Before naming this article “The Big World of Chianti” I am almost titled this “The Complex and Misunderstood World of Chianti. Chianti is complex because it is misunderstood and yet easy to know as well. Many people outside of Italy think of Chianti as a singular region and sometime it is thought of as the grape itself instead of mainly a Sangiovese grape. Chianti can be 75% to 100% Sangiovese and also Canaiolo, Merlot, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon can be added if a wine is not a 100% Sangiovese. Chianti remains complex because it can characterize very differently if Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon is the remaining grape content; I think that Merlot does characterize the Chianti overall (though not everyone would agree). Canaiolo is a great match to blend with Sangiovese.
I attended Vinitaly International Academy’s tasting at the Fancy Food Show West in San Francisco 18-January-2016 conducted by the Academy’s Scientific Director Ian D’Agata. I liked that this topic was presented because it such a well known topic and yet there are so many nuances that are important to recall and highlight and to talk about.
Chianti is still thought of as being as a lesser desirable Italian wine–odd because you can pay a lot more for a region like Brunello di Montalcino (which is a Sangiovese wine). I think the challenge has been that the image in many people’s mind is that Chianti is a high production wine presented in straw wine bottles at a cheap Italian restaurant. Chianti is a very old region first called Chianti in 1716 and the 1966 borders of what Chianti is and the sub-regions has changed (see map below). There are many common points of subregions which can have generally higher elevation 250 to 600 meters above sea level (800 to 1200 feet above sea level).
I researched availability of Chianti at neighbourhood wine stores in San Francisco — two well stocked wine stores had not a single ChiantI?! A mass retailer had one Chianti Classico out of 700+ SKUs. Another mass retailer in San Francisco with at least a 1,000 SKUs had 3 Chianti’s.
I love Chianti and like many other wine regions I love some producers or more precisely some vintages over others. I do love Sangiovese–I have tasted Sangiovese from Italy and from New World sources as well. But no other region than Italy can produce a lovely with high acid, tannic structure along with evocative scent and flavour characteristics – tartness – sour cherry, currants, strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate alone with some not all wines with game or mushroom quality amongst others. I think from a price point Chianti presents lovely wines at very lovely price points.
A snapshot of Chianti:
- Chianti Classico – the best known which may add to some confusion that all Chianti Classico’s are all Chianti (which is not true)
- Colli Artini – region closes to Arezzo
- Colli Fiorentini – region northeast to Florence
- Colli Senesi – region closest to Siena
- Colline Pisane – region closest to Pisa
- Montalbano – region northeast of Pisa
- Montespertoli – region between Florence and Pisa
- Rùfina – region northeast of Florence
- Superiore – signifies stricter requirements; and longer aging requirements and the grapes can be supplied from Arezzo, Florence, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena.
I would recommend taking a look at Chianti’s once more. As with wines from any region–these wines do vary–vintage, producer and subregions and also what they might be like if you age them. I prefer to find wines that are classic for me–either 100% Sangiovese or near 100% with Canaiolo to the wine for a fully Tuscan expression. For me, I do detect right away a Chianti with an international variety like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah–I want a snapshot of what is truly Chianti. Chianti’s full offering in the marketplace will only happen if more people like yourself take an interest the expression of the many flavours of this historic region. Like almost any other wine region on the planet Chianti has been an upward trajectory–quality has been increasing in Chianti and only gets better year over year.
Give it a try–this is no longer the wine that was drunk only a few generations ago. I have listed a few video reviews that I have completed. For me seeing that the Ruffino review at 4,000 hits is a sign to me that Chianti is top of mind of many people (this video is in my top 10 videos by number of hits).
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