Chianti Classico Simplified

After working just one month at a winery in Tuscany and meeting wine lovers from different areas of the world, the one thing I came to realize is how little people actually know about wine and one of the top wine producing regions of the world, Chianti. Sure everyone has heard of Chianti but there seems to be some confusion as to what it is and where it is. Understanding wine, especially Italian wine, can seem daunting and intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. In different posts, I’ll aim to talk about some of the top wine producing regions in Italy as simply as possible.

What and where is Chianti?

Yes, Chianti is a wine. Yes, Chianti is a region. So Chianti wine comes from the Chianti region. Pretty simple.

Chianti (the place) denotes a region in the heart of Tuscany. Essentially, it is the area around and between Florence and Siena. For the most part the main grapes produced in this area are Sangiovese, Cannaiolo, Malvasia Nera, Colorino, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The last two grape varieties are also produced in other areas of the world and are thus known as international varieties. The first four are distinctively Italian. Chianti is always a red wine.

Within the Chianti region, there are also sub-regions. These are Rufina, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Classico, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, and Colli Senesi. The best known and most acclaimed Chianti, Chianti Classico, then comes from the Classico sub-region.

Chianti Region
Photo from http://www.italianwinecentral.com

Chianti Classico

The Chianti Classico sub-region includes the towns of Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, and Radda in Chianti as well as some parts of the province of Florence and Poggibonsi. These are quintessential Tuscan towns and make for great day visits during a drive along the Chiantigiana, or main country road that cuts through the heart of the region.

There are several strict rules and regulations that need to be respected for a wine to be a Chianti Classico DOCG (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita, or Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin, which is the highest type of protection and recognition for quality Italian wines); just the fact that it comes from the Chianti Classico sub-region is not sufficient. The entire wine-making process from cultivation and vinification to aging and bottling must occur exclusively in the Classico area. One of the most important rules is the 80/20 rule. At least 80% of the grapes in a Chianti Classico must be Sangiovese with the remaining 20% could be a mix of the local and international varieties previously stated. Among other technical and specific regulations that govern the wine-making process, there are rules regarding the alcohol level, yield of grapes per hectare and yield of wine from grapes, and aging minimums.

Characteristics of Sangiovese and Chianti Classico

Sangiovese is a sensitive grape which expresses fully the characteristics of the terroir from which it grows. Terroir is a French term used to denote not only the actual place where the grape grows but also the soil, sun exposure, slope, and climate of the region. All these various elements have an effect on the grape, no matter the location or the type of grape, but the Sangiovese is particularly adept at picking up the characteristics of the terroir and these come through in the wine.  For example, flowery bouquets in the wine are derived from Sangiovese being grown in sandy soils, while scents of wild berries and tobacco aromas are derived by limestone soil. The one major feature, however, that permeates all Chianti Classico is the scent of violet.  This is a distinguishing characteristic of the wine.

Sangiovese is a grape that does well in medium to long term aging and lends itself to a big structure and layered complexity. In a young Chianti Classico red fruits tend to be prevalent and the wine is rounded with a brilliant, crisp ruby red color.

Chianti Classico at the Table

Chianti Classico is great paired with typical Tuscan dishes, such as aged cheeses, homemade pasta with wild boar and ribollita (a thick, bready vegetable soup) as well as wild game, sirloin, and other grilled meats. Essentially, you want to pair a Chianti Classico with a dish that has structure and can hold up to the complexity of the wine. Be sure the bottle is opened a few hours before enjoying it. If not, at least decant the wine and pour it into a carafe to ensure it opens up nicely. The ideal serving temperature is 16-18 degrees C (61-64° F) and this ensures that the wine keeps its equilibrium and fully expresses its bouquet.

Rows and rows of Chianti Classico on display at the annual Chianti Classico Collection in Florence.

Il Gallo Nero – The Black Rooster

A great wine such as Chianti Classico wouldn’t be complete without a great story. You may have wondered what the significance of the black rooster on every Chianti Classico label is. Legend has it that in the 13th century Florence and Siena, two great rivals (they still are to this day), decided to finally put an end to their dispute over the Chianti region. The two city-states agreed that a horse race would be the best way to conclude their battle and it was decided that a knight would depart each city-state at the first crow of the rooster. Their meeting point would signify the border between Florence and Siena. The Florentines, however, cunningly chose a skinny rooster that hadn’t been fed for several days. This rooster crowed much earlier than the dawn, causing the knight from Florence to depart before his Sienese counterpart. The two met only 20km from the walls of Siena and thus Florence’s territory extended and covered much more of the Chianti region than Siena. The black rooster has since been the symbol of Chianti Classico.

The emblem of Chianti Classico.
Photo from http://www.chianti.com

** This article was originally published on the now inactive site http://www.cavavaplus.com.

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