The Friday Symposium: Chianti and Rossini

As Beethoven entered his Late Period, he was facing intense competition for his audience. While Beethoven was placing ever increasing demands on his audience, requiring them to accept novel harmonics, extreme dissonances, and uncertain forms, a young composer from Italy was giving Viennese audiences exactly what they wanted–timeless, easy melodies and a rollicking good time at the opera house. That composer was, of course, Gioachino Rossini and the immense popularity of Rossini’s music frustrated Beethoven.

Starting around this time, Beethoven took to carrying with him notebooks, where he made people write out their questions to him. Since Beethoven was able to answer orally, these “Conversation Books” only have the questions, not Beethoven’s answers. So many questions that we have about the great composer and his music were posed by his contemporaries, but all history left for us are the questions. Questions about other composers–Haydn, Handel, Bach, and Rossini, among others–pop up in these Conversation Books and we are left to wonder what exactly Beethoven’s response might have been. I’d like to think the Beethoven’s opinion of Rossini’s operas would be much the same as the Baron’s view: A big meatball, in the best sense of the word.

Today’s music selection are Rossini’s greatest hits for tenors, sung by the incomparable Juan Diego Florez. Recorded in the flush of his youth, Florez’s voice is truly like none other.

What to pair with Rossini? The choice is easy: Chianti. Long considered a cheap wine served in straw-covered bottles, Chianti has emerged as one of Italy’s great wines, and one of the world’s great values. The best wines of Chianti easily hold their own against their more distinguished neighbor to the South, Brunello di Montalcino, and make the case that sangiovese is the greatest of all Italian grapes.

Having spent time in the Chianti region this summer, I can attest to the singular beauty of the region, the richness of its soils, and the high quality of its wines–especially from the central Chianti Classico region. Picking up a great Chianti has never been easier. Just follow these basic rules:

  • Ensure that the label says “Chianti Classico”–look for the black rooster on the bottle, which is the symbol of the region.
  • Opt for a “Riserva”, which spends an extra year in cask, which helps considerably to mellow out the famously harsh edges of sangiovese.
  • Get a bottle with some age. The 2015s and 2016s are drinking perfectly now and the 2017s are coming into their own.
  • Do not spend more than $35. Great Chianti Classico Riservas can be had at this price point.
  • Some producers of note: Querciabella, Fontodi, Felsina, Castello di Ama, Badia a Coltibuono, Castello di Rampola, Monsanto.

It helps to be in Chianti, but for the foreseeable future, I will need to make do with my memories of a place that is quite literally heaven on earth:

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