Wine lover's paradise
Landscape with wineyards and olive orchards in the Chianti Classico region, seen from Vignavecchia wine-growing estate near the little town of Radda in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
Some background information:
The Chianti region covers a vast area of Tuscany and includes within its boundaries several overlapping regions. Within the collective Chianti region more than 8 million cases of wines classified as DOC level or above are produced each year. Today, most Chianti falls under two major designations of Chianti DOCG, which includes basic level Chianti, as well as that from seven designated sub-zones, and Chianti Classico DOCG. Together, these two Chianti zones produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.
The Chianti DOCG covers all the Chianti wine and includes a large stretch of land encompassing the western reaches of the province of Pisa near the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Florentine hills in the province of Florence to the north, to the province of Arezzo in the east and the Siena hills to the south. Within this regions are vineyards that overlap the DOCG regions of Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Any Sangiovese-based wine made according to the Chianti guidelines from these vineyards can be labelled and marked under the basic Chianti DOCG, should the producer wish to use the designation.
Within the Chianti DOCG there are eight defined sub-zones that are permitted to affix their name to the wine label. Wines that are labelled as simply Chianti are made either from a blend from these sub-zones or include grapes from peripheral areas not within the boundaries of a sub-zone. The sub-zones are: Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Classico, Colli Aretini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montespertoli and Montalbano.
The original area dictated by the edict of Cosimo III de' Medici would eventually be considered the heart of the modern "Chianti Classico" subregion. The Chianti Classico subregion covers an area of approximate 260 km2 (100 square miles) between the city of Florence to the north and Siena to the south. There are about 7,140 ha (17,640 acres) of vineyards in this area. The four communes of Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti are located entirely within the boundaries of the Chianti Classico wine-growing region.
The soil and geography of this subregion can be quite varied, with altitudes ranging from 250 to 610 m (820 to 2,000 feet), and rolling hills producing differing macroclimates. There are two main soil types in the area: a weathered sandstone known as alberese and a bluish-gray chalky marlstone known as galestro.
Chianti Classico wines are premium Chianti red wines that tend to be medium-bodied with firm tannins and medium-high to high acidity. Floral, cherry and light nutty notes are characteristic aromas with the wines expressing more notes on the mid-palate and finish than at the front of the mouth. As with Bordeaux, the different zones of Chianti Classico have unique characteristics that can be exemplified and perceived in some wines from those areas. Chianti Classico wines must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12% with a minimum of 7 months aging in oak, while Chianti Classicos labeled riserva must be aged at least 24 months at the winery, with a minimum alcohol level of at least 12.5%.
Wine is cultivated in Tuscany ever since Etruscan times. However, the earliest documentation of a Chianti wine dates back to the 13th century when viticulture was known to flourish in the "Chianti Mountains" around Florence. The merchants in the nearby townships of Castellina, Gaiole and Radda formed the Lega del Chianti (in English: "League of Chianti") to produce and promote the local wine. By the 18th century, Chianti was widely recognised as a red wine, but the exact composition and grape varieties used to make Chianti at this point is unknown.
It was not until the work of the Italian statesman Bettino Ricasoli (1809 to 1880) that the modern "Chianti recipe" as a Sangiovese-based wine would take shape. Prior to Ricasoli, Canaiolo was emerging as the dominant variety in the Chianti blend with Sangiovese and Malvasia playing supporting roles. In the mid-19th century, Ricasoli developed a recipe for Chianti that was based primarily on Sangiovese. His recipe called for 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia (later amended to include Trebbiano) and 5% other local red varieties. In 1967, the DOC regulation set by the Italian government firmly established the "Ricasoli formula" of a Sangiovese-based blend with 10 to 30% Malvasia and Trebbiano.
Today, Chianti wines are popular among wine connoisseurs all over the world, unquestionably ranking with Bordeaux wines. At the same time the famous Chianti wines also appear in popular culture. In the 1991 film "The Silence of the Lambs" Hannibal Lecter delivers his most quotable line: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."