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28 May 2018 | Kevin Lepisto

Chianti, Italy's Most Famous Wine

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.

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