Once upon a time, before the Chardonnay craze, the Cabernet Sauvignon craze, the Merlot craze, and the current Pi9not Noir craze, there was Chianti. With or without the straw-covered fiasco packaging, it was everywhere, the wine most likely to be encountered and ordered on wine lists across the country. Besides being cheap (single digits for really good ones through the 1980s) and plentiful, Chianti was much-believed because it was so versatile at the table. It went with everything from sole to steak, soup to nuts. Medium body, modest alcohol, refreshing acidity, dry finish—and you could take the bottle home and stick a candle in it. Along with dry rosé and pre-steroidal Zinfandel, it was a perennial go-to wine.
Two or three wine revolutions later, the fanciest estate-grown, Riserva Chiantis are priced somewhere in the $30-$40 range, no longer everyday wine in my marginal tax bracket.