Today I decided to talk to you about a wine I care a lot about: the Chianti. When I think of this wine, and in particular the best Chianti ClassicoI am reminded of Casalino, a small village of 64 inhabitants in the Casentino forests, where I spent wonderful summers with my grandmother and my Tuscan relatives. I am reminded of the neighbour Quinto who comes to look for my cousin Paolo, who is a vet in Poppi, and brings us a flask of Chianti and salami, just in time for a hearty breakfast. I am reminded of the baker who plays a kind of horn when he brings the bread. Will it still be like that? What is certain is that I had the immense pleasure of catching up with part of my family in Florence, at the presentation of the new vintage of the Chianti Colli Fiorentini. I also ate a wonderful zuccotto!

Chianti is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita red wine produced in Tuscany since 1404when he is for the first time the protagonist of a letter from Amidio Gherardini (yes, the very family of the Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo da Vinci!), owner of the estate of Vignamaggioto a Sienese merchant. This wine has become the symbol of Tuscany for having been able to revive the fortunes of Tuscan viticulture after phylloxera, the epidemic that almost brought European vineyards to extinction in the second half of the 19th century. In 1896, the Ministry of Agriculture declared that Tuscany was the first to produce a red table wine so capable of responding to the tastes and demands of consumers. But how did this precious and appreciated wine come into being?

Chianti: The story of a wine that conquers all tables

This appellation tells the story of Italian wine - and defines the structure of a complex socio-economic system - starting with a family that has been a pillar for European wine and food: the Medici. Lorenzo de Medici considered wine a food, a gift, a commodity and a symbol, and throughout his household, from its origins in 1169 until the end in 1731, the favourite wine was Chianti. Their love for this wine and their immense power made it famous on tables all over Europe and intertwined it with political stories from 1500 to 1700. The first time it is certainly mentioned, as we have seen, is around 1400 thanks to Baron Ricasoli, but it is only at the turn of the 1500s that the word Chianti referring to a special wine appears in the sacred representation of San Antonio. Nevertheless, 'vermilion' or 'wine of Florence' is used to call this wine for another century, when the name of the region will be universally recognised thanks to the famous wine.

In September 1716, the 'illustrious gentlemen deputies of the new congregation over the wine trade' set the terms of trade inside and outside 'the States of His Royal Highness', unwittingly formulating the first real regulations for 'Chianti' and the other wines, then famous, destined in the future to merge into its denomination. The notice posted 'in the usual and unusual places' of Florence, regulated not only the original Chianti area, but also that of Carmignano and Pomino. The Grand Ducal edict, among other things, imposed severe penalties for all cases of counterfeiting and clandestine traffic, anticipating the discipline for places of origin, the prelude to today's controlled and guaranteed denomination. The illustrious controllers wrote at the time: 'all those wines that will not be produced and made in the confined regions, cannot, nor must, under any pretext or this colour, be contracted to navigate, for Chianti, Pomino, Carmignano and Val d'Arno di Sopra wine, under the penalties contained in the enunciated proclamation'.

About a century later, around 1835, Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) introduced the technique of 'governo all'uso toscano' to give the wine a higher glycerine content capable of 'rounding off the drink'.. The practice consists of taking a portion of the healthiest grapes and harvesting them early and then leaving the bunches on racks to dry for 6 weeks. Once crushed, these grapes produce a more sugary must which, when added to the wine that has just finished fermenting and has burnt off all its sugars, starts a second fermentation that is prolonged until spring. Obviously, this technique yields a wine that is very different from that of the 'modern school', characterised by long barrel ageing or prolonged bottle ageing to obtain a wine with great structure. The government's aim is to obtain wines that are ready and pleasant right from the start, perfect for accompanying the simple, tasty dishes that even then graced Tuscan tables.

In the twentieth century, demand grew, a fashion that was destined never to go out of fashion. The production of the territory was unable to satisfy it and so people began to 'imitate' (or counterfeit?) Chianti in neighbouring territories. These wines were at first labelled as 'Chianti use', then they were even sold as 'Chianti'. It was therefore necessary to create a body that would protect the 'real' Chianti from the ever-increasing plagiarism and so it was that - thanks to a group of 33 producers - the Consortium for the Defence of Chianti Wine was born in 1924. The designation Chianti Classico was the result of a Ministerial Decree in 1932 and only wines produced in the oldest area could bear this name. At the same time, the sub-zones Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rufìna were born.

