Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico, the heart of Tuscany, is one of Italy’s most celebrated wine regions, rich in tradition and culture. Stretching between the cities of Florence and Siena, the production area covers 70,000 hectares. The Chianti Classico territory exhibits significant diversity: a thousand nuances of soils, different climatic and altitudinal conditions, and various components of biodiversity characterize this designation.

Despite Chianti Classico being one of the most important wine regions in the Italian and global wine panorama, vineyardsi cover only 15% of its area.

An almost equal area is covered by olive groves, representing the other facet of the Chianti Classico’s agricultural district. The rest of the territory is mainly covered by forests (oaks, chestnuts, cypresses), rendering the landscape of Chianti incredibly charming.

The sharecropping system in vogue until the mid-20th century had a profound impact on shaping the landscape, the molding of social structures, and the architecture of rural houses and villages in Chianti. Immersed in a splendid landscape, farmhouses, villas, parish churches, castles, and perched villages tell the history and culture of this area.

Characteristics of the Territory

The topography of Chianti is an essential part of its geographical identity and significantly contributes to the production of its renowned wines.

The primary mountain range in the vicinity of Chianti Classico is represented by the Chianti Mountains, which runs along the eastern border of the region, separating it from the Arno Valley. The highest point in the area is Monte San Michele, with an elevation of 893 meters above sea level.

A second, lower but equally significant mountain range tretches from San Donato in Poggio, through Castellina in Chianti to Vagliagli. This divides the territory into an interior and an exterior part, extending towards the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

From the center, two hydrographic basins originate: one to the north, formed bythe Pesa and Greve rivers (in the northwest and northeast, respectively), while to the south, in the Sienese part of Chianti Classico, the main hydrographic basin is occupied by the Arbia.

Variations in altitude, different temperature conditions, winds, Mediterranean breezes, and varying sun exposures all contribute to creating a myriad of unique microclimates in Chianti Classico, each with its own nuances and specific characteristics.

The Chianti hills are the result of geological processes that occurred over millions of years, particularly as a result of the collapse of the two tectonic plates: the Tyrrhenian and the Apennine plates.

We can identify four main components:

  • Sandstones,mostly Chianti macigno, found mainly in the eastern border part of the denomination.
  • Alberese, a marly limestone with a high calcium carbonate content that characterizes the central part of Chianti.
  • Galestro, a friable clayey schist.
  • Sands and even fossil marine deposits originating from the Ligurian Domains ridge.

Daily temperature fluctuations are moderate but more pronounced in the eastern part of Chianti Classico due to the higher elevation. Annual precipitation levels are around 800-900 millimeters of rainfall, with peaks during spring and autumn.

History of Chianti

Its fascinating landscapes are a living memory of a glorious past and tell us a story rich in culture and ancient traditions.

The history of Chianti Classico has ancient roots, dating back to the Etruscan era, when they cultivated vines and produced wine in this region. However, the initial results were mediocre due to the high acidity of the wines, which required the addition of sweetening and flavoring ingredients such as honey or herbs. The Etruscans were the first to transform the Chianti landscape, shifting from pastoralism to agriculture, particularly focusing on grape cultivation.

Subsequently, the Romans expanded the agricultural economy and began growing olives alongside vineyards.

During the medieval period, Chianti was a borderland between the rival cities of Florence and Siena, a backdrop for fierce struggles between these two Tuscan powers. To defend the territory, numerous castles, fortifications, and parish churches were erected. Some of these places would later witness the emergence of the first signs of a vibrant and brilliant Renaissance.

Around the mid-1200s, the Florentine Leagues were established in Florence, administrative entities responsible for managing and protecting Florentine territories. In 1384, the Republic of Florence founded the League of Chianti, and the black rooster first appeared in its emblem.

Once the wars ended, increased security allowed for the development of a new land and social structure that characterized Chianti until at least the mid-1900s: the villa-farm system.

