If we search our souls, at least those of us of a certain age, the first European wines we tasted were probably Italian, red, and most likely Chianti. Often they were inexpensive, not always wonderful and in a fiasco, the straw wrapped flask that perhaps we brought home and put a candle in to remind us of a festive meal in a local Italian joint. I’d bet that Billy Joel’s “bottle of red” was Chianti.
Based on the Sangiovese grape, these everyday Tuscan wines were presumed by many to be the hallmark of all Italian wine, and in terms of production and influence that may have been true. But in the last decades, changes in the world of wine have happened: new vineyard areas, new areas of popularity, increased awareness of other premium regions in Italy and varieties of grape, with everyone looking to grow market share in a competitive and shrinking world. Wine drinkers have been demanding higher quality than the inexpensive Chianti of the early sixties.
The growers and lawmakers of Chianti responded by changing what can be classified as Chianti in the last several decades. The Chianti Wine Consortium was established in 1927, then expanded to include the whole current production area with the 1967 Regulations, and was granted Guaranteed Registered Designation of Origin (DOCG) status in 1984. This was updated with a decree in 2009 and again on September 3, 2012. The Consortium is responsible for consumer information, protection, and promotion of D.O.C.G. Chianti. Extensive information is available at www.consorziovinochianti.it and it is worth a look.
Details of all the regulations of production for over three thousand six hundred producers, working more than 15,500 hectares of vineyards, producing in excess of 800,000 hectoliters of wine are there. The Consortium delineates each of the Chianti DOCG zones, which includes Chianti Rufina, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Montespertoli and Chianti Colline Pisane. It should be noted that DOCG Chianti Classico is a smaller, separate entity, located in the center of the larger Chianti DOCG.
Without getting too detailed over the history of grape varieties allowed, formerly only Italian varieties were legal, and even had required that a proportion of white grapes (Malvasia and/or Trebbiano) be used in these red wines. Now, flexibility and a wider range of possible blends are allowed. Anywhere between 70-100% Sangiovese, with the remainder made up of up to 10% white grapes and up to 15% non native Cabernets (Sauvignon and/or Franc), along with other grape varieties suited to cultivation within the Tuscany region can be used, depending on sub-zone.
Consequently, out of old traditions, new approaches have evolved to increase quality and broaden variety in DOCG Chianti. The acceptance and even premium pricing of “Super Tuscans,” which contain either not enough or no Sangiovese to qualify for a DOCG designation, further shows what is going on across the Tuscan landscape. What may appear to be a simple IGT labeled bottle might contain a vastly superior product than you might expect. Much depends on the producer and it is up to them to decide which muse to follow. Current laws allow that to happen.
Consorzio Vino Chianti came to New York City with samples from 46 different wineries on Monday, April 28, 2014 at the Biergarten space of the Standard High Line Hotel. The day-long event started with a guided tasting and presentation of the Chianti Riserva 2010. Generally, Riservas require a minimum of 2 years in wood, plus three months in bottle before release. Six seminar wines were poured that demonstrate acceptable variations, both in components and aging, but each qualifying as DOCG Riserva for the subzone where they were produced.
1. CHIANTI DOCG RISERVA “Sorelli”: 80% Sangiovese, 10% Caniaolo, 10% Trebbiano. Six months large barrels, two months in barriques, and two months in bottle. Crystalline light color, fruit forward, dusty cherry, raspberry and cocoa. Juicy finish that lingers. Detailed review.
2. CHIANTI DOCG RISERVA “Il Quarto”: 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Syrah. 24 months in French barriques. Bright appearance, blueberry and prune, with a little heat from the 14% alcohol. Detailed review.
3. CHIANTI RÙFINA DOCG RISERVA “Bellini”: 90% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino, 5% Caniolo. 24 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle. Dark, but transparent appearance, black cherry, cotton candy nose, tannic finish balanced with both fruit and acidity. Detailed review.
4. CHIANTI DOCG RISERVA ”Castello di Olivetto”: 90% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino, 5% Merlot. 24 months in 25 hectoliter Slovenian oak barrels and 6 months in bottle. Dark ruby red, very similar to the Bellini, but with dried herbs as well. Detailed review.
5. CHIANTI MONTALBANO DOCG RISERVA “”Tenuta Cantagallo”: 100% Sangiovese. Malolactic fermentation, then 12 months in a combination of barriques and tonneaux, followed by 12 months in bottle. Almost opaque, herbal nose with thyme, and dusty red plum, which carried over to the mid-palate and long finish. Detailed review.
6. CHIANTI COLLI FIORENTINI DOCG RISERVA “Vina la Quercia”: 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 12 months in barriques and 12 months in bottle. Light color, nose with menthol, eucalyptus and bell pepper. Limited fruit on the front and finish. Detailed review.
After the seminar and a very enjoyable lunch with wine numbers 1 and 5 (my choices), there was a walk around where many more excellent wines were available, but I will only mention two:
2013 Puro Chianti DOCG., 100% Sangiovese, from Fattoria Lavacchio is a USDA Organic Certified wine, with no added sulfites (less than 5 ppm from natural fermentation), but because of the scrupulously clean production and a special natural cork that prevents oxygen penetration, the wine is guaranteed to stay fresh for three years. Most wines like this don’t last that long. Crystalline garnet color, focused fruit and medium tannins, well balanced with a bright finish. Full review.
2008 D’Incanto Vin Santo del Chianti, Blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia, which was a delight of vanilla, fig, walnut, sweetness, acidity and exceptional balance. Here is my full review.
The event brought back memories of a 1972 trip and a casual lunch stop on a back road near Siena. I don’t remember what was eaten, but there was a house bottle of Chianti on every table and everyone had as much, or little as they wanted. Wine was part of the meal, as it should be, since these are food friendly wines. Chianti is cool.