The grape variety from which this legendary wine is made

Until the 1700s, only Sangiovese grapes were used to make it. Around 1800, grape varieties began to be mixed in order to improve the product and today, according to specifications, it can contain up to 20% of different grapes. In 1840, Baron Ricasoli divulged his perfect recipe to obtain a sparkling red winepleasant and ready to drink. Yes, you read that right: Chianti was not originally a still wine! Baron Ricasoli's blend included Sangioveto 70% (as sangiovese is called in the area)15% of Canaiolo and 15% of Malvasia and provided for the Tuscan use. Today, producers rarely use this formula, at most as a blending wine. Instead, to elaborate it, they use small quantities of merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

Sangiovese - in particular sangiovese grosso - is an indigenous grape variety of the historical Tuscan Romagna region used to produce great wines such as Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG as well as Chianti Classico DOCG. In general, it is widespread throughout the Italian peninsula as far as Sicily and Sardinia with the exception of Trentino-Alto Adige, most of the provinces of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia where it is not cultivated.

The vine is very strong and vigorous and must therefore be 'tamed' by the winegrower. Production is plentiful, which is why the winegrower who aims for quality must thinning out the bunches substances to concentrate on the remaining ones. The ripe bunch is large and rather compact with a truncated-pyramidal appearance. The berry is medium-sized with a shape that tends towards the ellipsoid. The very pruinose skin is a beautiful purplish-black colour. 

Production areas

If I asked you now to tell me the Chianti area, could you tell me? First of all a clarification: talking about Chianti without adding anything else is not correct! Chianti can be 'normal' or 'Classico' and produced in the Superiore or Riserva types.

Definitely the most evocative area is that of Chianti Classico, which stretches between Florence and Siena. Here the panorama is a succession of vineyards and olive groves clinging to hills topped by castles, abbeys, parish churches, rural buildings and manor houses. A countryside designed by winding paths bordered by cypress trees that seem to get lost in the hay coloured yellow by the sun. The wine cellars here are a splendid contrast between rustic and modern, but they all use the latest technology and the vineyards are tended like flower beds overflowing with flowers in spring.

As we have already seen in the history of table wine, it was so successful that it began to be produced in neighbouring areas as well, and thus 7 sub-areas were born:

  • Aretini Hills = approximately 141 ha in the province of Arezzo, from which approximately 0.55% of the Chianti DOCG produced in total is obtained.
  • Florentine Hills = approximately 621 hectares in the province of Florence - in the hills to the east, south and west as far as Valdarno, Valdelsa and Val di Pesa - from which approximately 2.25% of the total Chianti DOCG produced is obtained.
  • Colli Senesi = approximately 1,822 hectares in the province of Siena from which approximately 8% of the Chianti DOCG produced in total is obtained. Despite the fact that this is a very large area, the most noble DOCGs (Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano) are produced here, which is why Chianti DOCG production is not predominant.
  • Pisan Hills = approximately 19 hectares located in the province of Pisa from which 0.09% of the Chianti DOCG produced in total is obtained.
  • Montalbano = approximately 103 hectares straddling the provinces of Florence, Pistoia and Prato, from which approximately 0.5% of the total Chianti DOCG produced is obtained.
  • Montespertoli = approximately 73.37 hectares coinciding with the municipal territory of Montespertoli from which approximately 0.25% of the Chianti DOCG produced in total is obtained.
  • Rufìna = about 823 hectares on the hills east of Florence from which about 2.90% of the total Chianti DOCG produced is obtained.

Chianti: the grape harvest

Harvest time is looked forward to with excitement and conviviality: it is traditional for friends, customers and relatives to gather at the crack of dawn to harvest the grapes, assisted by a hearty breakfast (with wine, bread and homemade salami) and in anticipation of a delayed lunch where the grapes will be commented on with a punctiliousness worthy of a commentator and a great big party will be held. The ripening period for Sangiovese grosso is from 20 September to 15 October, depending on the season.

The climate, the hilly orography, the morphology ofThe soils described above result in a light environment particularly suitable for the proper ripening of the grapes. The high summer temperatures especially in July and August, the excellent sunshine that persists in September and Even in October, the rather high temperature range between night and day allows the grapes to ripen slowly and completely, determining the typical organoleptic and chemical characteristics of Chianti Classico, in particular the colour, bouquet and alcohol content.