The villa-farms represented a “new” organizational, agricultural, cultural, and landscape model. These rural settlements served as directional centers for diversified production, characterized not only by wine and oil but also by cereals, vegetables, livestock, and the production of meat, cured meats, and cheeses.

It was a multifunctional agricultural approach that contributed to shaping the landscape and influenced the architecture of rural houses and Chianti villages.

Everything revolved around sharecropping, an agricultural contract in which a landowner provided land to the farmer (the “sharecropper”) in exchange for half of the agricultural products. To ensure the family’s subsistence, the sharecropper tended to cultivate the widest possible range of crops, including managing small cattle herds of cows, pigs, and chickens.

This practice helped stabilize Chianti’s rural communities for many generations, promoting the adoption of sustainable farming practices and the preservation of biodiversity in the region.

The significance of this model in defining the territory’s identity is such that the Chianti Classico landscape and villa-farm system are currently under UNESCO’s consideration for the prestigious designation of World Heritage.

The extraordinary result of the interaction between humans and the surrounding environment, where tradition, natural beauty, and the art of agriculture intertwine, makes Chianti Classico a truly special territory.

The history of Chianti Classico wine is deeply intertwined with the history of the region. This area is rich in ancient traditions, with roots dating back to the Etruscans and Romans.

During the Middle Ages, Chianti was the scene of numerous conflicts between the cities of Florence and Siena.. During this period, villages, castles, and fortresses emerged, along with the first plantations of grapes and olives, assuming increasing economic importance. It was in this historical context that the symbol and legend of the Black Rooster originated.

At the end of the 1300s, the Black Rooster was adopted as the symbol by the League of Chianti, a political-military structure established by the Republic of Florence to control the Chianti territory.

According to legend, the two cities of Florence and Siena, exhausted after years of numerous and bloody struggles for control of Chianti, decided to settle the matter with a rather unique competition.. The two cities designated two knights as their representatives. The agreement stipulated that, at the first crow of the rooster on a predetermined day, both knights would mount their horses, and the boundary between the municipalities would be determined where they met.

The Sienese chose a white roosterwhich was well cared for and well-fed in the days leading up to the competition. The Florentines, on the other hand, selected a black rooster and confined it to a narrow cage, leaving it hungry for several days.

On the day set for the challenge, the Florentine’s black rooster, tormented by hunger and the tight cage, crowed long before dawn.. This allowed the Florentine knight to depart with a clear advantage over the Sienese representative. The Sienese rooster, well-fed and calm, woke up and crowed much later in the morning.

The two knights found themselves a few kilometers from Siena, near Fonterutoli, where the boundary between the two republics was established.

Chianti and Chianti Classico: A Historical Evolution

Chianti and Chianti Classico are , by their nature and historical tradition, blended wines whose grape composition has evolved over the centuries. The blend has undergone considerable changes, driven both by stylistic and organoleptic choices and in response to the trends of the time. These ampelographic transformations, along with the curious non-coincidence between the wine name and the production area, have made it somewhat challenging to understand the phenomenon of Chianti. Let’s attempt to shed some light and understand how the rules have evolved over time.

As early as the 1400s, Chianti was establishing itself as an excellent wine. To protect the name, the Chianti League imposed, in 1444, the obligation not to harvest before the feast of San Michele (September 29) to ensure a minimum level of ripeness.

One of the world’s earliest examples of wine regulation was put in place to regulate production, sales, and the name Chianti. In 1716, Grand Duke Cosimo III issued an edict to define the production area boundaries and establish penalties for clandestine trafficking and counterfeiting.

Given its extreme success, identifying only the origin/production territory was no longer sufficient. In the mid-19th century, Baron Ricasoli identified the “right blend”of grape varieties to use. The base was primarily Sangiovese, with small additions of Canaiolo, white Malvasia, Trebbiano, and up to 5% of other grape varieties.

