Sangiovese is probably best known as the dominant grape in the blend called Chianti, the family of wines that takes its name from a region in Tuscany. Chiantis range from youngsters with a bite to velvety wines with attitude. Toward the smooth and balanced end of that spectrum is Ruffino "Il Leo" 2007 Chianti Superiore (about $11 at big box stores and wine savvy supermarkets). It isn't the top of the Chianti line by any means, but it is a step up from typical supermarket offerings.
Some of us first met Chianti in a decorative green bottle wrapped in straw at a certain class of Americanized Italian restaurant and pigeonholed it as kitsch. The truth is that Chianti is a versatile wine and deserves its place on our short list of reliable dinner companions.
The winemaker notes that "Il Leo" is a relatively new style for the venerable house of Ruffino, made of grapes from vineyards where yields are kept low to produce more intense fruit. This approach pays off in a mouth-filling wine that drinks smoothly and offers both the cherry and violet scents that characterize the Sangiovese grape and hints of tobacco, vanilla and, on the long finish, plum jam.
We drink this wine with any meal calling for a modestly assertive red, from a rich triple-mushroom homemade lasagna to simply grilled ribeye steaks and roasted veggies. And on those evenings when we're in a hurry and the pasta sauce comes out of a jar, this superior Chianti lends the quickie a heft it might otherwise lack.
Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.