Behind the Cask: Classic Chianti

Chianti is made from the Sangiovese grape and, unlike some Italian wines that are named after the grape variety, Chianti is in fact named after the region in which the wine is made. It’s an elegant yet rustic wine, with the scent of spice and wild berries.  

The Region  

Chianti isn’t just one type of wine, there are many varieties of style. The Chianti region is vast and stretches across eight specific areas where you’ll find wine production in full swing, and all produce their own Chianti wine with a specific label: Montespertoli, Colli Pisani, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Aretini, Rufina, Montalbano, Colli Senesi, and Chianti Classico.  

The borders of this wine region were established by the Tuscan Grand Duke Cosimo III de' Medici in the early 18th century, and his decree became the first legally enforceable wine appellation. The Cultural Landscape of Chianti Classico has bid to become Tuscany’s eighth UNESCO World Heritage site, aiming to be on a list among other prestigious winemaking regions, such as Veneto’s Prosecco Hills.  

The History

The History

You can trace the viticulture of this region back beyond the Romans to over 2,000 years ago. Artefacts suggest it was the Etruscans who cleared the thickly forested hills to cultivate vines, and the Romans continued this winemaking practice. The word chianti first appeared on parchment in 790 A.D., and documents suggest that the wine of that time may have been a white, not the ruby red wine we know today.  

During the Middle Ages, it was the dedication of local monks who continued to care for the region’s grapes, and who promoted winemaking traditions to the people. The monks considered the wine to be both nutritious and medicinal, and a safe alternative to polluted water. This is when Chianti wine became a popular drink for peasants and popes alike.

The Fiasco

Traditionally, Chianti was bottled in a fiasco, a rounded, half-straw covered bottle with a flat base. This extra straw padding, made from sundried swamp weed, would offer protection during transportation. 

 “These traditional bottles can be unadorned and little presentable but can contain an excellent wine - glorious and divine.” Galileo Galilei on Chianti wine. 

The Quality

In Chianti, winemaking became more than a mere income but an identity, and to this day, wine producers of the region take great pride in honouring its viticulture traditions. Chianti Classico is a DOCG wine, which means it must be produced to set rules. It can only be made using 80% Sangiovese red grape and 20% other native or international grape varieties, most commonly Canaiolo or Colorino, and must have a minimum alcohol level of 12% ABV.  

A label that indicates exceptional quality is the ‘Riserva’, which highlights that the Chianti has been aged for two years or more after harvest and has a minimum alcohol level of 12.5% ABV.  

There’s also a third, even more exclusive Chianti Classico category, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which is grown to even stricter regulations and must be approved by a special tasting committee. 

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The Legend of Gallo Nero

While all Chianti’s regions provide quality wines, bottles produced in the Chianti Classico zone are considered to be the most magnificent, and since 1924, the gallo nero (black rooster) seal has been a historic mark that guarantees the authenticity and quality of a bottle from this region.  

The reason why a black rooster represents the mark of a true Chianti Classico goes back to a 13th century legend. Two knights, one from Florence and one from Siena, were disputing over land and they agreed that they would mark out their territories when the roosters sang at dawn. Before the day of this duel, the Florentines kept a black rooster in a box without food, so it crowed much earlier than dawn, which meant the Florentine knight left earlier and was able to claim most of the land right up to the walls of Siena. 

The Popularity  

Chianti has attracted esteemed figures through the centuries. The renowned 15th century Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo purchased several land plots and houses in Chianti, even making his own wine. The 16th century diplomat Machiavelli sought refuge here, as did the scientist astronomer Galilei. The 19th century composer Verdi was also an avid fan of Chianti wine.  

Discover Chianti

Naturally, you’ll find enotecas in the tiniest of hamlets and local wine museums across Chianti, but you may be surprised to learn that a holiday here can go beyond the wine. The best way to explore this region is by car, and the Strada Statale 22 Chiantigiana is a delightfully picturesque road, sprinkled with interesting villages en route.  

To truly savour the timeless appeal of Chianti Classico wines, take a private tour with Citalia, so you can fully enjoy the experience with an English-speaking driver-cum-guide! We’ll take you on the Chiantigiana wine route, pausing at a local winery for a tasting at the cellar door, and a delicious light lunch of fresh, seasonal produce. 
Explore famous towns, like Greve and Radda, to taste their signature wines and other delights, such as home-pressed olive oil, handcrafted cheese, and aromatic balsamic vinegar.  

The land can always be appreciated through delicious food, with specialities like ham from the local breed of cinta senese, the Tuscan bread soup of ribollita, and collo ripieno, a stuffed chicken neck. 

Plus, there are numerous small Romanesque and Renaissance churches to explore, such as San Cresci in Montefioralle (Greve), Santa Maria in Spaltenna, and Sant’Appiano (Barberino Val d’Elsa). Then there’s sacred art to witness in the region’s museums, such as at San Casciano, or in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, as well as an incredible archaeological museum in Castellina. You might also like to head to Chianti Sculpture Park, which boasts art objects from all around the world. 

Call us today to speak to one of our Italy Experts for further travel advice, hotel recommendations or to begin planning your next Italian holiday.
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