Chianti DOCG
Chianti Classico - the evolution of a DOCG wine

Chianti Classico DOCG wine

The Chianti wine area

Although the first reference to Chianti as a wine produced in Tuscany, Italy dates from 1398, it wasn't until 1716, under the last of the Medici, that a wine territory to be called Chianti was defined. It covered the areas around the villages of Gaiole in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti and Radda in Chianti, which comprised the historical Lega del Chianti and later the Provincia del Chianti. In 1932, the Chianti area was completely re-drawn by ministerial decree. The new Chianti was a much larger area divided into seven zones: Classico, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina. The old Chianti area was thus just a small part of the Classico zone, the original area described in 1716 being about 15% of the Classico zone and about 6% of the new Chianti wine area area. Many of the villages that in 1932 suddenly found themselves in the new Chianti Classico area immediately or later added "in Chianti" to their name. The most recent was Greve which became Greve in Chianti in 1972.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita

DOCG stands for Denominazione di origine controllata e Garantita which means "identification of origin checked and guaranteed". This designation was introduced when it became apparent that the designation DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) was being assigned too liberally. DOCG labelled wines are analysed and tasted by government–licensed inspectors before being bottled. To prevent later manipulation, DOCG wine bottles are then sealed with a numbered governmental seal across the cap or cork. This gives a quite good guarantee that the wine in the bottle is what it says on the label, particularly that it comes from the area specified.

DOCG, DOC and IGT Tuscan wines

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Chianti classico map - towns and vineyards

Chianti Italy.

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Chianti - the post-war nadir

In the early 1950s, the quality of the wine produced in the Chianti Classico region was so poor that it was widely promulgated that the vineyards should be converted to grass. At that time, the only bottlers were Antinori, Ruffino, Frescobaldi and Brolio. All other wine makers sold in bulk. When Ricasoli codified the grape content for Chianti in the 1850s, he considered that to make a wine that would age well, red grapes only (Sangiovese and Canaiolo), or, better still, just Sangiovese, should be used, but the only vintner who followed his advice was Biondi-Santi in Montalcino. The Chianti vintners were producing blends that included white grapes, and many were also producing white Chianti wine, which consisted of nothing more than high yield Trebbiano.

Chianti - the recovery

Production began to improve in the late 1950s. A few producers began to think in terms of increasing quality even at the cost of reduced quantity, and, more importantly, began to bottle their wines themselves, rather than sell in bulk to the wine merchants. Badia a Coltibuono was one of the first vineyards to bottle its own wines.

In the 1960s, the Chianti Classico district was undergoing tremendous change, with the tenant farmers (contadini) leaving the land for jobs in the towns and the large landholders selling off individual farms to newcomers who replanted the old coltura promiscua (fields in which rows of vines alternated with grain and olive trees) with 100% vines. Unfortunately, most planted for high yields, including much Trebbiano, an extremely productive but rather indifferently flavoured white grape. The DOC that was adopted in 1966 froze the situation before the problems of wine quality could be resolved, and soon the better producers began to feel constrained. The rules forced them to make wine that wasn't as good as they could make, and market position was being lost, so they began to reduce the quantity of white grapes in their wines to below that specified by the rules.

The "super Tuscan" revolution

Antinori's wines caused a tremendous stir (he was bringing out Tignanello, the first "super Tuscan" to gain notice) and many producers began to experiment, reducing white grape content and using French barriques to add complexity to the bouquet and body to their wines. The DOC commission reacted negatively to these innovations, and in 1970 the producers asked that a new DOCG be established for the Chianti Classico region. Tensions rose and in 1971 Antinori and Ricasoli left the Consorzio del Gallo Nero. This decision on their part sent a shock wave through the region but provided a certain stimulus as well: 1971 saw the beginning of another wave of outsiders coming in and buying up estates. However, unlike the previous group, most of whom had sold their wines in bulk to the merchants, these newcomers bottled under their own labels.

