What better excuse is there than to open an old bottle of Chianti when considering the question ‘Does Chianti age well?’ And so I head to my wine cellar, which alas in reality is just a kitchen cupboard, and I peruse the selection on offer.

Chianti DOCG and Chianti Classico DOCG

I immediately disregard a young Chianti DOCG. These wines, whilst enjoyable, with their fresh, bright fruit forward flavours are designed to be drunk young. My eyes rest on a Chianti Classico DOCG; this region, with its more stringent regulations and favourable growing conditions, creates wines with more depth, the richer tannins and high acidity providing the structure necessary for ageing.

Chianti Classico Riserva

And then out of the corner of my eye I spot a Chianti Classico Riserva.  A Riserva must be oak aged for a minimum of 2 years. The flavours, imparted from the oak of the barrels, can add extra structure to the wine as well as additional tannins. This creates a richer and more concentrated wine with ripe tannins that need age benefits to soften and mellow to their true potential.

The structure

That word structure comes up a lot, and there’s a reason why.  Structure is key when considering the potential longevity of a wine, and when defining structure we have to immediately think about tannins, acidity and fruit, three components which the Sangiovese grape certainly has in abundance.  Throughout ageing the tannins break down allowing the fresh fruit to develop into more complex earthy flavours, whilst the acidity helps preserve the wine through the process. Therefore, the wine must have a good balance before ageing without one element particularly overwhelming another.

Whilst all these factors will generally make an age-worthy wine, it is not a guarantee.  In an area prone to variable weather conditions, such as Chianti, vintage can play an equally important role in the quality of the wine.

However, I’m in luck. My Riserva is a 2010, a vintage renowned for its structure and depth and I am eager to discover whether it has stood the test of time.  And it doesn’t disappoint.  Upon opening there is an immediate depth to the flavours with a velvety smoothness upon drinking; fresh fruit remains with the added complexity of some dark black cherry. There is an earthy subtleness to it with notes of mushroom and delicious dried fruit, and, as the wine begins to open up, hints of herb and mint start to come through. In addition, the tannins and acidity are still balanced, indicating there could be further ageing potential in the wine. The favourable vintage and the oak ageing have allowed this wine to develop into something beautifully complex over the years. This shows just how much potential ageing Chianti Classico wines can offer.

Does Chianti improve over time?

However, before grabbing a bottle of Chianti and putting it in your cellar with the presumption it will improve over time, it is always best to first ask yourself some questions.  Research whether it was a good vintage, look at the producer and his methods as well as the classification of the wine.  When considering how possible is it to age Chianti Classico wines, and for how long, classification can be key. Whilst a Chianti Classico is a high quality wine, it doesn’t have that extensive oak ageing that allows to develop great maturity. In general should really be drunk before the 10 year mark, whereas a great Riserva can last 10-15 years.

A Gran Selezione, the newest addition to the Chianti classifications, must consist of estate grown grapes and be aged for a minimum of 30 months.  Here, quality and assurance also come into play.  Wines must be presented before a panel who decide whether the wine is good enough to be released. This is a wine designed to stand the test of time and will probably still be developing in 20 years time.

But, if in doubt, head to the vineyard and taste the wine! If there’s still an interesting balance of fruit and tannins with a good acidity coming through, then buy a bottle and pop it in your cellar.  I can’t wait to add a Gran Selezione.