The winemaker's finesse shows in every sip of Da Vinci 2006 Chianti (about $14 at wine shops and big box stores), a supple and elegant red blend from Leonardo's hometown in Tuscany.
The artistry begins with the blend itself, mostly sangiovese with about 10 percent merlot cut in to soften the dominant grape's customary edge. All the fruit, predominantly cherry, strawberry and plum, is prominently on display, but the tannins are tamed and rounded by the secondary grape, yielding a silkier mouth feel.
Then there's the two-stage fermentation process. The grapes are crushed and initially fermented in stainless steel, a stage that typically takes eight days. Some of the new wine goes into French oak barrels for six months for added complexity before being reblended into the mass, which then undergoes malolactic, or secondary, fermentation that converts the wine's malic acid into the milder lactic acid, further softening the blend and contributing to its enviable balance.
The result is a bright ruby-red wine that earned 86 points from Wine Spectator and pairs beautifully with various foods. We sampled it with a simple bowl of rotini in a tomato sauce with spinach and Parmigiano-Reggiano, garnished with fresh basil. We expected the combination to be just right, and it was. Then, as we settled in after dinner to watch an old Western on the tube, we discovered quite by accident that this pretty red also goes very well indeed with Goldfish snack crackers. Now that's versatility!
Colette Bancroft is the Times' book editor; John Bancroft is a freelance writer on food, wine and travel.