The role of the oenologist in Chianti

In the meantime, a new figure was emerging in the Chianti wine scene, namely the consulting oenologist who worked with a number of wineries. The development was on the whole extremely positive, because the consultants (Franco Bernabei, Vittorio Fiore and Maurizio Castelli, to name a few of the pioneers) brought a much needed breath of fresh air, improving techniques in the vineyards, where they advised farming to lower yields and worked to produce better grapes, and in the cellars, where they did away with much that was outdated. They also played a major role in introducing non-Tuscan grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, which were initially used in Super Tuscan wines such as Tignanello, and subsequently added in lesser quantities to many Chiantis as well (for example, Podere San Cresci). The only drawback to the work of the consultants is that the wines of the wineries they advise tend to resemble one another. A consultant's wine from Montepulciano may have more in common with his wine from a Chianti Classico winery than it does with that of a neighboring Montepulciano winery. Thus, although the consultants have produced a definite improvement in quality, the most distinctive and influential wines tend to come from estates that don't employ them (for example, Isole e Olena or Antinori).

Chianti Classico DOCG

In 1984, the Chianti Classico region was awarded DOCG status. This meant that the wines had to be approved by a tasting panel, and that a number of changes were made in the rules governing the production of the wine. Most importantly, yields were lowered, and the use of up to 10% non-autochthonous grapes (Cabernet, Merlot, etc) was allowed (thereby sanctioning what was already common practice). In theory, the wine was supposed to contain 5% white grapes, but many producers left them out.

The production of wines like those of Vecchie Terre di Montefili, which is located in Panzano in Chianti, raises a problem of definition. Though the Chianti Classico region is governed by a DOCG, it's really more a geographic location than an appellation. There are enormous variations in terrain and climate within the area and the winemakers within individual subzones want more autonomy. However, until now there is no sign that the Consorzio del Gallo Nero (now called the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico) is heading in this direction. The only recent change, was to take away the right of the non-classico zones to use the black rooster seal on their bottles.

Here are discussions of the new (2013) Chianti Classico seal and of "Gran Selezione", the new Chianti Classico wine category.

Composition of Chianti Classico

From earliest times to the middle of the 19 C, the wine known as Chianti was produced solely from Sangiovese grapes. During the second half of 19 C, Baron Bettino Ricasoli, who was an important Chianti producer and also eventually the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy, introduced rules that he considered would improve and stabilise the quality of Chianti wine. The ampelographical base (the types of grapes that can be used in the production of the wine) was to be 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca. When the Chianti formula was created, the red wines were particularly harsh because the whole grape bunch was used, even the stalks, and no one knew about malolactic fermentation.

In 1984, the DOCG commission passed a set of regulations governing the composition of Chianti Classico within the framework of the Chianti DOCG. However, in 1996, Chianti Classico was recognised as a completely independent appellation that allowed under the appellation what had become common practice for Vini da Tavola. Chianti Classico could now be up to 100% Sangiovese. In addition to Sangiovese, producers may use other native red grapes, such as Canaiolo and Colorino, or "international" types, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a maximum combined ratio of 20%. Trebbiano and Malvasia, both white grapes, can no longer be used, beginning with the 2006 vintage. These are very different wines, and this does make it quite difficult to determine exactly what a Chianti is. However, this latitude makes it possible for almost everything that had until now been classified as "Super Tuscan" to re-enter the fold. For example, if Antinori wanted to, they could classify Tignanello as a Chianti Classico Riserva. The standard and Riserva Chianti Classico wines both have the Gallo Nero seal but with different coloured borders - red for the standard wine and gold for the Riserva.

Wine tasting tour of the Chianti castles and vineyards.

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Wine tasting and sightseeing tours in Chianti with Angela

Angela Saltafuori, a English-speaking, licensed guide and sommelier, drives groups of 2 to 8 visitors in a comfortable, air-conditioned minibus to visit Chianti wineries and taste Chianti wines. Classic wine tasting itineraries for shared wine tours and customised private wine tasting tours or sightseeing tours based on your wishes. More about Chianti Castles and Vineyards winetasting tour.

Lower production, better quality, new wines

This legislative activity is mirrored by changes in the field: in the 1950s the producers planted "Fiat vineyards," vineyards with widely spaced tractor-friendly rows that had vines that would produce five or more kilograms of grapes to guarantee high production. Now the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico Gallo Nero has undertaken a program to develop Sangiovese clones that will produce better quality grapes and the producers are replanting the old vineyards at much higher vine densities. Overall production is much lower and the production per vine is down to a little more than half a kilogram, but each plant produces a small quantity of high-quality grapes and the wine is significantly better. In addition to clones of well-known varietals, an enthusiasm for recovering near-extinct autochthonous varieties that began in Sicily is taking hold in Tuscany and promises new blends and even entirely new Vini da Tavola.

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