A good Chianti wine list should comprise an exciting range of wines that convey the charm, complexity and variety on offer in Italy’s best known wine region.
A serious Chianti wine list should take you on a tour of Chianti’s varied vineyards, address different quality classification levels, acknowledge the art of blending, and appreciate the role the winemaker plays in creating wines of individuality – all without the customer having to leave the table.
It’s always nice to start a wine list with something white and this can also be achieved with Chianti – well almost! While not strictly speaking Chianti, many wineries based in Chianti also make whites from Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, which is the only white wine DOCG in Tuscany, and can be an excellent white in its own right. While it’s typically fresh and zesty, it can also have an appealing floral touch, and the best ones can be quite complex, too. The high altitude of the vineyards and the wide diurnal temperature range provide excellent conditions for making exhilarating whites in Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG.
Before moving onto the reds, a Chianti wine list can also include a rosé or two, made from the local Sangiovese grape, which of course provides the backbone of the red Chianti blend. These can come from the Chianti Classico DOCG heartland but are labelled as Rosato di Toscana IGT. A good Rosato di Toscana enables wine lovers to sample Sangiovese in its completely different pink form, and the grape is proving itself an excellent grape to make rosé from with the kind of excellent acidity required to make crispy rosé from, and the pure and abundant red fruit it exudes. It can also be beefed up with the addition of a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Onto the reds, a fresh and fruity Chianti DOC wine would be a good red to start with or to also have as a house wine. This is a much maligned category due to some substandard Chianti DOC continuing to make it onto the market, but thanks to improved winemaking and better cellar cleanliness, there are some great value juicy wines to be had in this category.
Before we head off to the hallowed ground of Chianti Classico, we should first explore Chianti DOCG territory, which is rather variable in quality. The best of these has got to be Chianti Rufina DOCG, and one of these fine wines should not be missing from any proper Chianti wine list. Chianti Rufina is situated on high ground to the north east of Florence and possesses similar limestone-based soils to Panzano (also a must on a Chianti wine list) from Greve in Chianti Classico DOCG and makes similarly fine wines. Despite the more northerly location, Rufina’s vines receive excellent sun exposure, ripen beautifully and can be quite full bodied but the high diurnal temperature range maintains the superb acidity. It also has a history of appreciation and was singled out for a special mention from the very same Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who in 1716 legally delimited the land around the villages of Greve, Radda, Gaiole and Castellina, to effectively create Chianti Classico – Italy’s and quite possibly the world’s first official wine region.
It is with some of the finest Chianti Classico DOCG wines that the top-end of a Chianti wine list should be completed. These should reflect the nuances of the different terroirs based on the villages identified by Cosimo III de’ Medici, and also winemaking styles, such as varying amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon added to the Sangiovese-based blend, and the use of oak. An added bonus would be to include a wine from Castelnuovo Berardenga, which became part of an expanded Chianti Classico in 1932, and marks Classico’s southernmost point, and the style is noticeably a touch more southern and intense.
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