CHIANTI CLASSICO DOCG (2004) | A red wine from Tuscany, Italy comprising ‘the long-contested middle ground between Florence and Siena…a tract of hills extending from just south of Florence to just north of Siena between the Monti del Chianti to the east and Pesa and Elsa valleys to the west, taking in all or part of nine communes,’ (Burton Anderson, 1990, p207, 209), listed below. Chianti Classico also comes in a Riserva form (see below).

DELIMITED ZONE | The Chianti Classico DOCG zone covers the entirety of the communes of Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti and parts of the communes of Barberino Val d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Poggibonsi, San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. But the ‘real Chianti was and in a sense still is the area covered by the communes of Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina in the province of Siena. Within this domain of the ancient Chianti League [‘Lega del Chianti’], Barone Bettino Ricasoli determined the enduring formula for blending the wine at Brolio, one of many castles or hamlets noted for vineyards. Chianti “Storico” or “Geografico” has soils prevalently in the lime-rich alberese and flaky galestro prized by growers,’ (Burton Anderson, 1990, p207).

VINEYARD AREA | 2014 6,476.66 hectares (Source: Enoproject, Franco Bernabei).

THE CHIANTI CLASSICO BLEND | The original blend of grape varieties for Chianti Classico and how the wine should be made was codified by Bettino Ricasoli (1809–80)–see Castello di Brolio. In terms of winemaking, which Nesto and Savino describe as having traditionally favoured ‘open vat fermentation and skin contact lasting weeks,’ Ricasoli opted for ‘sealed vats, five to six days of skin contact,’ and favoured Sangiovese over the then traditional Canaiolo which had been used to ‘soften Sangiovese’s harder edge.’

‘This was ‘Sangiovese and Canaiolo for wines meant to be aged; Sangiovese and Canaiolo plus Malvasia for wines to be drunk young. The formula itself was significantly modified in the 20th century with the introduction of Trebbiano into the blend and a generalized use of white grapes in all Chianti wine, without the original distinction between the different styles of Chianti,’ (Gleave, D & Thomases, D: 2006. p576-7). Compared to. Trebbiano Toscano was easier to grow than Malvasia, less aromatic and less prone to oxidation (Nesto & Savino, p32).

BIODIVERSITY | ‘Less than a tenth of the 70,000 hectares [the total land area] is under vine…vast tracts of woods and rocky brushland can be crossed without spotting a vine,’ (Burton Anderson, 1990, p207). 

SUB-ZONES, CLASSIFICATIONS

The options for classifying Chianti Classico sub-zones are either to give each of the nine townships (‘comuni’) their own sub-zone, and in some cases to allow definable and distinctive individual terroirs such as Panzano and Lamole, both of which are in Greve, to also be named either alone or with Greve’s name also on the label. The consorzio may decide to impose a minimum vineyard area for each sub-zone to avoid administrative anarchy and consumer confusion.

WHY SUB-ZONES? | Maurizio Castelli (Enogea) says he hopes that ‘winemakers set an example ‘by making the agronomic choices based on terroir. Delimiting the Chianti Classico sub-zones will help give Sangiovese what it really needs [meaning being grown in a way that takes account of both expericne and the particular attributes of the site].

SANGIOVESE SITE SELECTION | Maurizio Castelli (Enogea) says ‘Sangiovese is very site-sensitive. Practical experience has shown that slow ripening and strong day-night temperature variations produce wines of superior value. In Chianti Classico there are also areas where clay is predominant: here the Sangiovese reaches excellent technological ripeness, but it is difficult to preserve that slightly aromatic character and acidity / sapidity that is the trademark of [wines from] alberese [soils]. The wines that are instead produced on the Galestro (clay-schist), are normally more closed and deep, difficult to drink in youth, but excellent in terms of ageing potential. An emblematic case is Chianti Classico from Panzano.

The best area is the historical heart of the Chainti Classico denomination, with Castellina, Gaiole and Radda the townships of reference. Here the calcareous clay and the abundance of very fine gravel (‘scheltro’), give a superior completeness and complexity, subtleties in the perfumes and bright colors. In the conglomerate area instead, north of the denomination, I think especially to the town of Greve in Chianti, you have a good dose of limestone, a strong presence of round stones brought by the river (Greve) but also greater humidity and greater fertility. In this case it is necessary to restrain vine vigour by careful rootstock selection and grassing or cover cropping between the vines rows. Here the Sangiovese has concentration and volume of alcohol, but as they say in these parts less flavour.’

SANGIOVESE IN ‘PUREZZA’ | Maurizio Castelli (Enogea) says one reason why in the 1970s and 1980s Chianti Classico producers started blending Sangiovese with other grapes like Merlot and Cabernet ‘was due to the planting of genetic material of limited quality, eg. the R10 Rauscedo clone designed mostly for quantity.’ 

WINE STYLE | ‘Chianti Classico is not a single wine but a multitude,’ (Burton Anderson, 1990, p207).

CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA DOCG | Chianti Classico Riserva must age 24 months before being released but (very sensibly) ageing it in oak is optional. In the 1990s the minimum ageing requirements for Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG were reduced. Little wine of riserva quality came out of the 1991 and 1992 vintages and with stocks of 1990s running low, it made sense to allow producers to release their 1993 riservas earlier than previously would have been the case. Formerly riservas had to age a minimum of three years. See also Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

VINTAGES | See Chianti Classico vintages.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bill Nesto MW & Frances Di Savino, Chianti Classico, the Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine, (University of California Press, 2016).

Burton Anderson, The Wine Atlas of Italy (Mitchell Beazley, London, 1990).

Maurizio Castelli, Enogea, ‘Maurizio Castelli, il sangiovese e il Chianti Classico. Intevista vintage,’ interview 21 January 2014 by Francesco Falcone for Enogea (enogea.it).

Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Walter Speller 30 Mar 2016 ‘Chianti Classico to be subzoned?’, www.jancisrobinson.com