Chianti is a wine region located in the heart of Tuscany, Italy. Its wines, made primarily from the Sangiovese grape, are known for their bright red fruit flavours and a fantastic balance of acidity and tannins. Chianti has a long and storied history, dating back to the medieval period, and while it remains a popular and influential wine region today, the path hasn’t always been smooth.
The Early History of Chianti Wine
Wine production in the Chianti region dates back to ancient Roman times. However, Chianti as a wine region began to take shape in the 13th century, when records mention it as a white wine as opposed to predominantly red as we know today. During the middle ages, the Chianti mountains (around Castellina, Radda and Gaiole) began to form a league to protect their wine identity. The wines produced in Chianti were highly prized and often served at important events, such as weddings and banquets.
The Rise of the Chianti Classico Denomination
In the 17th century, the Chianti Classico region was officially designated. In fact, Chianti was the first official demarcated wine region in the world by way of an edict issued in 1716 by Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Little is known about the composition of the wine at that time, but it is believed that it was a red wine blend with canaiolo as the dominant grape.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Chianti region expanded and the core historic region came to be known as Chianti Classico. Today, Chianti Classico is considered one of the most prestigious wine regions in Italy and is known for producing high-quality, age-worthy wines.
The formula for contemporary-style Chianti can be attributed to Baron Bettino Ricasoli, the second Prime Minister of Italy. In 1872, he stipulated that Chianti should be a red blend dominated by sangiovese (for its robust tannins) with the addition of canaiolo to soften the wine.
Modern Chianti Wine Production
In 1924, the Chianti Classico Consortium was created to tightly regulate the style of the wine. The consortium chose the Black Rooster as its logo, rebranding its historic coat of arms and regulated the grapes, process and aging requirements of the different styles of Chainti. Wines must be made using at least 80% Sangiovese grapes and may also include small amounts of other grape varieties, such as Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The wines must also be aged for a minimum of 12 months before release, with Chianti Classico Riserva wines requiring at least two years of ageing.
Despite these changes, the quest for mass produced low quality wines from some producers dented the reputation of Chianti as a pale, acidic table red wine up until the 80s. Since then, the creation of the Chianti DOCG as well as the rise of the Super Tuscans like Tignanello gave Chainti a new lease of life and the deserved reputation it enjoys today.