Is there any Italian wine that is as revered and romanticised as Chianti?
The wine has been featured in films and is often the first wine that comes to mind when people think about Italian red wine. And there are very good reasons for this. Few Italian wines have the history and tradition that Chianti does. The story of how the wine came to be is one of the most interesting tales in the industry, and is one that we’ll explore in this article.
However, there is another reason why Chianti is so beloved.
It is a phenomenal wine.
Chianti is one of relatively few Italian wines to achieve DOCG status. With that in mind, we’re going to dig into how Chianti became the wine that it is today before taking a closer look at the qualities of a good DOCG Chianti.
The Early Story of Chianti
To tell the tale of Chianti, we must begin with a brief diversion into the history of Florence.
In the Middle Ages, Italy was not the unified country that it is today. Instead, it was a loose collection of city-states, each of which had its own rules and territories. These states would often go to war with one another, though they would also occasionally unite to protect each other against invading threats.
Of these states, Florence was the most powerful.
Through the 14th and 15th centuries, you could rightfully consider Florence to be the centre of Italian culture. Great artists lived in the state and it became renowned for its art, architecture, power, and the quality of its wines.
It was during this first period that the region of Chianti was first established.
The name was granted to the part of the Florentine Republic that stretched between the city of Florence and a place called Siena. This region became the home of the Chianti grape, with many of the great wines that we love today still being produced on this small patch of land.
Chianti was also Italy’s first delimited wine zone.
In 1716, Grand Duke Cosimo III created legislation to protect the land on which the Chianti grape grew. In doing so, he created an early precursor to organizations like the DOC, as he made it clear that Chianti was to be protected while also putting rules in place that governed the wine that came from the land.
All of this tells us that Chianti has been revered for a very long time. The wine’s history stretches back for centuries. It has also proven instrumental in terms of today’s accepted practice of dividing the many wines that Italy produces based on their regions and the grapes used to make them.
However, it would be the 19th century that would lead to the changes that resulted in Chianti becoming the global phenomenon it is today.
Entering the 19th Century
Research is the key word for this period in Chianti’s history.
Throughout the 1870s, the Florentine Baron Bettino Ricasoli took part in a tour of Germany and France. His goal was to learn more about the way producers in their countries tended to their vines and created their wines.
Using the knowledge he gained during these tours, Ricasoli created a new standard for Chianti.
He decided that Chianti could only contain three grapes – Malvasia for its freshness, Canaiolo for its sweetness, and the most famous Chianti grape of all, Sangiovese. This latter grape became the foundation on which all wines from the Chianti region would build, making Ricasoli’s decisions critical in the formation of what we know as modern Chianti.
However, Ricasoli also had some unintended negative effects on Chianti many years later. In the 20th century, the Chianti zone was expanded to include huge swathes of Tuscany, which welcomed in more producers who were perhaps not as well-versed in the production of the wine. What’s more, Ricasoli’s rules about the three grapes producers could use led to a rule that allowed a Chianti to contain up to 30% white wine grapes.
These decisions led to many more traditional producers abandoning Chianti.
The Italian government’s response was to begin a large replanting effort in Tuscany, which led to a brief period in which Chianti became a mass-produced wine that few respected.
Something had to change.
The Shift to DOCG
Though Chianti’s producers had struggled under the spectre of creating massive volumes, they still respected the traditions that had allowed Chianti to become so respected over the years.
Chianti was granted DOC status during the latter half of the 20th century.
Then, in 1984, it achieved DOCG status.
This status meant that producers received more oversight when creating Chianti. They also reversed many of the changes that had occurred to the wine over the preceding years. Under DOCG guidelines, Chianti could contain no more than 2% of white wine varieties, though these restrictions were lifted again in 1996.
Yields were restricted to force a focus on quality. What’s more, DOCG producers had to implement new technologies and production methods to meet the high production standards placed on them.
Under DOCG guidelines, Chianti regained its position as one of the most respected Italian wines. Now, let’s take a look at what you can expect if you buy a bottle of DOCG Chianti.
Best served at room temperature, and with ageing potential of between 10-15 years, DOCG Chianti is typically comprised of Sangiovese and a red wine grape from the many that the DOCG allows. Merlot is a popular choice as it combines well with the natural tones of Sangiovese, though producers do have room to be a little more experimental.
A new DOCG Chianti usually has a purple colouring, which hints at the wine’s ageing potential. It benefits from an hour of decanting, after which it will produce a bouquet that highlights intense notes of cherry and spices.
Most DOCG Chiantis have prominent tannins, though they are usually soft enough to make the wine accessible for newcomers. A strong structure, complemented by a long-lasting taste, mark this wine out as a true highlight in the Italian wine catalogue.
The DOCG label ensures more control, leading to the production of consistently brilliant wines. In DOCG Chianti, you have a true blend of tradition and modern production practices.
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