What these have in common is a distinctive, familiar Italian red wine taste: slight bitterness, with a definite tartness along with an earthiness or dustiness, plus cherry, plum or strawberry notes, all of which help make them eminently food-friendly. These are the prototypically Italian wines for many, and range fairly widely in terms of richness, tannins and complexity, and price, of course.
The famous emblem of the Gallo Nero, the black rooster, of Chianti Classico denotes the birthplace and historic heart of Chianti and is home to the most of the most renowned and expensive bottlings, some of which don’t carry the Chianti name at all – those Super Tuscans that grew out from the slow-moving bureaucracy of the wine region a few decades ago. In addition to Chianti Classico, there are seven, soon to be eight, other subregions plus the overarching Chianti DOC. So, ten appellations for Chianti, in all. The Chianti name is spread over larger area of Tuscany than ever before, with well over 3,000 producers. It’s also better than ever, and maybe more confusing. Then, Chianti Classico has eight subzones.
I have certainly drunk a lot of Chianti over the years, purchase it on a regular basis, and have even visited the area a few times, but my knowledge about it was comparatively limited. A seminar in January hosted by the Chianti consortium helped to grow my understanding.
In 1996, the Chianti Classico zone became independent from the Chianti DOC and the terms for one are a little than for the other. The larger Chianti area – from Chianti DOC – regulates that wine under the Chianti banner must be between 70% and 100% Sangiovese, including up to 10% that can be white. Chianti was once known a white wine region, after all. There are three main categories, which are predicated on aging: annata, the wines that are ready on March 1 after the harvest; Superiore, with at least a year of aging; and Riserva that has two years aging in the cellar.
The fresh young Chiantis, the annata bottlings, are among my favorite wines to consume when I am in central Italy. These more inexpensive wines are not as imported as readily and are meant to be consumed quickly. I do enjoy each of the styles when well made, as the good bottlings are “always in balance,” something that the brand ambassador at the seminar and tasting stressed. The eight wines in the tasting certainly were. Delicious, too, for the most part. At events like this, I put a check mark for the wines I am impressed with and truly enjoy. I checked six of the eight. My favorites were an annata from Colli Senesi, which is my favorite subzone, where the wines are about the richest in all of Chianti, being the furthest south and often made from Brunello producers who might also have very similar tasting Rosso di Montalcinos. Three of my other favorites were also 100% Sangiovese like that one, but Riservas from 2018. Even bigger, more deeply flavored, more complex. All the wines were indeed very balanced, with very nice fruit – often missing in lackluster bottles – noticeable acidity and a proper amount of tannins depending on the style. And the wines were without the hint of mustiness that I often associated with Chianti.
I’d recommend learning more about Chianti. That means purchasing and drinking more Chianti. It will make your meal taste better, and for more than with pizza and tomato sauces. Nicely, these can still be price performers, making the exploration easier.