Historically, the blend wasn’t always like this, past versions had a different formula that included white grapes such as Malvasia and Trebbiano. Unfortunately the abuse of adding so much white juice to the blend, ended up diluting the wines; which affected quality and decreased sales. Luckily, starting in the 1970's a new movement led by star wine producer Marchesi Piero Antinori took the necessary steps to elevate and restore the reputation of the region. One of these measures was to include French varieties in the blend, something that was not actually allowed by law and a fact that helped create the Super Tuscans category. The second measure was to remove the white grapes from the formula for good. All of these practices became law officially in 2006. At the same time, there was a wide spread modernization in the vineyards and wineries, which improved the overall quality of Chianti Classico and transformed it into the elegant and delicious wine that it is today.
Chianti Classico is located in the heart of Tuscany in central Italy, expanding for 71,800 hectares and comprising the area between the cities of Florence in the north and Sienna in the south. It covers 4 important communes: Greve, Radda, Gaiole and Castellina.
It’s important that you don’t confuse Chianti Classico with generic Chianti or with any of the six Chiantis subzones (Rufina, Montespertoli, Montelbano, Colli Aretini, Colline Pisani or Colli Senesi), which are outside of the Chianti Classico region. These are a good source of inexpensive Sangiovese, though never reaching the high quality of Classico.
When in doubt about what Chianti you are about to purchase, always make sure that the bottle has the black rooster image (see left), which is the official symbol/logo of the Chianti Classico appellation.
The most important geographic influence in Chianti Classico are the Apennines mountains that start in the NW, by Liguria and continue south across the peninsula ending in Calabria, located to the SW. The proximity to the mountains as well as the proximity to the Tyrrhenian sea will provide coolness to the vineyards that usually enjoy a very warm, Mediterranean climate during the day. The topography of Chianti Classico is indeed very hilly with most vineyards planted on undulating terrains or small mountains that face South or SW. There are two types of soils here, the most important is the Galestro which is a rocky, schistous and clayey soil and the second one is the Albarese, which is a rich limestone and marl soil. Both of these soils will help tame the vigor of Sangiovese that needs to be kept in check to produce high quality wines.
Maturation is determined by law and it can happen in botti (large casks made from Slovakian oak) or in small French barriques. The entry level (Chianti Classico) must spend a minimum of 12 months of aging, then a step up in quality are the Riserva wines which are aged for 24 months minimum, 3 which should happen in the bottle. The last and most important category are the Gran Selezione, these are superb wines that are aged for 30 months minimum and are made from fruit from single vineyard locations.
It’s important to note that though the law allows French varieties in the blend to up to 20%, most producers opt to make 100% Sangiovese wines, keeping the participation of the French varieties to a minimum (less than 5%), which allows Sangiovese’s elegant personality to shine through.
Stylistically, Chianti Classico is a dry, medium to medium plus body red, with high acidity and solid tannins. Chianti Classico displays a lovely character featuring sour cherries, red currants, plums, plus some herbaceous notes such as dry oregano or tomato leaf, an ideal match to all tomato sauce based dishes and classic Italian fair (pasta, pizza, beef bistecca, etc). With age, Chianti Classico displays meat, mushroom, espresso, smoke, exotic spices and leather notes. Bodywise, plain Chianti Classico is usually the lightest style, expect the wine to be bigger when you deal with Riserva and Gran Selezione wines.
Drink or keep samples of Chianti Classico and Riserva for up to 7 years. Best samples of Gran Selezione can last much longer, and up to 20 years.
My Wine Recommendations:
After 15 months of zero in-person tastings due to Covid 19, my first return to the rodeo was an event coordinated in NY by the Chianti Classico Consorzio. Of course there was too much wine to taste in only two hours, and I couldn’t taste them all... However, I must admit that the very best wines (for me) were those made from 100% Sangiovese or Sangiovese in combination with Merlot. I feel Cabernet Sauvignon tends to make Chianti beefer, so if this is what you like, be my guest, but I prefer Chianti Classicos that are lighter in body, yet juicy and fresh. Here are some of my favorites from this tasting:
Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, $27
Bibbiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, $37
Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2017, $43
Capraia Effe 55 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016, $33
Castello di Volpaia, Volpaia Chianti Classico 2019, $24
Castello di Volpaia Coltassala Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, $77
Dievole Vigna di Sessina Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016, $58
Felsina Berardenga 2019, $24
Felsina Rancia Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, $58
Istine Levigne Chianti Classico Riserva 2017,$47
Istine Levigne Chianti Classico Riserva 2015, $47
Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Riserva 2017, $27
Le Fonti Chianti Classico 2017, $22
Le Fonti Chianti Classico Riserva 2016, $30
Marchesi Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico 2019, $24
Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, $44
Marchesi Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018 $54
Riecine Chianti Classico 2019, $27
Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, $28
Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016 $68
Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva 2017 $28
Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Strada Al Sasso Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, $41
As they say in Italy: Alla salute di tutti! Cheers, Silvina
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Many thanks to the Chianti Classico Consorzio for allowing the use of the map and logo images, and also for the invitation!