This Episode's Region

Chianti

Chianti

Chianti is located in the heart of Tuscany in central Italy, and includes vineyards in the provinces of Prato, Florence, Arezzo, Pistoia, Pisa, and Siena. No other Italian DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) produces more grapes or more wine—over 8 million cases of Chianti wine are produced annually. Most of the best known and most highly regarded wines come from the Chianti Classico sub-region that stretches from Siena in the south to Florence in the north. Rufina, northeast of Florence, also produces some very high quality wines. The other sub-regions of Chianti include Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, and Montespertoli.

The Chianti province was first defined in the mid-13th century by merchants from the towns of Castellina, Radda, and Gaiole who formed the "Lega del Chianti" (Chianti League) to promote local goods, especially wine. In 1716 the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de' Medici, mandated that only the small area including the three towns of the "Lega," plus land near the villages of Greve and Spedaluzza be recognized as official producers of Chianti wines. The zone remained unchanged until the 1930s, when the Italian government expanded it dramatically.

Chianti Classico has a continental climate, with winter temperatures at about 40°F and dry, hot summers with daytime temperatures reaching 95°F, although it is cool at night. Temperatures do not vary substantially in the course of a day, which is partly due to the altitude, which ranges from 800-2,000 feet, exceeding 2,500 feet in the Chianti Mountains. These are perfect conditions for slow-growing, slow-ripening grapes, such as the finicky Sangiovese—the grape which is the “soul” of Chianti wine. Areas further west have a slightly milder, more Mediterranean climate because of their proximity to the seacoast.

Terrains in Chianti Classico are rugged and similar to those of Bordeaux in France, where vines literally fight to obtain nutrients from the sandy, rocky earth by sending their roots deep into the soil. Limestone and clay predominate in most areas of Chianti except in Rufina, where the soil contains much marl and chalk. The calcium carbonate tends to impart a smoky flavor to Rufina's wines.

The earliest reference to Chianti as a wine dates from the early Middle Ages, describing a white wine produced in the Chianti Mountains near Florence. Baron Bettino Ricasoli is credited for devising the basic formula for Chianti wine in 1872. His "recipe" calls for a blend of 70% Sangiovese grapes, 15% Canaiolo, and 15% Malvasia bianca. This version of Chianti was presented at the World Exhibition of Paris in 1878, meeting with great success. Subsequently, international demand for Chiantis grew steadily. In the late 20th century, vintners began to decrease the percentage of the white Malvasia grape in their Chiantis, and now the inclusion of white grapes is completely prohibited. Currently, for a wine to be designated a "Chianti," it must be made of 75-100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo, and up to 20% of any other approved red grape variety, usually Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah.

For more on Tuscan Chianti, click here.

Photo of Chianti Classico courtesy of the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico Gallo Negro.

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Tasting Notes From This Episode

• Italy’s iconic wine, Chianti, originated in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany. Visit www.chianticlassico.com, for more information on the region and its wine.

• The Etruscans, who predated the Romans, undertook extensive grape-growing and wine-making endeavors as early as the 8th century, B.C., in Tuscany. (The region’s name is derived from these ancient inhabitants, the Etrusci or Tusci, as the Romans called them.)

• When the image of a black rooster appears on the neck of a Chianti bottle, it is an indication that the wine’s producer is a member of the prestigious Gallo Nero (“Black Rooster”) Consortium, an association of Chianti producers from the Classico region.

• The Chianti region today is often called the “Bordeaux of Italy.” Both regions are expansive and produce and export large amounts of popular red wines—from modest table wines to the finest premium wines.

• Chiantis always used to be packaged in a distinctive gourd-shaped, round or not completely flat-bottomed bottle called a fiasco (Italian for “flask”). The fiasco sits tightly in a woven straw basket which provides both protection during transport and a flat, stable base for the bottle once it is opened. The fiasco is still considered the classical container for chianti, but many wine-makers now utilize a standard bordolese or Bordeaux-type bottle.

• Don’t confuse “Rufina” with “Ruffino.” After the Chianti Classico area, the Chianti Rufina area is the second best-known Chianti sub-region within Tuscany. Rufina, the region, has nothing at all to do with Ruffino—a large Tuscan wine company. It was founded in 1877 by Ilario Ruffino and is one of the leading exporters of Chianti wine.