Posts tagged ‘chianti’

The Pleasures of Chianti

On Wednesday in Chicago, I had the pleasure of moderating a seminar on the wines of Chianti with Steven Alexander, wine director of Spiaggia Ristorante. This seminar for the Simply Italian event was a focus on the wines of the seven Chianti districts (such as Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Senesi, et al) that have joined forces to be the Chianti Consorzio. Thus there were no wines from the Chianti Classico district.

I was interested to see what these seven districts were offering, as these zones don’t get the same attention as Chianti Classico, which is no surprise given the money in the Classico area. But money isn’t everything, especially in Italian wine; the 15 wines offered in this seminar were focused on varietal purity and balance, offering the typical acidity of Sangiovese and keeping wood influence to a minimum. While a few of these wines were Riserva bottlings that could be enjoyed for another 3-5 years, most were immediately drinkable and were in a word, charming. How nice to see a group of wines from producers that were more interested in typicity rather than high scores from a wine publication!

Included in the tasting were examples of straight Chiantis, made from grapes grown anywhere in the seven districts; wines from the sub-districts (Chianti Rufina, Chianti Montalbano, etc) as well as Riserva bottlings (aged for a longer time before release) and examples of Chianti Superiore, which must have a slightly higher minimum degree of alcohol (11.5%) than the other types. All of these wines must contain at least 70% Sangiovese, though producers can bottle exclusively with that variety. As much as 15% of international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are permitted in the blend, while 30% of the blend can be traditional Tuscan red varieties such as Canaiolo and Colorino; white varieties, such as Trebbiano and Malvasia are still allowed (as much as 10%), although few producers use these grapes for their Chianti.

While I’m certain that many consumers think of regular Chianti as simple, that’s not always the case; the 2009 Badia a Morrona 2009 is a delightful wine with tart cherry fruit, lively acidity and a touch of brown spice in the finish; drink this over the next 1-2 years. Even better was the 2008 Chianti from Fattoria di Uccelliera, which contained 10% Canaiolo; this variety added some exotic perfumes of lavender and crushed plum. Other very pleasing examples of basic Chianti that were poured at a walk-around tasting after the seminar included the 2008 Castelvecchio “Santa Caterina” and the 2009 San Fabiano. Clearly basic Chianti can be something special!

Another impressive wine was the 2007 Chianti Classico Fiorentini “Villa Marcialla” from Fattorie Gianozzi. The wine has 10% Merlot accompanying the 90% Sangiovese, which is not the most traditional blend. However the wine was aged solely in large oak (grandi botti), which preserves the varietal purity and local terroir. There is good concentration, tart acidity and beautiful balance; enjoy this wine over the next 2-3 years.

Vineyards of La Cignozza (Photo courtesy of La Cignozza)

Of course, the Riserva bottlings offer more depth of fruit and capability for aging; there were several offered during the seminar and tasting. For me, the most impressive was the 2007 Riserva from La Cignozza (several other people I spoke to after the seminar agreed with me on this). This is a wine you don’t see much, a wine labeled as Chianti Riserva, as most Riserva bottlings are from a sub-district. A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo, the wine has excellent depth of fruit and beautiful ripeness, due both to the warm vintage and to the fact that the vineyards are located south of Siena, in a warm zone. Aged in both mid-size and large oak, casks, the wood notes are kept to a minimum, the finish has good length and there is excellent complexity. I’d expect this wine to drink well for at least 5-7 years and perhaps longer.

Many of the represented producers also make a Vin Santo, the lovely dessert wine made by naturally drying Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes (and sometimes red grapes such as Canaiolo or Sangiovese) before fermentation (these wines are under the Colli Etruria Centrale DOC). Two impressive offerings here included the 2006 releases from Castelvechio and Badia a Morrona, both displaying beautiful complexity and richness, with the latter offering more of the classic dried almond and sherry notes.

Impressive wines from start to finish and perhaps most welcome is the pricing of these wines, as many basic Chianti as well as the sub-district wines can be purchased on American retail shelves for prices between $12-16. Terroir-driven wines, made in a style that emphasizes balance and drinkability – we need more of these wines! Compliments to the producers of the Chianti Consorzio!


October 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm Leave a comment

Great Reds of Toscana – Chianti


Vineyard in Panzano in the Chianti Classico zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Vineyard in Panzano in the Chianti Classico zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Everyone loves Tuscany it seems, so it follows that everyone loves Chianti. It is arguably the most-loved red wine in the world, if you think about it. Bordeaux  and Burgundy may be more famous and regal, but the price of many examples of those wines keep them from being appreciated by so many people. Thus Chianti, historically a moderately priced wine, is seen in many more markets across the globe, giving more consumers the chance to embace this lovely Tuscan red.


