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 Rýfina. 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.
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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
Badia a Coltibuono was one of the first
vineyards to bottle its own wines.
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
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
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.
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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