Chianti is an Italian wine from the Chianti region of Tuscany, between Florence and Siena in central Italy. The area has long been famous for its wines, with first reference to Chianti wine was in 1398.
For much of the 20th Century Chianti was a popular restaurant wine served in picturesque raffia-wrapped round bottles but a push for quality saw increasing use of the Bordeaux shape by producers in the premium central region of Chianti Classico which was defined in 1716, as was Chianti Rufina in the north-east of the greater Chianti region. Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, defined the boundaries of where Chianti Classico wine could be made in an attempt to stop imitations. His decree was the world’s first legal document defining a wine production area.
The great black grape of Chianti is Sangiovese, an name that translates to ‘Blood of Jove’. Jove, also known as Jupiter, is the king of the roman gods. Chianti must be at least 75% Sangiovese but can be blended with Canaiolo (<10%) and up to 15% of Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Surprisingly the blend can also include white varieties Trebbiano and Malvasia.
Chianti Classico adopted the symbol of a silhouette of a black rooster —gallo nero in Italian — as its trademark. In antiquity Florence and Siena grew tired of their wars and decided to settle their boundary dispute by means of a contest. When the morning rooster crowed a horseman would ride towards the other city, and where the two riders met would be the border.
Siena chose a healthy white bird, pampered and fed it up in preparation for the contest. Florence picked a scrawny ill-fed black rooster which woke hungry before the sun rose and crowed while the white bird was still soundly sleeping. The Florentine rider got to ten miles of Siena before meeting their rider. Thus the boundaries were drawn and Chianti became part of the Florence Republic.
The Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico lost the right to use the words Gallo Nero in the USA to publicize their wines after a certain large American wine company sued.
Chianti can be bought at many price points with basic Chianti the least expensive. Some wines grown and made in Chianti bearing the most basic appellations have become fashionable and very expensive. Known as ‘Supertuscans’ because their producers eschew appellation rules to concentrate on international varieties to make new-world style wines.
Whatever Chianti you choose, don’t feel you have to wait to your next visit to an Italian restaurant. Not just pasta and pizza, Chianti is an ideal match for meat dishes. Its violet perfume with cherry and, raspberry flavours backed by oaking and food friendly acids make it a wine you should be choosing more often.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.