Do You Know Every Chianti? Here's Your Guide To Tuscany's Premiere Red Wine
Chianti is most definitely a household name when it comes to Italian wine. On wine lists and in wine shops all over the world, you can find Chianti. And, this is for good reason. It’s a wine emblematic of a perfectly cozy Italian trattoria, with its easy drinkability and beautiful ruby color.
Yet, Chianti is much more than just its name. There are various types of Chianti, representing very unique histories, production zones, and producers.
With so much to explore, we are diving into every Chianti-producing area so that you know precisely what lies inside your bottle.
What is Chianti?
Let’s travel to Tuscany, a region in central Italy famous for the Renaissance, rolling green hills, and, of course, wine! Here is where Chianti is produced, and nowhere else (by law.)
Chianti wine dates back centuries in Tuscany. While it was referenced in 1716, the land and winemaking practices date back even further. Many see the roots of Chianti winemaking forming with the Etruscans, an ancient pre-Roman people who defined much of the Tuscan landscape.
Over time, Chianti evolved into the red wine adored today, made with predominantly Sangiovese, an indigenous grape variety of Tuscany. The percentages of Sangiovese in Chianti vary depending on the appellation. But, generally speaking, Chianti is always at least 70% Sangiovese, with the rest being a compilation of other native grapes or international varieties (which, again, depends on the appellation regulations.)
It’s important to note that Chianti DOCG wines (including their subzones) also have Superiore and Riserva classifications. These identify stricter regulations in Chianti production with aging, alcohol content, and production factors. Now, don’t confuse these classifications with Classico - Chianti Classico is a DOCG on its own, which we will dive into later!
Guide to the Types of Chianti
Chianti DOCG and its subzones We call this Chianti the mother appellation, encompassing the largest Chianti-producing area. The Chianti DOCG was one of the first DOCs in Italy, recognized back in 1967. It then became a DOCG in 1984.
Wines in the Chianti DOCG abide by a few requirements. First, the wines need to be at least 70% Sangiovese and a maximum of 30% other grapes. Of this 30%, a maximum of 10% can be white grapes (yes, traditionally speaking, Chianti wines do feature some white grapes such as Trebbiano too!)
Of course, you can find a wine with only the Chianti DOCG label. However, the size of this DOCG lends itself to multiple subzones with their unique styles and regulations. These subzones are typically listed on the bottle, identifying a unique sense of place. Let’s dive into them.
Just south of Florence lies the Colli Fiorentini subzone (as you might have guessed from its name, translating to Florentine hills.) Here, the wines are light-bodied, with lots of fruit character. Think of what you’d find at Tuscan trattoria - a Chianti that’s approachable, charming, and much too easy to drink. That said, you wouldn’t be surprised to know that the minimum alcohol for wines in this zone is 11%.
Florence is also home to another Chianti subzone - Rùfina. Chianti’s smallest subzone is east of the city, boasting a great landscape for grape growing. Here, you will find very thought-provoking expressions of Chianti, especially since the area has long been a place of experimentation. Regardless, Rùfina’s high altitudes allow grapes to achieve ideal acidity and develop Sangiovese’s beautiful earthy flavors. The result is elegant wines that you can easily sip all dinner long.
Moving south to Florence’s once arch nemesis Siena, you will find Colli Senesi. This subzone is shaped like a head of hair around the city of Siena, starting just north of San Gimignano and stretching down past Montalcino and Montepulciano. The Colli Senesi intersects other winemaking areas. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you find producers - for example - who produce Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Chianti Colli Senesi.
The wines of the Colli Senesi DOCG vary in character due to how large the subzone is. Generally, these wines are lighter-bodied (like Colli Fiorentini), although their minimum alcohol is a bit higher - at 11.5%. You can find more full bodied and bold styles of Colli Senesi, aged in small barrels.
Heading west towards the Tuscan coast, you’ll find the Colline Pisane. Its name comes from Pisa, as the subzone lies in the province of Pisa, just east of Livorno. The low-lying hills of this area yield wines that are quite mellow. They’re fruity, but not forward, perfect for those looking for a red to sip by the beach.
