The wines of Chianti have come a long way in the past 30 years. Once the undistinguished staple of neighborhood pizzarias, Chianti has emerged as a region of serious wines, earning their world-class status.
Almost everybody recognizes the name Chianti and knows it’s an Italian red wine. Many have tried a Chianti at some point, and even if you’ve never drunk Chianti probably have a memory of the older straw-covered Chianti bottle in your bygone pizzeria.
And who can forget Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s famous quote from Silence of the Lambs “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
Chianti was one of the first Italian wines to be mass-exported to the U.S. post-World War II and became synonymous with Italian-American culture. Unfortunately the Chianti wines being imported back then were lower quality and Chianti was branded as a cheap, thin and acidic wine not to be taken seriously.
Well, Chianti wines have come long way in the last 30 years with significant improvements in vineyard management, winemaking and the rules on how the wines labeled Chianti can be produced. Chianti producers now making balanced, high quality wines that are generous with ripe berry fruits, reflective of their Tuscan terroir and great with a broad range of foods including pastas, hearty soups and white and red meats.
Here are some interesting facts to know about Chianti wines that will help when choosing a Chianti wine at The Wine Country or at your favorite Italian restaurant.
Chianti is a wine region, not a grape
The Chianti wine region is located in Tuscany mostly between Florence and Siena. Like many old world wines, Chianti wines are named for the region they are produced in and not the grape used to produce them. Chianti wines are predominately made from the Sangiovese grape with small allowances for other approved red grapes. Many producers now opt for 100% Sangiovese Chianti Classico wines but historically other grapes were always added.
Chianti and Chianti Classico are not the same
Both are names for delineated wine zones in Tuscany and both have different rules for how wines labeled as such can be produced. Chianti Classico is the smaller, most historic and traditional zone where Chianti wines are produced and has its own consortium that enforces strict rules on how Chianti Classico wines must be produced and aged. Wines that meet these requirements will have the Black Rooster on the bottle. Chianti Classico wines are known for their elegance, complexity and ageworthiness and are better for richer meat pasta dishes like bolognese or stewed meats like chicken cacciatore or osso bucco.
Chianti is the larger area that encompasses Florence, Pisa and Siena and producers are allowed slightly looser rules on how wines labeled Chianti can be produced and aged. Wines labeled as Chianti tend to be younger, lighter and less complex than Chianti Classico wines and friendlier with a broader range of foods like red sauced pizza and pastas, hearty soups and stews or even roast chicken or pork.
Chianti has seven subzones
The Chianti wine region has seven subzones, each with their own production rules, and wines can be labeled with the subzone designation if the wine meets those rules. The seven subzones are: Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. The styles of Chianti wines from these sub regions can vary greatly and trying wines to learn these styles can be fun. For example, Chianti wines from Rufina tend to be lighter, more elegant and complex with earthy undertones making them great with mushroom dishes. Wines from Colli Fiorentini (hills of Florence) tend to be bold and fruity, made for everyday drinking in the local trattorias and great for red sauced pizza and pastas.
Join us on Saturday June 16th for our All About Chianti event and taste your way through many styles of Chianti and Chianti Classico! $25 1 p.m.-4 p.m. In the meantime, try these:
2016 Badia a Coltibuono ‘Cetamura’ Chianti
This is a great buy from one of the best Chianti Classico producers and designed to pair with regular weeknight dinners. It’s generous with red and black cherry fruits with hints of herbs and spice. The wine sees no oak and is meant to be fresh, clean and lively with mouth watering acidity.
$9.99 per bottle
2015 Barone Ricasoli Chianti
Ricasoli is the oldest family owned winery in all of Italy and Barone Ricasoli is credited for writing the formula for the original Chianti Classico wine back in 1872. Their basic Chianti is such a great wine for the price. Bright and fresh and bursting with red cherry fruit yet soft and easy drinking. This is a great wine for all types of foods and of course classic American-Italian fare.
$12.99 per bottle
2015 Fattoria de Lucignano Chianti Colli Fiorentini
The Villa of Lucignano and its cellar have belonged to the Guicciardini family since 1546 and their vineyards are considered some of the best in the Colli Fiorentini. Their Chianti is a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and 5% Colorino and is packed with ripe black cherry fruit with hints of Tuscan earth. The wine sees no oak to keep it fresh and fruit forward. Great with red sauced pizza and pastas, meat pastas, stews and roast meats.
$15.99 per bottle
2015 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina
Rufina is the smallest of the Chianti sub regions and located in the higher elevation northeastern corner of the region. Rufina sees great variances between day and night temperatures which give their Chianti wines gorgeous aromatics and elegant complexities. Selvapiana is recognized as one of the best and most consistent producers not only in Rufina, but in all of Chianti. The qualities of this Chianti are like a delicate Pinot Noir. Light on the palate and elegant with red cherry fruits, spices and classic earthy undertones. This Chianti would sing with mushroom pizza and pastas or roast chicken and pork.
$17.99 per bottle
2015 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico
This historical winery is located in one of the best areas of Chianti for growing Sangiovese. The name translates to “The Abbey of Good Harvest” referring to the 2000 year old Abbey on the property. Their 2015 Chianti Classico is quintessential Chianti with vibrant ruby red cherry fruit, hints of vanilla and spice and some dusty tannins. The wine is supple and the finish is warm and persistent with just enough structure to pair with richer meat pastas or roasted meats. Badia a Coltibuono has been certified organic since 2003 and leading the charge to get all Chianti growers to practice organic farming.
$18.99 per bottle
2013 Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico
The Villa di Geggiano estate has been owned by the current family since 1527. Located in the warmer southern part of Chianti Classico on the border of Sienna, the estate produces a darker and more rustic style of Chianti Classico. This is masculine wine, smooth and rich with dark black cherry fruit, spices and toasted oak. Pair this wine with grilled or roasted meats! Certified organic.
$25.99 per bottle
2011 Podere Il Palazzino ‘Grosso Sanese’ Chianti Classico Riserva
The single vineyard Grosso Sanese was planted entirely to Sangiovese in 1973, and the mature vines yield a lovely aroma and a mouth-filling, modern-style Chianti that is immediately likable. If the Argenina is a ballerina, the Grosso Sanese is the male lead, still graceful, but more stature and size. The oak, from used barriques, assists in adding a plush texture. Well worth the money.
$32.99 per bottle