Chianti, one of the most common and talked about Italian wines all over the world, which hails from the region of Tuscany in central Italy. Chianti has endured a prior history of being a wine produced in high quantities affecting the quality of bottles produced, but has come a long way in terms of quality and today there are plenty of fantastic Chianti bottles being produced throughout the Chianti region.
Chianti is a territory within Tuscany with multiple zones or communes that each lend their own characteristics and qualities into each individual bottle. What some may not know is that Chianti is not the grape, it is the area from where the wine originates from. The primary grape used in the production of chianti is the Sangiovese Grape. Many producers will produce chianti made from 100% sangiovese, but depending upon which wine designation the winemaker abides by there is a minimum amount of sangiovese that is required to be used with some allowance of other potential grapes, which made include colorino, Canaiolo, Cilegiolo, Mammolo and other international varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Syrah.
Sangiovese is a thin-skinned, late ripening grape that is known for its high acidity and firm tannins with rustic, earthy charm. It can be tart with notes of cherries, violets, tobacco, cedar, balsamic and herbal notes. It’s typically ruby red in the glass with some orange color around the edges as the wine ages. There are also many clones of sangiovese that are used to produce some of the other highly regarded wines of Tuscany and Italy including Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
The original blend of Chianti was created by Baron Ricasoli in the late 1800’s consisting of the grapes sangiovese, Canaiolo, trebbiano and colorino. Today white grapes are now longer permitted in the blend. Wine producers add other grapes to their blends that each add their own traits. For example, colorino is mostly used for its color. The grape Ciliegiolo, meaning cherry in Italian, does exactly that and lends cherry nuances to the wine it is used in. Canaiolo is a grape that is used to soften the sangiovese. You may also see some Mammolo and the international varieties mentioned previously.
When looking for a bottle of chianti reading the label can tell you a lot about the wine. If the wine is just labeled chianti it can be made from anywhere within the region of Tuscany. If it is labeled Chianti Classico it comes from the most historical part of the wine region and typically the wines produced in the Chianti Classico zone are held to higher standards, therefore resulting typically in better quality wines.
The labeling with also give you an idea of how long the wine has been aged. Standard Chianti Wines are aged at least 6 months. Chianti Superiore labeled bottles are a minimum of 3 years. Chianti Riserva wines are aged a minimum of 2 years. Lastly, the new Gran Superiore designation created in 2014 requires a minimum aging of 2.5 years.
Chianti is a natural food pairing wine due to its high acidity and is classically most enjoyed as a pizza and pasta wine, but can stand up to many meat dishes as it does in its region of Tuscany where it’s paired with a classic Bistecca alla Fiorentina. If you haven’t tried it then it is a must on your next trip to Tuscany.