- The first thing to understand about Chianti is that the wine is named after a region, not a grape. The Chianti region covers a vast area of Tuscany and includes eight defined zones that are allowed to include Chianti on the label. The most famous of these zones and the one responsible for the finest wines is simply called Chianti Classico.
- Only Chiantis from the Classico region may boast the black rooster seal (known in Italian as a gallo nero) on the neck of the bottle, which indicates that the producer of the wine is a member of the Chianti Classico Consortium, the local association of producers. This is not necessarily a sign of quality, as many members of this Consortium consistently produce underachieving wines.
- No matter which sub-zone the wine comes from, Sangiovese is always going to be the core component of the wine. By law, Chianti must contain at least 75% Sangiovese (80% in Classico), up to 10% Canaiolo and/or Colorino, up to 15% other red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. For Chiantis outside of the Classico zone, the white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano can comprise 6% of the blend.
- To truly understand Chianti, you have to understand some simple qualitative levels and regional distinctions that dictate how the wines are made. Bottles simply labeled “Chianti” can be made with grapes (at least 75% Sangiovese) from anywhere within the Chianti zone and no aging mandates are required. If it says Chianti Classico, it must contain at least 80% Sangiovese from the Classico zone, and only red grapes are permitted to make up the rest of the blend. The wine must also be aged in oak for a minimum of 12 months. At the top of the quality spectrum is Chianti Classico Riserva, which must contain no less than 80% Sangiovese and must be aged for a minimum of two years in oak and 3 months in bottle.
- When made well by a quality producer, Chianti can rival any wine in the world in terms of flavor, complexity and aging potential. Master of Wine Jancis Robinson notes that Chianti is sometimes called the “Bordeaux of Italy”. Much like Bordeaux, Chianti is typically often a blended wine and there are several qualitative levels, from simple and juicy to deep and complex.
Wines Tried on Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
1. 2011 Pietralta Bianco Toscano – Yes, Tuscans do drink white wine too! Remember those two obscure white grapes that can be included in some Chiantis (Trebbiano and Malvasia)? Here they are together in this fresh and fragrant white wine from a tiny family producer, based in San Gimignano.
2. 2010 Pietralta Chianti – Here’s your “basic”, entry level, regional Chianti and it is based on a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo. The Lattuada family own and operate this estate, and they do everything the old fashioned way…….by hand and with attention to detail. This is a great spaghetti/pizza/lasagna style of Chianti, with bright fruit and great verve and energy.
3. 2010 Fattoria Castellina Chianti Montalbano – The Montalbano sub-zone of Chianti is in the northwestern corner of the region, and it’s a bit cooler up here. This is the home estate of Fabio and Elisabetta Montmoli and their vineyards are all certified organic. Their Chianti is 100% Sangiovese fermented and aged in older barrels, and the cooler climate results in Chianti with lovely, cool red fruit notes along with complex notions of earth.
4. 2009 Le Rote Chianti Colli Senesi – Colli Senesi is the largest sub-zone of Chianti with close to 9,000 acres under vine. Much of the Chianti from here is simple and quaffable at best, but a few estates produce wines that rival those from the Classico zone and this is one of them. Lara and Massimo Scotti produce just 585 cases of this wine, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo that is aged for a full year and a half before release. It is darker, more intense and more “serious” than the preceding wines. Drink this outstanding value now with grilled meats or stews or cellar through 2020.
5. 2008 Pruneto Chianti Classico – We now enter the heart of Chianti with a gorgeous wine that is “raised” from vineyard to bottle by Riccardo Lanza. His vineyards are in Radda, one of the top vineyard sites in the Classico zone, and his wines are all based entirely upon Sangiovese. Riccardo makes just over 1,000 cases of wine a year and this is the type of Chianti that Tuscans drink. Earthy, peppery, minty and structured, his wines are delicious and uniquely authentic. Drink now through 2030!
6. 2006 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva “Rancia” – The top Chianti of the vintage from perennial “all-star” Felsina, their single vineyard bottling comes from old vine Sangiovese. Deep, dark and powerful, the wine offers up alluring aromas of mint, mocha, espresso and dark fruits leading into a full bodied, structured palate of powerful black cherry and black currant fruit framed by beautifully integrated, classy oak.