From the Chianti Classico Disciplinary

Chianti: vinification

Each production phase must take place strictly within the designated production area, in the heart of Tuscany. Chianti and Chianti Classico have two different production regulations that lay down all the rules for their production, from grape blending to vinification, from labelling to marketing. For this I advise you to consult:

Chianti: the types

As we have seen, we have different types:

  • Chianti Classico = Approximately 22.0% of the Chianti DOCG produced.
  • Normal' Chianti (Extra Subzone) = Approximately 63.5% of the Chianti DOCG produced.
  • Chianti da Sottozone = Approx. 14.5%% of Chianti DOCG produced.

As for the Chianti Classico we have 3 types:

  • Chianti DOCG Gran Selezione = Wine produced from a single vineyard or from a selection of the best grapes grown exclusively on the estate. Minimum ageing: 30 months, of which 3 months in bottle. Organoleptic characteristics of excellence.
  • Chianti DOCG Riserva = wine intended as "Riserva" may be released for consumption only after it has undergone at least 24 months of ageing, of which at least 3 months in the bottle. The ageing of "Chianti Classico" wine intended for "Riserva" may also be carried out outside the wine-making area, provided that the label and band replacing the State mark have already been applied to the bottles. Specific organoleptic characteristics of the type.
  • Chianti DOCG Vintage = Minimum ageing: 12 months. Can be marketed from 1 October of the year following the harvest. Organoleptic characteristics specific to the type.

As for the Chianti Extra Sottozone and Chianti da Sottozone we have 3 types:

  • Chianti DOCG Riserva
  • Chianti DOCG Superiore
  • Chianti DOCG

Sensory analysis: what do I expect from a bottle of Chianti wine?

The combination of the natural and human factors analysed above makes Chianti Classico wine perfumed, fruity, round, deep red in colour and dry in flavour, sapid, with good structure, alcohol content not less than 12% and discrete acidity. Chianti Classico thus has the floral bouquet of iris and violet typical of the sandy soil of this area that constitutes the characterising organoleptic element, with an aroma of berries derived from the limestone component.

In general, Chianti has a ruby red colour that can be more or less intense and deep. The nose has floral notes of violets and iris combined with the typical character of red and black berries. Selections and reserves may have spicy and balsamic notes. The flavour is harmonious, dry, sapid, with good tannicity that refines over time making it soft and velvety. The minimum total alcoholic strength by volume is 12.00%; vol, for the 'Riserva 12.50% vol.

How much does a bottle of Chianti wine cost?

The cost of a bottle of Chianti varies from producer to producer and from type to type.

  • Chianti Classico DOCG = The price of a bottle of fair quality generally starts at a minimum of €6, while the best price for a bottle of good/very good quality is €12.
  • Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva = The price of a bottle of fair quality generally starts at a minimum of €12, while the best price for a bottle of good/very good quality is €15/18.
  • Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione = The price of a bottle of fair quality generally starts at a minimum of €18, while the best price for a bottle of good/very good quality is €25/35.
  • Chianti DOCG = The price of a bottle of decent quality generally starts at a minimum of €5, while the best price for a bottle of good/very good quality is €10.
  • Chianti DOCG Superiore = The price of a bottle of decent quality generally starts at a minimum of 7 €, while the best price for a good bottle is 10 €.
  • Chianti DOCG Riserva = The price of a bottle of decent quality generally starts at a minimum of 12 €, while the best price for a bottle of good quality is 22 €.
  • Chianti DOCG Sottozone = The price of a decent quality bottle generally starts at a minimum of 8 €, while the best price for a good quality bottle is 16 €.

Wondering how much a bottle of Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva can cost? The Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG of Castell'in Villa 1971 is currently sold at €600. Vintage Chianti wines are perfect to organise tasting evenings among connoisseurs in order to discover the extraordinary evolution potential of Sangiovese.

Chianti: food and wine pairings.

Chianti is an extraordinary wine for the versatility with which it can accompany a large number of dishes starting, of course, with the simple and traditional ones of Tuscan cuisine. Tuscan gastronomy banishes sauces to enhance the taste of the raw material and in fact the golden accompaniments of Chianti are fresh pasta with mushrooms or truffles, Florentine steak and grilled meat and a good caciucco alla livornese. Yes, Chianti with caciucco is divine... try it to believe!

Today I enjoyed it with Fattoria di Petrognano's Chianti DOCG Superiore Meme paired with some simple and delicious gnocchi gratin with pancetta and Bagoss... but I'll tell you the recipe for this delight next time!😉

I would say that Chianti now has no more secrets and it is clear that it is one of the most representative and fascinating Italian wines. In your opinion, can I say that Chianti DOCG is the table wine par excellence? In your opinion what is the best Chianti on the market? I am waiting for lots of good advice so comment on the article by scrolling down the page.

Cheers 🍷


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