The name Chianti has been around since the year 1100, when it was first used to describe a wide area in Tuscany’s central zone. The Etruscans who began viticulture along the region’s west coast, soon spread their efforts north and east, planting Sangiovese near the town of Siena, Pisa and Arezzo. It was in 1085 that the Ricasoli family began to produce wine at Castello di Brolio in Gaiole, one of Tuscany’s most famous estates.

Given the success of Chianti wine, farmers outside the center of Tuscany, wanting to cash in on the popularity of this name, started to produce Chianti throughout the region. Eventually the heart of the Chianti territory- the hills between Florence to the north and Siena to the south – became known as Chianti Classico, and today there are seven sub-zones that use the name Chianti with a geographical suffix, such as Chianti Colli Fiorentini (“the hills of Florence”) and Chianti Colli Senesi (“the hills of Siena). 

The DOCG regulations are slightly different for Chianti Classico as compared with the other Chianti zones; basically the minimum amount of Sangiovese in Chianti Classico is 80%, as compared with 75% for the other zones. In the past, only local varieties, such as Canaiolo or Mammolo for red or Trebbiano or Malvasia for white were allowed in a Chianti blend, but the regulations were changed in the 1980s. Several producers, most notably Antinori and Le Pergole Torte, started to add Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon to the blend, leaving out traditional varieites. At first, these wines such as Tignanello, had to be called vino da tavola (table wines), as they did not conform to the Chianti regulations. But with the success of these wines and the more common use of international variteties from other area producers, the laws were changed. White varieties were banned from the Chianti blend a few years ago and today, Chianti can be made with small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvgnon, Syrah or other varieties; it can also be 100% Sangiovese. (A Riserva bottling of Chianti must be aged longer than a normale bottling; in the case of Chianti Classico Riserva, the wine must be aged for a minimum period of two years and three months in wood.)

Top estates of Chianti today include:


  • Castello di Brolio (Barone Ricasoli)
  • Castello di Cacchiano
  • Castello di Bossi
  • Badia a Coltibuono
  • Castello di Volpaia
  • Castello Monsanto
  • Castellare di Castellina
  • San Felice
  • Felsina
  • Fontodi
  • Bibbiano
  • Le Miccine
  • Rocca di Montegrossi
  • Ruffino


  • Castello di Poppiano
  • Castelvecchio
  • Lanciola


  • Frescobaldi
  • Selvapiana
  • San Michele a Torri


Alessandro Cellai, winemaker at Castellare di Castellina, Chianti Classico (Photo©Tom Hyland)

Alessandro Cellai, winemaker at Castellare di Castellina, Chianti Classico (Photo©Tom Hyland)





Chianti was traditionally a rustic red; while that adjective can cover a lot of flaws, rustic really was an apt decriptor for old-style Chiantis. Made from Sangiovese, which is high in acidity with moderate tannins, these wines were aged in large casks, giving them a cedary quality. Usually displaying notes of brown herbs, dried cherry and tomato as the wines aged, these were simple, charming wines meant for food; even today, the traditional style of Chianti (such as the excellent wines from Badia a Coltibuono) works beautifully with any number of foods such as veal, pork or pastas with tomato-based sauces.

However, modern methods both in the vineyards and in the cellar have changed the style of many Chiantis (as of course have the blending laws). The wines today are deeper on color, while many are oakier, especially the ones aged in French barriques. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between today’s Chiantis and the older botlings is the fact that today, yields are much lower. Left to its own, Sangiovese can be uncontrollable, often getting 12 tons to the acre. This means a lot of wine, but wine that is thin and too acidic. Yields are often cut to 4-5 tons per acre these days (sometimes lower) and the wines are much fuller and riper with excellent Sangiovese fruit character.

While the style of wines can be argued, there is no question that today’s Chiantis are better quality offerings. Here are thoughts on this subject from Francesco Ricasoli, owner of Castello di Brolio; “The wines of today are without discussion much better wines from the ones of the past. Chianti Classico today is tracking its way for the future with innovation but still keeping its roots with Sangiovese and preserving its own style that makes it unique worldwide. It cannot be “duplicated” elsewhere in the world.”

Whatever your preference for Chianti – traditional style versus modern style – the best bottlings do present the charm of Sangiovese, with its lively acidity and fresh red cherry fruit in a nicely balanced wine that everyone loves.

June 22, 2009 at 5:58 pm 1 comment

tom hyland

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