The most reputed red wines from the Italian region of Tuscany (Toscana) are the Chiantis (pronounced as ‘Ki-an-ti’). The wine stands for the tradition, elegance, and stature of the region as it has won them more accolades and fame than any other wines. The fame came not only from the wines but also from its much extended versions of battles and fables in the history books.
Greek settlers introduced vines here as early as in 800BC. However, it was the Romans who started producing wines here for storing and ageing. Greeks liked them and titled the country ‘Oenotria Tellus’, the land of wines.
Tuscany is located on the western borders of this Scorpio shaped sub-continent. With cool winds coming from the ocean, it enjoys convenient climate for winemaking. The region is blessed with numerous hilly sites where the vines are planted at an angle, hence, providing ample sunlight exposure. This also allows good variation in temperature that assists in growing quality aromatic varieties. During hot days the soil absorbs heat and at nights, when it is cold, it reflects the heat to the grapes, thus maintaining a favourable mean temperature for grape ripeness. This also assists in retaining high acidity. The star here is Sangiovese, Italy’s most planted red variety. Due to close proximity to the ocean and rivers flowing through the region, is shares an identical location and climate, the region also grows Bordeaux varieties well, namely Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The region respectably holds six DOCG certified wine (Highest certification a wine can get in the country).
Chianti is the classic wine of Tuscany, and Italy. Initially the wine was very strong and to lighten it white grapes were included. Eventually, the use of white grapes grew more than anticipated. As the cheaper versions consisted of large proportion of local white grapes, as they were grown in bulk, they became way low in quality. These wines were bottled in squat straw flasks, called fiasco, which merely added decorative value to the wines and sadly, the wrong image to the consumers as they considered all Chiantis bottled so will lack quality.
Chianti was initially a Canaiolo (red) based wine with some inclusion of Sangiovese and other local grapes, made to be drunk when young. Later, Malvasia (a white grape) was also included but as it didn’t aid in ageing, it was discarded. Finally, the blend was made Sangiovese dominant for its flavour-spectrum, age-worthiness, acquaintance with oak and bottle aging, and consistency. Today, Chianti blends must have a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, and restricted legal quantity from the mix of Canaiolo, Colorina, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah in reds and Trebbiano in whites with other local varieties. Chiantis have high acidity, medium to heavy body, moderate tannins, and notes of sour cherry, black and blueberries, tea leaves, and develop earthy character with age. They are now aged in barriques (225 litre oak barrels) against large traditional Slovenian oak botti. There are two styles of Chiantis made; one to be drunk young, and the others are age worthy as long as for a decade.
Legally they must adhere to local ageing laws in order to receive DOCG certification. For the ease of differentiation and control, Chianti has eight sub-regions. These sub-regions, to enjoy the DOCG certification, must follow restrictions laid on vineyards age and size, minimum yield, aging duration, minimum vine age, and alcohol level. Other Regions of Chainti includes Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Chianti Rufina, and Montespertoli
No chapter on Chianti would be complete without the mention of the black rooster a.k.a. Gallo Nero. Chianti remained a big flurry of dominion disputes between the Florence and Siena. To settle this matter peacefully, it was stipulated that horsemen from either sides will head toward the other city on the first crow of the rooster that morning and where they first meet will be the dividing border. Due to its punctuality repute, Siena employed a royal white rooster and pampered it with the best feed. The intelligent Florentines designated a famished black rooster and made it starve for a couple of days before the decider. The royal white rooster, following its reputation, announced the day in time setting the horsemen on its way. However, for the starving black rooster, in the hope of an early breakfast, dawn broke way before it’s due. The horsemen rushed to Siena catching the other horseman not too far away from its hometown, hence, captured almost all of Chianti Classico under its boundary. Since then it is the official logo of the Consorzio Chianti Classico, confederation of Chinati Classico producers.
Classico is a term used to denominate the site that has the most favourable/ideal conditions to grow and make wines displaying the style of the region. It came way before the DOC/DOCG classification and was introduced to differentiate the various produces from the same region on the basis.
Chainti Classico DOCG is the heartland of Chianti regions. Located between Florence in the north and Siena to the south, soil and altitude varies largely here, hence the quality. It is abided by the strictest legal framework as compared to the others. The blend must have minimum 75% Sangiovese, maximum 10% Canaiolo, and up to 15% other authorised varieties. It can even be a 100% Sangiovese. They must have A minimum of 12% alcohol and be aged in oak for seven months. They generally need further bottle aging before reaching their prime.
Chainti Rufina is the north-eastern part of Chianti. It is held in high repute, though lesser than Classico. The wines are more acidic and fruitier than the Classicos but with less matured tannins and lesser elegance. At times it is also mentioned that they are known for their deeper colour. Frescobaldi is the main producer here.
Chainti Riserva is essentially Chianti Classico aged for a minimum 27 months in barrels and may have a slightly higher alcohol level.
Chainti Superiore is another DOCG classification with strict guidelines. They must be aged for a minimum of nine months before release, of which minimum three should be in the bottle. They must come from sub-regions outside the Classico sites and must not carry the name of the sub-region where it comes from on the label.
Tosacana IGT, a new classification that was set-up to provide these Super-Tuscans a higher, more merited classification. Some of these individual wines coming from the coastal region of Bolgheri have been give a DOC status.