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Behind The Wine.
Join John Noakes, Sommelier and Manager at our West Hartford location as he walks you through the wine regions and varietals of the world.

Articles Featured in the HARTFORD COURANT.


Written by: Johnny Noakes Sommelier/GM of Maximum Beverage, West Hartford 

Recipe by: Chef Greg Marcuson 

Wine Walkabout—Tuscany  

It’s been over a week since we’ve been in the wine walkabout bus as we make our way through the wine regions of the world. Our somewhat reliable ride hasbeen tuned up and the weird smell from the back has been found and dealt with so sit back and fill up your wine glass because we’ve just crossed into the rolling hills of Tuscany, a breathtaking landscape that the sun seems to hold in the highest regard. Where vineyards and timeless villages appear as if out of a Renaissance painting. This is the heartland of Italian wine, a place where every bottle tells a story of the terroir and the deft hands that coax out the grape’s greatest potential. 

Let’s begin in the Chianti region with its iconic namesake wine that put Tuscany on the global map. However, let’s get one thing straight, the Chianti you find here is nothing like the cheap, macro-produced swill that comes in a wicker basket and often has a candle sticking out of it as it adorns the tables of Italian restaurants far and wide. No, this, my friends is the real deal. This is a wine with roots as deep as the region’s cypress trees and with a flavor that whispers of the land itself. 

Chianti Classico, which is inked on the neck of the bottle by its iconic black rooster is the gold standard of Sangiovese-based wines, so make sure you look for that specifically. As with life, great wine is all about balance. Chianti is medium to light bodied, earthy with bright cherry, violets, and balsamic vinegar flavors balanced by assertive tannins and palate-cleansing acidity. Chianti pairs perfectly with the region’s local dishes—think pappardelle with a wild boar ragu. 

Just to head off any perceived grievances of me not writing about Super Tuscan’s and Brunello di Montalcino’s in a Tuscany wine article it is only because they will get their specific article in due time. The town of Montepulciano is not to be confused with the Montepulciano grape, from Abruzzo to Tuscany’s north. The town of Montepulciano plays muse to its shining star Vino Nobile di Montepulciano which is often overshadowed by its famous neighbor (Brunello) and bores the humiliating label of “Baby Brunello. Outrageous as that is, the wine suffers through with flavors that offer a softer more approachable style of red that doesn’t require years of cellaring before enjoying. On the palate, there is red fruit, mushroom, earth, and tobacco with medium tannins and body. Crafted from the Sangiovese varietal with the sometimes blending in of the ancient Canaiolo grape that has always been the secret to bringing color, structure, and depth to not only this wine but Chianti as well. Also, don’t forget to share the reds with a beautiful chunk of Pecorino cheese followed by any hearty meat/pasta dish. 

Now I know I’ve spent what may seem like an inordinate amount of time on reds, however, Tuscany’s white wines are not to be overlooked, especially Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This ancient varietal does well when young but becomes more nuanced and assertive while its color moves from pale yellow to golden with a couple of years under its belt as more nutty notes blend in with the bright acidity, lemon, and apple on the palate. Accompany this with seafood or a light antipasto spread. 

My intention with this drive-by tale of Tuscany is that you can start to understand that wine isn’t just something you drink, or purchase because of slick marketing and PT Barnum-like chicanery that creates something in your glass that more closely resembles sugary flat grape soda than wine. Moreover, the wine bottle you purchase should represent a way of life from the winemaker, blending passion with family pride and heritage on a historical level. Step outside your comfort zone. I, of course, will be your somewhat mischievous wine guide throughout all of this, always ready to bail you out. 

Some specific wines to consider when you come to visit: 

Castelgreve Chianti Classico Riserva 2017 

Poggio Stella Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2019 

Tenuta Le Calcinaie Vernaccia Di San Gimignano 2022 

As always, your wine/spirit and craft beer connection awaits at all three Maximum Beverage locations where we are stocked with all manner of Italian wine and cheese. We have been serving the greater Hartford community for over 20 years. Better yet, swing by the West Hartford store that I manage where you might just catch me holding court, ready to field your questions, comments and of course fill your tasting glasses. 

Visit us on the web at www.maximumbev.com  follow us on Instagram/X @Maximumbev and me @Behindthewinecru 

Check out our YouTube Channel @MaximumBeverageCT for irreverent wine-tasting videos. 

Chef Greg Marcuson of The North House @ 1 Nod Rd, Avon, CT 06001 has been kind enough to share this culinary delight with us. Make sure you stop by and tell the Chef how much you liked it! 

Bolognese Sauce 

• 2 tbsp olive oil 
• 1⁄2 cup white onion, chopped 
• 1⁄2 cup celery, chopped 
• 11⁄2 cup carrot, chopped 
• 1 lb ground pork (85% lean/15% fat) 
• 1 lb ground beef (85% lean/15% fat) 
• 1⁄4 bottle (750ml) red wine, such as Chianti 
6 oz tomato paste 
• Kosher Salt 
• Freshly ground black pepper 
• 1 lb dried pasta, such as pappardelle 
• Fresh parsley, chopped 
• Parmesan cheese, shaved  


1 In a stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots, then sauté until translucent. Add in both the pork and beef and cook until browned. 
2 Pour the wine into the pot, then stir in the tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. and let this mixture simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. 
3 Use a spoon to skim extra fat from the top of the liquid in the pot. Salt and pepper the sauce to taste. 
4 Prepare your favorite pasta according to the package directions. Serve the Bolognese over pasta. Garnish with parsley and cheese.