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Wine In Tuscany Part IV, Central Tuscany: Chianti

The Chianti Wine Region In Central Tuscany

The term Chianti has been around since 1398 but the original wine produced in the Chianti area was white. By 1716 the area now known as Chianti Classico was officially established. In 1870 Barone Riccasoli wrote a recipe for Chianti which listed sangiovese as the principle grape blended with 15% canaiolo and 15% malvasia bianca. There are still producers who will make Chianti with a percentage of malvasia bianca or trebbiano but this is not permitted in Chianti Classico.

Today the area producing Chianti has increased and there are now eight officially recognised Chianti growing areas, including the original area, Chianti Classico. The Chianti region now stretches between Montalcino in the south and Pistoia in the north, and from Arezzo in the east and San Gimignano in the west. The Chianti Classico region is more or less directly between Florence and Siena. Total production of Chianti is 70,000,000 litres of which 25,000,000 litres are Chianti Classico DOCG, recognisable by the black cockerel on the label around the neck.

Because there are so many Chianti zones and rules it is quite easy for the consumer to become confused. The latest rules state that a Chianti Classico (from the original Chianti zone) should be at least 80% sangiovese with no white grapes added, the other permitted grapes are local red varieties such as canaiolo, colorino and malvasia nera or the international varieties cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Chianti from outside the Classico region should be should be at least 70% sangiovese with the remaining made up with local varieties or cabernet sauvignon and merlot. A small amount of white grapes (trebbiano and malvasia) are permitted. Additional varieties are not obligatory, a Chianti can be 100% sangiovese if the winemaker wishes.

To the best of my understanding the following correct: If a Chianti is attributed to one of the sub-zones (Chianti Classico, Rufina etc.) it will be labelled as a DOCG. There are, however, many Chiantis produced within the Chianti region that are outside one of the DOCG sub-zones (or made with grapes that derive partially from a sub-zone) and these are labelled as DOC wines. This is because the region is actually larger than the eight DOCG zones. I’ve trained as an Italian sommelier and I still feel a bit uncertain about this, so, if you are an ordinary consumer, don’t be surprised if you are feeling confused! 

Chianti Classico as mentioned above there are rules that distinguish Chianti Classico from other Chiantis. Not only does it come from the original Chianti area but the minimum amount of sangiovese is higher (80%). There are three distinct styles of Chianti Classico, traditional, innovative and international.

Traditionalists use the local Varieties Of Grape (sangiovese, colorino, ciliegolo, malvasia nera) and age the wine in large barrels called botte. Innovators use traditional grapes but age the wine in small barrels (barriques) which give the wine a pronounced oak. Internationalists use international varieties of grape in the blend and also age in barriques.

There are 6800 hectares of vineyard in Chianti Classico. Greve, San Casciano, Radda, Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga are the main towns and slight variations in the soil type produce different wines from each each area. In general, the wines produced here are elegant and can withstand a long ageing thanks to their tannins and acidity.

Colli Senesi to the south of Chianti Classico, the Colli Senese actually comprises three separate areas. The northern area includes San Gimignano, Colle Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni and Siena, some of this area overlaps with the DOCG for Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The south east includes Murlo and Sovicille and the south east Sinalunga, Pienza and Chiusi, the latter overlaps with the Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano DOCG zones. There are 1400 hectares of vineyard in the Colli Senese and generally, wines with a good structure and typical cherry aromas are produced here

Rùfina 800 hectares located at the north east of the Chianti zone, the area overlaps with that of Pomino wine. Historically, wines from Rufina supplied the city of Florence as they could be loaded onto boats and taken down the river. The wines, when young, are fruity and tannic but a Riserva can age for twenty years.

Colli Fiorentini The hills surrounding Florence comprise 620 hectares of vineyard. The wines are fruity with moderate structure, often undergoing a short period in oak.

Montesperstoli became part of the Chianti region in 1996, a small area next to Colli Fiorentini, there are 1400 hectares of vineyard producing wines with a lively acidity.

Colli Aretini The hills around the town of Arezzo have 140 hectares of vineyard producing wines of medium structure.

Colli Pisane the westernmost Chianti region has a milder climate influenced by  the Mediterranean Sea. The wine here is softer with distinct notes of cherry.

Montalbano at the north west of the region makes less structured wines for drinking at a younger age.