Why You Should Try Chianti

Why You Should Try Chianti

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


Barrels stacked in a pyramid outdoors at a winery

What comes to mind when you hear the word Chianti? Maybe it reminds you of a movie you once saw: characters sitting around a table in a dimly lit Italian bistro, engaged in an enthusiastic discussion. Perhaps your next vacation comes to mind—touring vineyards on rolling hills as you taste your way through Tuscany. You might simply be thinking of that squat, rounded bottle wrapped in a straw fiasco.

But beyond its role as a ubiquitous symbol of Italy, what do you actually know about Chianti? Read on to discover the vast world of Italy's most famous wine—and why you should try it!

Origins of Wine in Chianti

The Italian wine Chianti is named for the area where it's produced: the Chianti region of Central Tuscany, which spans 70,000 hectares between the cities of Siena and Florence. The grapes grown for Chianti are called sangiovese. These blue-purple gems are a thin-skinned, high-acid variety and thrive in a hot, dry climate with limestone soils. For a wine to be called a Chianti, it needs to be composed of a minimum of 70% sangiovese grapes, depending on the type—we'll get into that next.

Types

All Chianti wines are classified under DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), the highest quality designation for Italian wine.

There are eight denominations of Chianti, each named after the subregion in Chianti where they’re produced:

  • Classico 
  • Rufina
  • Colli Aretini
  • Colli Fiorentini
  • Colli Senesi
  • Colline Pisane
  • Montalbano
  • Montespertol

Chianti DOCG

Chianti is a general name for any wine that comes from the Chianti region (except Chianti Classico). Sometimes referred to as Chianti Normale, the wines from this region are generally considered table wines. The wine is made of a mix of grapes from various parts of the Chianti region, at least 70% of which are sangiovese grapes.

Your basic "every day" Chianti is typically enjoyed while young and fresh, with the "tart" character of the sangiovese preserved. These wines are aged for around four to six months and have a minimum alcohol content of 11.5%. However, within the Chianti category, there are two higher-quality offerings called Superiore and Riserva:

Superiore

Chianti designated as Superiore is made from lower yields than Chianti Normale. It contains slightly more alcohol and higher dry extract. This offering is bolder and smoother, with less of the fresh, young tart character of Chianti Normale.

Riserva

A Riserva is a Chianti that’s been aged for at least 24 months. It’s even smoother than the Superiore, with bolder flavors. Typically one would produce a Riserva from higher quality grapes, for example from a winery's best vineyards or plots.

Chianti Classico DOCG

Chianti Classico is the most important subregion in Chianti and the only one with its own DOCG. A bottle of this type contains grapes from the best vineyards in the region. You’ll recognize it by the black rooster (gallo nero) on the neck.

Chianti Classico must have a minimum of 80% sangiovese grapes (though many producers stick to 100%). White grapes are banned in the production of this denomination. Common red grape varieties for blends are Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

Chianti Classico has three different levels of aging requirements to produce either Annata, Riserva, or Gran Selezione.

Chianti Classico Annata

This wine usually gets the "Chianti Classico" label. Aged in oak barrels for about 12 months before it hits store shelves, it has an alcohol content of 12%.

Chianti Classico Riserva

This high-quality Chianti is aged for a minimum of 24 months, including at least three months in the bottle. Classico Riserva has softened tannins, a smoother texture, and a cleaner, subtler taste than Chianti Classico.  

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione

Made from the best grapes, this is typically a single-vineyard wine; however, it can also contain grapes from multiple sites as long as the vineyards belong to the producer. It’s aged for 30 months, including a minimum of three months aging in bottle. Introduced in February 2014 with a 2010 vintage, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione sits at the top of the Chianti quality pyramid. Prior to that, Chianti Classico Riserva held the top spot. 

Gran Selezione has been the subject of heated debate. Opponents feel it’s unclear how it differs from Riserva. Fans say the better fruit quality shines through and that the name clearly conveys its superiority, eliminating buyers’ confusion. 

Perfect Pairings

Chianti wines are dry, fruity red wines that strike a balance between tannins, acidity, and fruit. They feature a floral aroma (think violets) and a complex flavor profile. The most common tasting notes are cherries and other red fruits, dried herbs, balsamic vinegar, smoke, and game. 

Higher-quality, well-aged Chiantis hint at notes of sour, preserved cherries, bitter herbs, black pepper, espresso, sweet spices, dried prunes, and figs. 

This classic Italian wine goes down especially easily with Italian food. Its relatively high acid content allows it to cut through the fat of rich foods while holding its own against the acidity in tomato-based dishes. 

  • Chianti: pizza, pasta al pomodoro, minestrone
  • Chianti Classico Annata: hearty lasagna, sirloin steak, lamb, wild duck, provolone dolce, young gouda
  • Chianti Classico Riserva: pork or beef roast, venison, wild boar, pheasant, taleggio, mature pecorino
  • Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: baked meat ravioli, duck confit, smoked or cured meats

Why You Should Try Chianti

There are over 10,000 varieties of wine grapes in the world. So why should the sangiovese-dominant Chianti earn a spot on your personal wine list?

1. It will spice up your meals.

The versatile Chianti is made for food. As much as you love a nice meat lasagna, how much better would it be with a glass of Chianti Classico? And who says pizza is meant to go with beer? Grab a bottle of Chianti Normale and elevate your experience!

2. It offers a wide variety.

Chianti is a broad category of wines. Whether you’re looking for something bold, romantic, and well-aged—or a sip of something bright and fresh—you'll find a Chianti wine that suits your mood.  

3. It's organic.

Okay, not all Chianti is, but at least one-third of the Chianti Classico subregion is certified organic—and more than 50 producers offer organic products. If you’re concerned about where your wine’s coming from, Chianti Classico has you covered!

4. It's the subject of debate.

Wondering what all the Gran Selezione fuss is about? Is it better than the Riserva, or is it just an excuse for a higher price point? Have a taste and decide for yourself!

Get Acquainted with Chianti

Now that you’ve gotten to know Chianti a little, why not take it to the next level? Browse JJ Buckley Fine Wine’s extensive selection to find the perfect Chianti wine for your collection.

Need some help picking out your next bottle? Reach out to one of JJ Buckley’s wine consultants!