Chianti Lessons

Sometimes I wonder if what I read and hear is actually true – especially about wine. It seems that the line between subjective and objective, between opinion and fact, between authenticity and artificiality has been blurred, even rubbed out, at times.

And even on this, opinions very. WSET standards are intact to codify taste and other sensual impressions so that we all know exactly what we are talking about. But there is the other side of the coin, arguing that even though we all should be tasting, let’s say pear, that we don’t all taste pear the same way. Studies and books are handily available, to prove that there is way more to our likes and dislikes that patterns explained by any system.

Chianti, Italian wine, Italian red wine, Sangiovese, Super-Tuscan
The Chianti Classico region celebrated 300 years last fall.

I started thinking about all of this when I began to write about Chianti – the essence of Italy (like broadly, like perhaps, generically) in a wine glass. A wine that has been in turn romanticized as well as nominalized, depending on individual experience and perception. Consider the evocative fiasco, the robust bottle encased in a straw basket. This is an icon of Chianti lore, one that appeals deeply to some, yet permanently detracts others.

I found this statement in WineFolly: “Chianti is a small region within Tuscany, but a wine calling itself “Chianti” is allowed to be made almost anywhere in Tuscany. Because of this, Chianti has 8 sub-zones. The truest examples come from Chianti Classico, which is the name given to wines from the original historic boundaries. Both Chianti Classico and Chianti Rufina are likely to be of higher quality, since they are made in smaller quantities from distinct historical areas.”

Something struck me about this – a wine calling itself Chianti is allowed to be made almost anywhere in Tuscany. How does a consumer really comprehend what they are getting with a glass of Chianti? How does we know that what is in the glass isn’t just some general idea, some incantation of expected sense elements? The answers to this lie in Chianti Classico.

What is Chianti? What is Chianti Classico? Where is Chianti? What wines are from Tuscany?
A map of the Chianti region in Tuscany, Italy. Courtesy: Montemaggio

Chianti Classico is appreciated as one of the oldest and most authentic areas within the region and includes includes only 14 communes. Montemaggio, a producer located near Radda in Chianti, makes Chianti Classico and will be the feature of a story next month here on L’Occasion. To understand Chianti Classio, in pure form, here are my Chianti lessons from their experience as shared on their blog and website:

Who governs what makes Chianti Classico the real deal?

Montemaggio: The peculiarity of this area is that only in this specific region, Chianti Classico wines can be produced according to the Chianti Classico Consortium.

What grapes are permitted in Chianti Classico?

Montemaggio: For a Chianti Classico to really be classic, it should be produced in Chianti region and should be made out of at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Even though, most of the Chiantis today are made with Sangiovese grapes only, Chianti Classico also has a hint of Merlot, Syrah or Cabernet as well. This is done to add some softness to the finished product.

What is Sangiovese? Types of Italian red wine, Chianti wine
The beautiful Sangiovese grape. Sangiovese Piccolo and Sangiovese Grosso (Prugnolo Gentile) are the most common. Courtesy: Montemaggio

What is the profile of Chianti Classico?

Montemaggio: Chianti and Chianti Classico are quite rustic and earthy in taste and are exceptionally high in tannins. However if the wine is well balanced, you won’t feel the harshness. It will almost taste like a Pinot Noir in terms of color and softness. Aging of a wine is a factor that It also depends very much on how each winemaker ages the wines.

What does wine taste like? How to taste wine. Italian wine tasting.
A bottle of Chianti Classico from Montemaggio. Courtesy: Montemaggio

Who originated winemaking the Chianti Classico region?

Montemaggio: It can be safely assumed that it was the Etruscans who first introduced the cultivation of grapes in the Chianti Classico region: we know that they employed two distinct cultivation methods and that they could rely on at least two different varieties of grape for cultivation. Sadly, no trace is left of what may have been the most ancient vineyards of Tuscany. They vanished together with the Etruscans in the mists of history.

Italian vineyards, Villa in Tuscany, Beautiful view
The beautiful Tuscan property and vineyards at Montemaggio. Courtesy: Montemaggio

What are the tiers, or pyramid, of Chianti wines?

Montemaggio: In February 2014, the new Chianti Classico pyramid with the new top tier of Gran Selezione was launched.There are now three tiers in the Chianti Classico denomination, namely Annata, Riserva, and Gran Selezione. The Annata can be released on the market on October 1st following the year of the harvest, while the Riserva needs to age at least 24 months of which at least 3 months in the bottle. The Gran Selezione shall be produced with grapes from a single vineyard or with a selection of the best grapes from vineyards owned by the wine producer in question. It needs to be aged at least 30 months of which 3 months or more in the bottle.

Wine pyramid, best Italian wines, riserva, what is riserva
The Chianti system uses a pyramid to conceptualize tiers.

How do consumers recognize a Chianti Classico bottle?

Montemaggio: If you want a Chianti Classico bottle, look for a wine bearing the mark of the black rooster on its neck.

Black rooster wine, Italian wine, what is Chianti, what is chianti classico
This black rooster symbolizes a true Chianti Classico – look for it on the label. Courtesy: Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico
Italian Food, Wine & Travel Chianti Extravaganza

Join our Italian Food Wine and Travel group on Saturday Oct. 7 at 10am CDT on Twitter as we discuss our Chianti findings. We’ll all be posting and chatting, join us! Just look for the #ItalianFWT hashtag on Twitter Saturday morning!

See what our Italian Food Wine & Travel Enthusiasts have to offer:

  • Jennifer at Vino Travels Italy shares “Chianti of Terricola with Fattoria Fibbiano”
  • Nicole at Somms Table shares “Cooking to the Wine: Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico with Italian Meatloaf & Pasta Pomodoro”
  • Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Classic Tuscan Ragù Paired with Chianti”
  • Li at The Wining Hour shares “Chianti, A Wine with Many Faces”
  • L’occasion shares “Chianti Lessons”
  • Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Rolling the Dice on a 1979 Chianti Rufina”
  • Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Experience Chianti Classico with Montefioralle”
  • Katarina from Grapevine Adventures shares “Collaboration, Passion, and Tradition Makes You Stronger – Vignaioli di Radda”
  • Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “A Glass of Chianti & Dreams of Porchetta”
  • Gwen at Wine Predator shares “Chianti: Beyond the Straw Bottle
  • Susannah at Avvinare shares “Wines from Chianti Colli Fiorentini – Worthy of Our Attention”
Thank you Montemaggio for providing in-depth information and beautiful photos. Stay tuned next month for a story about their wines.
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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Lynn says:

    Nice approach Jill! And I like your bringing up tasting, likes and dislikes. How many times have I gotten X, the person next to me Y, etc?!? There really is no wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing how much there is to know about this area. I’m glad you highlighted rufina as another zone folks should be exploring.

    Like

  3. So true how the palate is influenced! I mean what does a pear taste like? Looking forward to next month’s installment!

    Like

  4. So much to discover and learn about Chianti. I look forward to your post on Montemaggio next month.

    Like

  5. Nicole Ruiz Hudson says:

    Great info — it’s always so helpful to get the perspective of insiders actually in the region!

    Like

  6. Luca says:

    probably Winefolly should verify his sources first… I understand the need for generalization but Chianti CANNOT be produced almost anywhere in Tuscany… OK, Chianti IS a large region but it is nevertheless a well-defined area….you cannot make Chianti in Maremma or on the Tuscan Coast for example… The subzones of Chianti are 7 not 8, Chianti Classico should and must not be considered a sub-zone, it is an autonomous DOCG.

    Like

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