine Merchant had a more focused and higher-end offering.)

The panel's most expert taster, Treviño-Boyd, noted that Chianti is a "gateway" wine, a category that often inspires budding wine enthusiasts to delve deeper into Italy. Echoing her observation, Smith talked about how Chianti has always been an integral part of his list at Dolce Vita, "a great value for the money" and "always a favorite" of guests.

The panel's No. 1 wine was the Villa di ­Vetrice 2009 Chianti Rufina Riserva, which rings up at less than $15 at Spec's. Even though ­Treviño-Boyd found it to be "disjointed," with the "acidity trumping the fruit," the panel's ­cumulative scores (based on a 1-10 scale) put it on top.

Villa di Vetrice 2009 Chianti Rufina Riserva (under $15; BEST VALUE)

Bright in the glass and on the palate, this acidity-driven wine showed bright cherry and berry fruit flavors. This was arguably the most traditional-style Chianti in the flight, and its Sangiovese character was prominent. (Rufina, pronounced ROO-fee-nah, is a village in the northern part of Chiantishire and lies outside the Chianti Classico zone.)

Fèlsina 2011 Chianti Classico Berardenga (­under $30)

This wine, made from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes, also scored high with the panel. "Texture is particularly pleasing," wrote Treviño-Boyd, "a touch of grit that provides overall complete mouthfeel. Complex fruit."

Monsanto 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva (around $25)

This iconic wine also scored high, and everyone on the panel remarked about how its beautiful label makes it a "great gift idea." Brock was particularly taken with the wine's "funkiness," calling it "a good thing." The wine had good balance between fruit and body, he noted, and "paired well with the salami."

Ruffino 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale (around $25)

Ruffino (the winery name, pronounced roo-FEE-noh), with its distinctive gold label, is perhaps the most easy-to-find and recognizable of all the wines the panel tasted. The panel wasn't particularly impressed by this bottling. "Pretty green with intense oak tannin," wrote Smith, who works almost exclusively with Italian wine and travels each year to the Italian wine-trade fairs. "I don't see this one coming together," he noted.

Querciabella 2010 Chianti Classico (under $25)

The Querciabella was the least favorite among panelists, with Shah noting that it was "light in body" and had an unappealing "sweetness." Treviño-Boyd also gave it a lower score, noting that it was "closed aromatically. Very nice upfront concentration, but missing a mid-palate presence as well as a finish."

The panel was impressed with the Molino di Grace 2010 Chianti Classico, which Smith pours by the glass at Dolce Vita, although it's not currently available for retail sale in our market. It was classic in style, with wonderful Sangiovese character and notes of plum and ripe red fruit.

Stay tuned for more Houston Press Tasting Panel posts.
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News

City Hall Farmers Market Is Moving
Construction forces change of venue.

Molly Dunn

TheCity Hall Farmers Marketmust relocate during the first week of May, a change forced by a plumbing project to be carried out on the Reflection Pond at City Hall. The construction is set to begin on May 1, so the market will be heading down the street and around the corner to the front of theJulia Ideson Building of the Houston Public Library at 550 McKinney. The market will extend into theHouston Public Library's plaza.

Don't freak out when you head to City Hall for lunch on Wednesday, May 7, and don't see any food trucks or vendors. The market isn't gone; it has simply moved. Tyler Horne, market manager at Urban Harvest, says there won't be much change to the market, just the layout and location.

"We will be just one block over, and it's going to be a logistical hassle," Horne says. "But I think, overall, when I was looking at it, we are going to have the Eatsie Boys be that anchor food truck right there on the corner of Smith and McKinney, so...at least they won't completely miss the fact that there are still food trucks and all that kind of stuff."

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