Chianti Classico: The Quintessential Tuscan Wine
What are the origins of Chianti Classico?
Chianti Classico, in addition to being the most famous Italian wine in the world, is also the oldest. Actually, the first record of its production date back to the 1400s, but it was in the year 1700 that it was deemed the Tuscan wine par excellence. In fact, in 1716 the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, selected the variety to be used (Sangioveto), the zone of production and gave the official name of Vino Chianti.
The Grand Duke was not aware that he had just created the first Italian DOC for a wine. In 1924, thirty-three producers founded the Winemaking Consortium of Italy and the symbol chosen was the crest of the Lega del Chianti, the black rooster, which is still the historic trademark today. In 1984, Chianti Classico was among the first Italian red wines to receive the DOCG appellation.
Where is it produced?
The production zone for Chianti Classico includes parts of the provinces of Siena and Florence and extends over about 700km² including the municipal areas of Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti as well as parts of the municipal areas of Barberino Val d’Elsa, Poggibonsi, Castelnuovo Berardenga, San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.
What grape variety is used to make it?
The main grape variety that has always been used is Sangiovese in its local version called Sangioveto. For centuries, the use of native red grapes like Canaiolo, Colorino, Mammolo etc. and white wine grapes such as Trebbiano and White Malvasia up to 5% was permitted. Since 2006, it is no longer possible to use white grapes but the use of international grape varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, etc. is permitted up to a maximum of 20%.
But we must remember that during the 1700s, Chianti wine was produced only with Sangiovese grapes and that only since the 1800s other varieties were introduced.
The year 1840 saw the Baron Bettino Ricasoli share the recipe or blend for Chianti: it was recommended to use 70% Sangioveto, 15% Canaiolo, and 15% Malvasia Nera.
The practice of Governo all’uso Toscano during the vinification which required a slow refermentation of the wine that had just been racked with slightly dried grapes.
Later, also Trebbiano Toscana, the most common white wine variety of the time in Tuscany, was added.
Sangiovese is one of the grape varieties that is the most sensitive to the climate and the weather conditions, but the Mediterranean climates suits it very well. Just like in Montalcino, the Chianti Classico production zone varies from valleys at 200m altitude to mountainous areas at 700m. The classic terrain is marl and also alberese limestone, clay, and soil of alluvial origin.
This complexity in the terrain that is quite rich in minerals and at quite elevated altitudes give the winemakers the ability to produce wines with high levels of acidity that are most suitable for ageing. It is important to remember that the various areas of production give rise to wines with very different organoleptic qualities, so you can find softer, fresher, and ready to drink wines
Why is it so famous?
Today it is surely the most famous Italian wine worldwide and given its long history, perhaps it always has been. The excellent quality, the definitely affordable price, and most of all, the fact that it is easy to buy in Italy and abroad have been the three main factors that have given it such international success.
What is the difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico?
The main difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico is the area of production.
Chianti Classico can only be produced within the aforementioned municipal areas while the Chianti production area is wider and includes all or part of the territories in the provinces of Siena, Firenze, Prato, Arezzo, Pistoia, and Pisa, which are further divided into 7 subzones: Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colle Aretini, also Colline Pisane, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Rufina, and Chianti Montespertoli.
There are three versions of Chianti that are produced (Chianti, Superiore, and Riserva), each with different ageing periods. The interesting thing is that they can still be produced with up to 10% white grapes.
What are the best Chianti Classico wineries?
There are about 350 Chianti Classico wineries and some of these have a very long history. Some of the most important ones are Castello di Brolio, Fonterutoli, Castello di Monsanto, Badia Coltibuono, Ruffino, Fontodi, Castello di Rampolla, Marchesi Antinori, Felsina, and Isole e Olena.
What are the best vintages?
The best Chianti Classico vintages are 2016, 2015, 2012, 2010, 2007, and 2006. Noteworthy are also the 2013, 2004, and 2001 vintages.
What are its characteristics?
Its color is ruby red, which tends to garnet over time. It is a wine that can be aged for several years but can show you its best 5-15 years after the harvest.
There are three versions of Chianti Classico: Annata, Riserva and Gran Selezione.
Chianti Classico Annata can be released on the market on October 1st the year following the harvest.
Chianti Classico Riserva can be released on the market only after ageing 24 months, of which 3 must be in the bottle.
Finally, the Gran Selezione (created in 2014 to indicate a wine at the top of the pyramid of quality of wines produced in the Chianti Classico area) can be released on the market after ageing for 30 months of which at least three must be in the bottle.
How much does a bottle of Chianti Classico cost?
The price of a bottle of Chianti Classico varies nowadays and between the three varieties can range from a minimum of €10 to a maximum of €120.
Chianti Classico Annata can cost between €12 and €125; Riserva on average between €20 and €40; while Gran Selezione can cost between €40 and €80 and is certainly the most emblematic wine of the Chianti Classico area.
What can it be paired with?
As it is a full-bodied wine, it pairs perfectly well with game, aged cheese, and grilled red meat. In fact, it would be perfect with a succulent Fiorentina steak.
How to enjoy it
Lay down in cool dark room at 16°- 18° and drink in large glass or crystal wine glasses. The most recent vintages do not need decanting, but for the older vintages it is sufficient to open them a few hours before serving.