Betting on red

Santa Cristina's Tuscan wines are a sure bet to please any crowd.

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Gary J. Wood via Wikimedia Commons

"Bunco!" "Ugh!" It seemed that those two words went hand-in-hand; whenever someone yelled "Bunco," inevitably someone else groaned out "Ugh." At least that was my experience at my first Bunco game ever. A little late to the Bunco table, I must admit, but at least I arrived — isn't that what matters? And I was able to yell "Bunco" a few times myself — not very endearing to all the old-timer ladies around the table, until I asked if anyone wanted to taste the wines I had brought over. Well, of course everyone wanted to have some. If I was about to take their money, they would at least take my wines. And with that, they started yelling out a new set of words.

"Smooth!" "Wow, not bitter!" "Dry ... but a good dry. You know what I mean?" The accolades kept coming. What I was pouring was no bunco, which, according to merriam-webster.com, means "a swindling game or con." Instead, I had the opportunity to pour these ladies genuinely delicious wines from Italy, more specifically from the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany.

The first wine I shared was the Santa Cristina 2009 Toscana IGT Sangiovese ($9-15). This wine is actually a blend of 85 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The different varietals were fermented and aged in oak barrels separately. Then the winemaker did his blending magic, giving us a heavenly blissful combination with nice red fruit flavors but, as the Bunco ladies, stated "not too fruity." Trying to deflect from the fact that I was out Bunco-ing all the Bunco veterans, I began suggesting food pairings. One of the items served that evening was the "1905 Salad" from the Columbia Restaurant, and we all admitted, practically in unison, that the wine had the strength and stamina to stand up to the vinegar-based dressing.

As the Bunco game wore on, my "Bunco" cries diminished. It seems this is not only a game of chance but of speed — you have to roll the dice quickly and move on to the next person. The more chances you get at rolling, the better your chance at accruing points and at achieving "Bunco." As I saw my points stagnate, I quickly diverted everyone to the second bottle of lovely Tuscan wine — Santa Cristina Chianti Superiore 2009 ($12-17). To carry the label Chianti Superiore, a wine must have a minimum of 75 percent Sangiovese; the remaining 25 percent can be a blend of indigenous or international grape varietals. In the case of Santa Cristina Chianti Superiore, the wine is 95 percent Sangiovese with 5 percent Merlot blended in. The wine is aged partly in oak, which softens the tannins and imparts a bit of vanilla flavor, and partly in stainless steel, which allows the true flavors of the varietals to come through.

On the menu to pair with the Chianti Superiore was a plate brimming with a variety of cheeses, Cuban bread that we all doused with tons of butter, and left-over Easter chocolates. The wine was an outstanding mate to the bread (is there anything that doesn't pair with Cuban bread dripping in butter?); and the chocolates were a hit, of course. But the best cheeses to pair were the feta and the herbed Boursin, two very different cheeses but each bringing something unique to the wine pairing.

The Antinori family has been lovingly working the soil around Siena in Tuscany since 1946. For 65 years, they have been offering wines of quality and character. The story begins with the introduction of a Chianti Classico, but has now grown to include not only the Toscana IGT and Chianti Superiore I shared but an Orvieto and a Sicilian Pinot Grigio. Yes, a Pinot Grigio from Sicily — but that's another story, perhaps for poker night.

The next time you have a group of friends over — or the next time you want to break up a game of chance — turn to Santa Cristina wines. You'll walk away a winner.

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