A Short History of Chianti (To Enjoy With Your Next Glass)

A Short History of Chianti (To Enjoy With Your Next Glass)

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


Sangiovese grape bunch ripening on a vine

The Chianti region of Italy, located in Central Tuscany, is one of the most beautiful areas in the entire region. It’s dreamy and romantic, featuring lush, rolling hills and gorgeous villas. The area is also best known for the wines that come from there – also called Chianti. 

A medium-bodied red wine, Chianti is mouthwateringly acidic with moderate to high levels of tannins. While the wines from this area are diverse, they share a few of the same flavor notes. Chiantis tend to be floral and spicy when young and develop earthier notes as they age.  

While Chianti has been around for a long time, it got a bit of a bad rap in the 1970s. Overproduction and the use of low-quality grapes led to subpar wines and a reputation that many producers still contend with to this day. Fortunately, Chianti has increased in quality significantly in the last few decades, providing us with some of the most delicious wines to have alongside meals. 

A Look at Chianti Wine History

The name “Chianti” first appeared in the 13th century. At that time, it referred to a geographical location. It eventually became the world’s first legally demarcated wine region in the early 1700s, made official by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III. In 1716, he issued an edict that allowed the region to use “Chianti” for its wines. That same edict also outlined the area we now know as Chianti Classico. 

In 1872, the second Prime Minister of Italy, Baron Bettino Ricasoli, wrote a letter outlining what we know now as the modern formula for Chianti. He stated that it should be a red blend consisting of mainly Sangiovese grapes. Makers could add other local varieties such as Canaiolo or Malvasia, too.

A Problematic Period for Chianti

The first few decades of the 20th century were rife with conflict. 1924 saw the founding of the Chianti Classico Consortium, a group of quality-minded individuals who sought to protect the high-tier Chianti wines. However, there were many winemakers who were focused on mass production and exportation, which caused conflict within the region. 

Then the Dalmasso Commission came in. In 1932, this commission defined six subregions of the viticulture area, and set some rather lax wine production requirements. Despite their frustrations, members of the Consortium continued to focus on quality. 

Unfortunately, Chianti took a severe hit when World War II put a stop to grape production. Italy also terminated sharecropping systems throughout the nation, which led to people leaving the countryside to find work in cities. Simultaneously, European law put a focus on quantity over quality when it came to grape growing. 

To make matters worse, 1967 saw the creation of the Chianti DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) which specified that Chianti be comprised of 70% to 90% red grapes and 10% to 30% white. It didn’t allow for 100% Sangiovese wines. In short, Chianti wines at this time were nothing like those produced today. 

Preserving the Quality of Chianti 

Those who wanted to preserve the quality of Chianti wine were angry. Their frustration eventually led to the Super Tuscan movement in the 1970s. The first major change occurred in 1984. At that time, Chianti became a DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin), with stringent regulations that placed focus squarely on quality. Then, in 1989, the Consortium started the Chianti Classico 2000 project. The 16-year-long project was an essential turning point for Chianti wine. 

Despite all of the changes in the past couple of decades and the efforts of the Consortium, unfortunate stereotypes about Chianti wines persist to this day - many people still believe it to be synonymous with low quality. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as many of the highest-quality Italian wines on the market are Chianti. 

Chianti Wine Types

There are a few different designations of Chianti available on the market, with the differences between them being based largely on the percent Sangiovese they contain, the area in which the grapes are grown, and the aging requirements. The vast majority contain 70% to 100% Sangiovese grapes. These thin-skinned fruits provide a transparent ruby color and flavors of cherries, plums, and dried herbs. Upon aging, notes of earth and leather become apparent. Sangiovese grapes also feature high acidity and excellent tannins. 

Here’s a quick look at the different types of Chianti you might find:

Chianti

Standard Chianti contains a minimum of 70% Sangiovese grapes. The remaining 30% is typically a blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet though regional grape varieties such as Canaiolo Nero and Colorino may be found as well. These wines have the shortest aging period before release, typically three to six months. 

Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico consists of at least 80% Sangiovese. The remaining 20% (or less) is often a blend of the other red grapes mentioned above. Classico is aged a minimum of ten to twelve months before being released. To be labeled Classico, the grapes must come from the Classico district. This is the wine that carries the famous gallo nero or black rooster seal. Since 2006, white grapes previously mandated for Chianti wine have been outlawed in the production of any Chianti that bears the Classico designation.

Chianti Riserva

Chianti Riserva undergoes a longer aging process of 24 to 38 months. That extra time mellows the tannins in the wine and adds greater complexity and structure. 

Chianti Superiore

Featuring Sangiovese grapes grown outside the Classico district, Chianti Superiore undergoes a minimum of nine months of aging. These wines also generally come from lower yields.

Gran Selezione

Created in 2014, Chianti Gran Selezione features grapes from the best estate vineyards. These wines undergo at least 30 months of aging before being released. These are some of the highest-quality Chiantis available.  

Tips for Choosing Chianti Wine

With so many different types of Chianti, you may be wondering how to choose one. Here are a few tips that may help make the selection process a little easier:

  • Look at the blend. Many Chianti wines are blends of Sangiovese and other grapes. The types of grapes that make up the remainder of the blend will add different flavors.
  • See how long the wine has aged. Younger wines tend to be tart and fruit-forward, while aged varieties feature mellower tannins and more savory notes.
  • Consider what you’re eating. Chianti wine makes an excellent accompaniment to different meals. It pairs particularly well with pizza, pasta with tomato-based sauces, and rich meats.

Make Your Next Glass of Wine Chianti 

Chianti wines have a long history. Thanks to some dedicated individuals, they’ve been saved from ruin and brought back as one of the highest-quality wines available. Whether you’re looking for a glass to enjoy in the evening or you want something to accompany our next Italian-inspired meal, why not give a quality Chianti a try?

To find a Chianti wine to fit your needs, visit JJ Buckley Fine Wines today!