For many the Chianti is one of the truly great wines to be produced in the Italian territories. The drink, which can traces its history back to the 18th century, has been a favoured staple of renowned restaurants for many years and stands as one of the drinks that truly reflects a cultured and refined image. From celebrities and connoisseurs through to Hollywood villains such as Hannibal Lecter, the Chianti’s reputation is unparalleled when it comes to the truly classic wines.
Origin of the drink
The story of Chianti starts in the 18th century, or 1716 to be exact. That is when the first mentions of the wine producing area of Italy named Chianti are first recorded. The area, which was described as being near the villages of Castellina, Radda and Gaiole, became known as the Chianti province. It is from these humble roots that the wine eventually began to gain popularity and the Chianti province expanded to incorporate the ever-increasing demand for the wine.
Generally speaking the Chianti region is located in Tuscany, home of a wide variety of influential and distinct winemakers. Though production methods have been modernised somewhat in recent years, perhaps the most famous aspect of the wine is the classic fiasco bottling method that made the drink famous. The fiasco bottle is a standard bottle with a square base instead of a cylinder, which is often placed inside a wicker basket container. Though some modern producers have moved away from this format, it is still one of the defining aspects of the drink for many people.
Eventually the drink came to be recognised as a red wine in its early years, despite the fact that most consumers weren’t aware of the exact composition of the wine. Over time production of the drink would be standardised by Bettino Ricasoli, who produced the first modern Chianti recipe that would go on to be used by many producers of the era.
Unfortunately the story of Chianti is not one of unbridled success. Following World War II the drink quickly began to fall out of favour as producers focused on producing large volumes of the wine. This led to a noted downturn in its quality, which many drinkers were unhappy with. The situation, which lasted until the late twentieth century, was eventually resolved when a group of ambitious new producers began experimenting with the basic recipe to create new variants of Chianti that were of a much higher quality and thus much more attractive to connoisseurs. These variations eventually came to be known as the ‘Super Tuscans’ and are generally peaking considered to be amongst the highest quality Chiantis in the modern market. These innovative new wines eventually convinced the DOCG to reconsider the production methodology that was imposed on producers in order to receive their seal of approval and today the Chianti market is generally considered one of the most innovative wines.
Areas where it is produced
From the original production regions described above, the Chianti region has since expanded exponentially to the point where it now covers a large area of Tuscany. In fact, due to this production area overlapping others in some cases it is entirely possible for other Tuscan wines, such as Brunello di Montalcino, to be labelled as Chianti if the producers have the inclination.
Collectively the region produces more than 8 million cases of wine that is classified as DOC level or above every single year, retaining the higher quality that modernisation has helped the drink achieve. Generally speaking a bottle of Chianti will either fall within the base classification for the drink or else will be considered a Chianti Classico. When push comes to shove the region produces the highest volume of DOC/DOCG classified wine in Italy, cementing the reputation Chianti producers have worked hard to maintain in the modern era.
The Chianti DOCG covers an enormous region, which includes much of west Pisa, the Florentine hills and the province of Arezzo amongst many others. Generally speaking, to achieve the DOCG stamp, a Chianti must be made using a blend from one of the eight defined “sub-zones” that have been permitted by the DOCG to affix their name to the wine label. Some exceptions do exist however.
Interestingly, the original Chianti production areas described earlier are now considered the Chianti Classico production areas. Generally speaking the wines produced here will be medium bodied and with a high level of acidity, with many praising the drink as harkening back to the original era of Chianti, when it first began to build its reputation.
Following the modernisation of production methods the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico has generally been agreed upon to be 75-100% Sangiovese, with an additional 10% of Canaiolo being accompanies with anywhere up to 20% of any other red grape approved by the DOCG.
Furthermore, as of 2006, the use of white grape varieties has been prohibited in production of Classico in an effort to both distinguish it from regular Chianti and also to ensure that the blend maintains the historical accuracy that the name implies.
Basic Chianti must have a minimum alcohol volume of 11.5%, with the number rising to 12% for the Classico variant.
Additionally there exists a variant of the wine named Chianti Superiore, which is produced according to a more stringent set of rules than the regularly produced varieties. This wine can only be produced using grapes from the approved Chianti wine areas, but excludes those that come from the Classico designations.
Over the years Chianti has changed considerably, starting life as a well-renowned red wine before eventually falling out of favour with the consumers following a boom in popularity that led to many producers creating poor quality wines to satisfy demand. Following modernisation of production methodologies that previous quality has returned in abundance and today Chianti stands as one of the most highly regarded wines of the modern era. In fact, the Classico variant has achieved such an impressive level of popularity that it was named as the official wine of the 2013 UCI Road World Championships, further demonstrating how it has continued to penetrate the mainstream consciousness.