The words Chianti, Italy, wine can mean many things to different people.
A number of complicated factors account for the range of styles and quality levels found in Chianti wine, which is probably Italy’s best-known wine. Chianti, at its simplest, is a straightforward bottom-shelf red, which is unfortunately what many conjure up when they think of Italian wine. Chianti can also be some of the finest wine in all of Italy. Our local expert will help you to get to grips with all the complexities of Chianti wine. Italy can be very confusing when it comes to wine and Chianti red wine is no exception.
The most basic category of red Chianti wine is Chianti DOC, and thanks to the advent of modern technology and better cleanliness in the wineries, these have improved in recent years. Chianti DOC wines are usually blended from grapes coming from across the region. At its best, Chianti DOC can be fabulously fresh and deliciously fruity, with heaps of juicy red fruit.
The higher quality classification of Chianti DOCG and its eight subzones, which total around 70,000 hectares, covers a large area of varied soils, altitudes and mesoclimates, making for wines with a considerably different character. Chianti Classico, the heart of Chianti and source of most of the finest DOCG Chianti, itself produces wines in a range of styles and quality levels from its 7,000 hectares.
Chianti Classico was initially defined in 1716 as the communes of Castellina, Radda and Gaoile as well as part of Greve, including Panzano, with their prime hillside sites, but was expanded in the 1930s to include areas of vastly different wine styles. These include lighter styles from the north that have much more limited aging potential than the originally defined area. In fact, the wines from the north of Chianti Classico have more in common with the light style from the clay soils of the low-lying Florentine Hills, which is one of the subzones of Chianti DOCG and is located just south of Florence. Castelnuovo Berardenga, which became part of Chianti Classico in 1932, marks Classico’s southernmost point and its wines are very much appreciated for their concentration, structure and longevity.
Even within the historical Chianti Classico zone, the soils differ considerably from the higher-yielding clay in Greve to the very low-yielding galestro (shaly clay) and limestone alberese soils in Radda and Gaoile. The combination of galestro and alberese really suits Sangiovese, the predominant grape of Chianti, and twinned with the high vineyard sites that ensure a high diurnal temperature range whereby heat stress is avoided and grapes ripen evenly while retaining high acidity and fine aromas of red fruit and earthiness.
Chianti Classico has a different set of production regulations that make the style of wines differ from the broader Chianti DOCG. In Classico, the use of white Chianti wine in the blend is no longer permitted while Chianti white wine can still be used in other Chianti DOCGs. Classico has to be made from red grapes only and a minimum of 80% Sangiovese whereas in the other parts of Chianti DOCG the minimum amount of Sangiovese is 75%. Emergency irrigation is also possible in Chianti Classico, which can counter heat stress.
Classico wines are only seriously rivaled in Chianti by the Chianti Rufina subzone, north of Florence. Rufina possesses similar soils to Panzano, which is a very highly rated part of Greve. Its wines are similarly elegant and expressive. Despite the more northerly location, Rufina’s vines get excellent sun exposure and ripen beautifully and can be quite full bodied but the high diurnal temperature range maintains the superb acidity. In the south of Chianti DOCG, the large subzone of Colli Senesi has such a wide range of soils and microclimates that it is futile to attempt to define a fixed style.
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