Chianti wine began to be produced in various parts of Tuscany, even outside the geographical boundaries of the Chianti region. In an effort to protect themselves from “out-of-area” wines and safeguard the territory, the first voluntary protection consortium was established in 1924, the Consortium for the Defense of Chianti Wine.

The image chosen by the members to represent them was the black rooster, already a symbol of the Chianti Military League, giving rise to the oldest winegrowers’ consortium in Italy.

In 1932, a ministerial decree officially recognized the exclusive status of wines produced in the original Chianti area and introduced the term “Classico” to distinguish it from Chianti produced outside the area, hence “non-Classico.

In 1967, Chianti wine and its subzone, Chianti Classico, received the denomination of origin.

The ampelographic base of this first regulation allowed for the use of both red and white grapes (with percentages ranging from 70-90%). Specifically:

  • Sangiovese, at least 50%
  • Black Canaiolo, 10%
  • Trebbiano and Malvasia, either singly or in combination, between 10% and 30%.

In 1984, Chianti Classico was granted the designation of controlled and guaranteed originthe highest recognition for Italian quality wines. In this transition, the minimum mandatory percentage of Sangiovese was increased.

In 1996, two separate regulations and denominations were established: Chianti and Chianti Classico, both DOCG For the first time, it allowed Chianti Classico to be produced from red grapes only, possibly Sangiovese alone. White grapes were still permitted up to a maximum of 6%, and at the same time, the use of complementary red grape varieties, even non-native, was allowed.

In 2005, the minimum percentage of Sangiovese was raised to 80%, and the percentage of complementary grape varieties increased from 15% to 20%. With the same decree, the use of white grapes was definitivelyphased out, making them no longer usable starting from the following year.

In 2013, the Gran Selezione was introduced,a new type of Chianti Classico that joined the existing Annata and Riserva, positioning itself at the top of the qualitative pyramid of Gallo Nero wines. Recently, for this specific category, the percentage of Sangiovese was increased to 90%, with only native grape varieties allowed for the remaining 10%. The same regulation in 2021 introduced the Additional Geographical Units (UGA).

Additional Geographical Units

Chianti Classico is a complex and varied territory with different soils, microclimates, and territories that can even vary within the same winery. To emphasize the important connection between wine and territory, the Chianti Classico production area has been divided into more specific zones to reflect homogeneous characteristics. These 11 Additional Geographical Units (UGAs) represent the first step in recognizing and celebrating the extraordinary diversity of Chianti Classico wines.

UGAs do not imply evaluations or classifications, but they serve to highlight the diverse territorial identities and characteristics of Chianti Classico wines. Currently, these additional mentions apply only to the Gran Selezione category and include Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio, and Vagliagli.

Today's regulations

Chianti and Chianti Classico are not the same! Both are DOCG, but they have different regulations, production areas, and consortia.

Let’s start with the territory.. Although both terms coexist in the world of wine, from a historical-geographical perspective, there is only “Chianti”. Chianti is the territory identified since 1716 as particularly suitable for wine production, covering eight municipalities between the provinces of Florence and Siena.. Chianti Classico can only be produced in this territory.

Outside this area are the production areas of Chianti wine, which extend to various parts of Tuscany, spanning the provinces of Florence, Siena, Arezzo, and Pisa.

This is the source of the confusion: Chianti is the name of a wine produced in almost all of Tuscany, except in the geographical area called “Chianti,” where Chianti Classico is produced.

  • Minimum presence of Sangiovese grapes: 70% for Chianti and 80% for Chianti Classico.
  • White grape varieties: not allowed in Classico, allowed up to 10% in Chianti.
  • Lower yield per hectare in Chianti Classico.
  • Minimum alcohol content in Chianti Classico is higher compared to Chianti (12% and 10%, respectively).

To make it easier to distinguish between the two wines, the reference is the Black Rooster.. This historic emblem is associated with Chianti Classico wines exclusively. It must be present on the bottle’s neck along with the DOCG label or, alternatively, on the back label.