How long can you age a Chianti wine?

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 flavors are designed to be drunk young. My gaze settles on a bottle of Chianti Riserva DOCG. This wine, distinguished by its rigorous production standards and cultivated under optimal conditions, boasts a complexity and depth unmatched by others. It possesses robust tannins and pronounced acidity, laying the foundation for its potential to age gracefully.

Chianti Riserva

And then out of the corner of my eye I spot an old Chianti Riserva wine. A Riserva wine must be oak aged for a minimum of 2 years. The flavors, 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 aging the tannins break down allowing the fresh fruit to develop into more complex earthy flavors. Then the acidity helps preserve the wine through the process. Therefore, the wine must have a good balance before aging 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 flavors 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. 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 aging potential in the wine. The favorable vintage and the oak aging have allowed this wine to develop into something beautifully complex over the years. This shows just how much potential aging Chianti Riserva 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 wines, and for how long, classification can be key. Whilst a Chianti is a high quality wine, it doesn’t have that extensive oak aging 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.  After the presentation, a panel decide whether the wine is good enough to allow the release. This wine’s design is 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 store it in your cellar!  I can’t wait to add a Gran Selezione.