Ever heard of Carmignano? Well, this more famous wine region sometimes overshadows a Chianti subzone by the name of Montalbano. Now, this doesn’t mean that Montalbano is something to be overlooked. This wine zone is pretty historic - dating back to 200 A.D.
Montalbano DOCG is very delicious and evocative of its terroir, which follows the Arno River west of Florence. Apart from its minimum of 70% Sangiovese, the rest of the wine’s blend is usually indigenous varieties like Canaiolo and Trebbiano Toscano. Like other smaller Chianti subzones, this subzone produces relaxed styles of Chianti best-savored young. Just swirl Montalbano in a glass, marveling at its youthful ruby-red color and flavor.
Montespertoli subzone is unique because it used to be part of the Colli Fiorentini until 1997 when it was given its very own classification. Why? Local winemaking history and practices in the area marked it as its region; however, the differences between Montespertoli wines and Colli Fiorentini aren’t the easiest to identify.
The wines here are evocative of the area’s farming roots. They’re medium-bodied with great acidity and earthiness. Naturally, these wines pair excellently with the local cuisine, which features lots of truffles. We should mention that Montespertoli is considered the City of Truffles!
Like the Colline Pisane, the Colli Aretini is a much lesser-known appellation, so much so that it isn't always listed on the bottle. But, if you are a Chianti lover, why not know all the official subzones, right? The Colli Aretini subzone is located East, in the province of Arezzo. What’s interesting about the wines here is their composition. Similarly to Montalbano, this zone practices using over 75% Sangiovese and the rest indigenous varieties, like Canaiolo. The wines are ultimately very lively and refreshing, best drunk and enjoyed to savor all their gorgeous fruit flavors.
The Historic Chianti Classico DOCG
Now, you can’t talk about Chianti without talking about Chianti Classico. This DOCG is the most famous of them all. It represents the most historic area of Chianti production, led by the mighty Black Rooster. This Black Rooster symbol is one way to tell if your wine is a Chianti Classico (apart from the official DOCG label on the bottleneck, of course!)
So, what makes Chianti Classico different than other Chiantis? Let’s start with its production area. The zone runs north to South between the cities of Firenze and Siena, comprising specific comuni or municipalities where Chianti Classico is allowed to be produced. These comunes are situated in both the provinces of Florence and Siena.
In Florence, Chianti Classico is produced in Greve in Chianti and parts of Barberino Val d'Elsa, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.
In Siena, this wine is produced in Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, and Radda in Chianti. It is also produced in specific parts of Castelnuovo Berardenga and Poggibonsi.
When it comes to winemaking, Chianti Classico wines have precise requirements. First, the wines must be at least 80% Sangiovese. Second, the wines must be aged 12 months before release.
It’s important to mention that Chianti Classico doesn’t have a Superiore classification (as the Classico is pretty much specific enough). The DOCG does have Riserva, which requires aging for at least 24 months, including 3 months in bottle.
Chianti Classico also has its unique classification called Gran Selezione. This is the top designation of the DOCG. The wines must be made with grapes from one single estate or cru. It also must be aged for at least thirty months, or six months longer than Riserva. Finally, new regulations require that Gran Selezione be at least 90% Sangiovese and the remaining 10% grapes are only indigenous grapes. Some winemakers are pushing for estate locations to be required on labels to highlight Chianti Classico’s diversified terroir.
Big Hammer Wines, Your Chianti Experts
Do you feel more like a Chianti expert? With this guide, you will be in no time. And, if you need a little help in your Chianti tasting journey, the Big Hammer team is here to help you. Our team works diligently to pick out a variety of Chianti for you to explore, expanding your palate and love for this incredible wine-producing region.
Wines to Try:
Monte Bernardi Retromarcia Chianti Classico 2020
Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG "Il Garrulo" 2019
Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva Bugialla 2018
Castello di Volpaia Chianti Gran Selezione Coltassala 2019
Conte Ferdinando Guicciardini Castello di Poppiano Riserva (Colli Fiorentini) 2018
2017 Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico Riserva
2020 Poderi del Paradiso Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG
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