There are a few stalwarts that always come to mind when you ask anybody to think of the best Italian red wines.
Always a hallmark of class, Chianti is a wine that has a deep history that’s always interesting to delve into. In more recent times, the introduction of the Super Tuscans has caused controversy among Chianti producers and lovers.
But here, we’re going to take a look at the Classico variation that started them all.
2019 sees Chianti Classico enter its 303rdyear as one of Italy’s premier red wines. Let’s take a brief look through its history and everything the wine has come through to become one of the world’s most revered in the modern age.
The Makeup of a Chianti Classico
Before we start digging into the history behind the wine, let’s define exactly what a Chianti Classico is.
The Chianti Classico region is made up of 14 municipalities, all of which are located on a small stretch of land that lies between Siena and Florence. This region has a history that dates back even further than the production of Chianti itself. In fact, ancient records show that the Etruscans that settled in this region over 2,000 years ago produced wine there.
For 1700 years, the region was well-regarded for its wines. But it was not until Gran duke Cosimo III de’ Medici defined the Tuscan region’s borders in 1716 that Chianti Classico was truly born in a fashion that we might recognise it today.
Today, Chianti Classico is a DOCG wine, which means its production is strictly regulated. The 14 municipalities mentioned above are the only ones that can produce the wine and still carry the DOCG label. Incidentally, that also means that you should always look for the DOCG mark on a bottle of Chianti Classico. If it isn’t there, you’re about to purchase an inferior or counterfeit wine.
To achieve the Classico designation, the wine must be a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% of the grapes that are native to the Chianti Classico region. These include the likes of Colorino and Canaiolo. However, some winemakers use international grapes, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These are also permissible under the Classico guidelines as long as they meet the 80% Sangiovese requirement.
A regular Chianti Classico has a ruby red colouring and is typified by interesting floral notes that complement the more dominant red fruit notes. A harmonious wine, balance is the key to everything with a Chianti Classico. The wine itself has a dryness that proves very attractive. Plus, the DOCG regulations state that a Chianti Classico may not have an alcohol volume that falls below 12%.
There is also the Riserva variety of the wine, which is the very best of what Chianti Classico has to offer. Producers use only the most succulent and juicy Sangiovese grapes that they produce in these wines.
Riserva differs slightly from regular Chianti Classico in other ways. It tends to have a slightly deeper and darker colouring. Plus, the minimum alcohol volume rises from 12% to 12.5%.
Furthermore, the wine has to spend at least 24 months maturing, with three of those months spent in the bottle fining process.
Only when a Chianti Classico meets all of these requirements can it become eligible for the Riserva label.
What to Look For With Your Chianti Classico
The first thing to look for on a bottle of Chianti Classico is the Black Rooster Seal. Created by the Chianti Classico Wine Emporium, this seal is intended to demonstrate that the bottle you hold in your hands is a legitimate Chianti.
That’s important too as wine fraud is a major issue when dealing with Italy’s most popular and renowned wines. The Chianti name carries so much weight that fraudsters know they can make a pretty penny from it. They’ll try to con people into buying their counterfeited Chianti at any turn. This damages the reputation of the wine and places the consumer in danger.
After all, you can never know exactly what foreign substances have been used in the production of a fake Chianti Classico.
So always look for the Black Rooster against a pink background. You should find it on the label of any prominent Chianti Classico.
The Man Behind the Wine
While there are many Chianti Classico producers in modern Italy, there is one man who deserves much of the credit for creating the wine that so many sip today.
Bettino Ricasoli was an Italian statesman who eventually went on to become Italy’s Prime Minister. Before that, he was a winemaker who specialised in creating Chianti. He’s so important because he created the first Chianti recipe that focused specifically on the use of Sangiovese grapes in the wine.
Ricasoli was no amateur in the winemaking field either. In fact, his family had been involved in wine production since the 11thcentury and he could trace his ancestry back hundreds of years.
Ricasoli also has an inspiring story. His family had debt issues when he was born and it seemed unlikely that the young man would amount to anything. However, after getting married, he undertook travels in Germany and France, where he examined many of the winemaking techniques of his era.
Bringing back various vine cuttings alongside his new information, Ricasoli got to work on creating a new wine. After much experimentation, he settles on a recipe that was predominantly Sangiovese, with a few other local varieties thrown in for good measure.
He continued his experiments up until 1848, which was the year that marked the death of his wife. Overcome by grief, Ricasoli left the world of winemaking behind to pursue a political career.
But he left a legacy in Chianti that influences the wine all the way through to 2019.
Every time you drink a Chianti Classico, you’re drinking a variation of the recipe that Ricasoli created. As such, he’s one of the most important figures in the history of the wine.