Chianti Classico DOCG is a Sangiovese-based red wine from Tuscany, Italy from what Burton Anderson calls ‘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, p.207, 209), listed below. Chianti Classico DOCG also comes in Riserva and Gran Selezione forms (see below). The DOC dates from 2004.
In a nutshell: Chianti Classico comes from 7,200 hectares of vines in nine townships between Florence and Siena. These are Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Castellina in Chianti (the largest in terms of vineyard area), plus parts of Barberino Val d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Poggibonsi (the smallest in terms of vineyard area). Average annual production of Chianti Classico DOCG between 2011 and 2016 inclusive was around 35 million bottles, about four times as much as Brunello di Montalcino.
The Chianti Classico Consorzio: The Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico (founded 1924) represents the Chianti Classico DOCG producers and safeguards the DOCG name. In 2020 the Consorzio had 515 members, 354 of which were wine estates with their own brands in the market. Estimated annual turnover was 800 million euros with a total value of bottled wines 400 million euros.
Vineyard area: 2014 6,476.66 hectares (Source: Enoproject, Franco Bernabei).
Organics, Biodynamics: In 2019 Giovanni Manetti, Chairman of the Chianti Classico consorzio said 66% of the Chianti Classico region is woodland, 10% is vineyard of which 40% is organic or Biodynamic (Press release: Gallo Nero 2019, A real classic).
Delimited zone: The Chianti Classico DOCG zone covers a surface area of 71,800ha (277 square miles) within the provinces of Siena (41,400ha) and Firenze or Florence (30,400ha). ‘Less than a tenth of the [total land area] is under vine…vast tracts of woods and rocky brushland can be crossed without spotting a vine,’ (Burton Anderson: 1990, p.207). The zone takes in the entirety of the communes of Greve in Chianti and parts of Barberino Val d’Elsa, San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa in the province of Florence; and Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Radda in Chianti and parts of Castelnuovo Berardenga and Poggibonsi in Siena province.
Sub-zones, classifications: The options for classifying Chianti Classico sub-zones are either to give each of the nine communes 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 the commune of 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. Chianti Classico ‘is a cru smorgasbord…a highly interesting place for wine-terroir lovers. Not indicating sub-zones…on the front label seems like a lost opportunity for producers to better broadcast where they are, where their wines are from, and what they are about,’ says Ian d’Agata (2019, p.278). Delimiting named areas within communes (frazioni, the plural form of frazione in Italian) such as Lamole and Panzano in Greve, and Monti in Gaiole in Chianti may be more problematic because unlike communes they have not been delimited officially.
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 experience and the particular attributes of the site].
Soil types: Ian D’Agata (2019, p.278) says that galestro, alberese and macigno ‘have always been viewed as being the heart of the soils that characterise true Chianti Classico, while areas at the periphery of the denomination (for example, areas to the north-west of Mercatale Val di Pesa, south west of Castellina, and south of Castelnuovo Berardenga) are of a different (sedimentary) origin, and some experts do not think they should be included with the Chianti Classico boundaries,’ citing Il Chianti by G Rezoagli (Società Geografica Italiana, Rome, 1965). Hence Chianti “Storico” or “Geografico” has soils prevalently in the lime-rich alberese and flaky galestro prized by growers,’ (Burton Anderson, 1990, p.207).
Sangiovese site selection: Maurizio Castelli (Enogea) says ‘Sangiovese is very site-sensitive. 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 historical heart of the Chianti Classico denomination comprises Castellina, Gaiole and Radda. 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 row. 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 Chianti Classico producers started blending Sangiovese with other grapes like Merlot and Cabernet in the 1970s and 1980s ‘was due to the planting of genetic material of limited quality, eg. the R10 Rauscedo Sangiovese clone designed mostly for quantity.’
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.’
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 or 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. 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. p.576-7). Trebbiano Toscano was easier to grow than Malvasia, less aromatic and less prone to oxidation (Nesto & Savino, p.32).
Sangiovese harvest time: The Sangiovese harvest in Chianti Classico takes place about two weeks later in Gaiole and Radda than it does in San Casciano, only a 15-minute drive away (Ian D’Agata, Vinous, Sept 2014).
Chianti Classico DOCG wine style: Ian D’Agata (2019, p.275) says Chianti Classico based on Sangiovese should be bright red or dark red in colour, and with varietally accurate aromas and flavours such as violet, redcurrant, sour red cherry, tea leaf, and liquorice. ‘Allowing up to 20% of different grape varieties in Chianti blends isn’t a very good idea: just take your pick from a list including, among others, canaiolo nero, colorino (of which there are at least four different varieties in Tuscany, all belonging to the colorino group, but there are other coloring or teinturier varieties too), malvasia nera (one of which may actually be tempranillo), cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, syrah, merlot, etc., and it all adds up to wildly different wines. I won’t harp on the positive or negative contributions made by the international varieties, but the stylistic gap between wines made with hefty doses of varieties with darker aromas and flavors and others made with sangiovese only or featuring the local natives (wines that are much more tangy and floral, with red fruits dominating) is evident even to beginners, and ultimately just adds to the confusion,’ (Ian D’Agata, Vinous, Sept 2014). Hence ‘Chianti Classico is not a single wine but a multitude,’ in the words of Burton Anderson (1990, p.207).
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva: 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 DOCG Gran Selezione.
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).
Dr Ian d’Agata, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs (University of California Press, 2019), p.283.
Dr Ian D’Agata, Tuscany Part 1: Chianti, Vino Nobile and Supertuscans (Sep 2014) | Vinous
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