An Overview of Chianti, History & Tasting Notes

Chianti refers to a family of red wine blends which are grown exclusively within a specific area of Tuscany.  These wines all are composed mostly of Sangiovese wine, and are also mixed with various other types of red wine to create various blends.

The different types of Chianti are categorized by specific subregions within Tuscany, with a total of 8 region specific subtypes of the wine.  The most prestigious of these is the Chianti Classico, followed by the Chianti Rufina.  Although this wine went through a rough patch in reputation during the early to mid-20th century, it has come back to become a very popular wine.

What is Chianti?

Chianti does not refer to a variety of grape.  Rather, Chianti refers to a variety of red wine blends which are made in the Tuscany region of Italy, specifically between the cities of Siena and Florence. These blends are always made with Sangiovese, along with other wines such as Merlot or Syrah.

Typically, Sangiovese comprises at least 70% of the blend, with higher quality Chiantis having a higher percentage of Sangiovese.  Recently, there have even been Chiantis made which are composed of 100% Sangiovese.  Chianti is traditionally served in a Fiasco, which is the name of a straw rapped wine bottle.  Chianti is amongst the most popular red wines of Italian origin in the world today.

The History of Chianti

Use of the term Chianti dates back to the middle ages.  In the 17th century, the Grand Duke of Tuscany at the time decreed the specific geographic location which was allowed to officially name its wines as Chianti.  Since that time, Chianti has grown to become a large part of the Italian wine-making ecosystem

In the 20th century, the quality of many Chianti wines diminished due to various socio-economic factors, to include the growing demand for cheaper wine and focus on quantity to satiate global demand.  This caused the Chianti to suffer in reputation.  However, since then, the quality of Chianti has improved to the point that the wine has been able to rid itself of much of this negative stigma.

Flavor

Chianti is medium high in acidity and extremely high in tannin.  It is dry and medium to full bodied.  Various unique notes can be detected within Chianti, to include dried herbs, strawberries, smoke, cherries, and sweet tobacco.  Because Chianti is a family of blended wines, and the specific ratio of different wines being blended varies, the specific notes that are brought forth can be quite varied.

The Fiasco

Why was Chianti covered in the straw covered bottle known as the Fiasco?  Although straw covered bottles are not used to the extent they used to be, this peculiar presentation is still associated with Chianti wine.  Very simply, the straw container was a very easy way to safely transport wine bottles.

In addition, these wine bottles could be made with round bottoms (which is much easier to make when glass blowing), and the straw basket could be used to keep the bottle upright.  This is in contrast to more common wine bottles which are flat bottomed with a punt.

As winemakers modernized, many of them moved away from this form of Chianti storage.  Instead, most modern Chiantis are stored in conventional wine bottles.  However, the image of a straw covered round bottle of Chianti remains in the minds of many people today.

Food Pairing Guidelines

As a well-known Italian wine, Chianti naturally pairs well with classic Italian food, to include tomato sauce based foods, olive oil dishes, and various meat dishes.  Chianti shares these pairings with Sangiovese, which the former is made from.

The Varieties of Chianti

Chianti is divided into well-defined varieties, based off of location within the Tuscany region.  The most prestigious of these is Chianti Classico, with the second most prestigious being Chianti Rufina.  Other regional varieties of Chianti are Chianti Montalbanco, Chianti Montespertoli, Chianti ColliFiorentini, Chianti ColliSenesi, Chianti ColliAretini, and Chianti CollinePisane.

The original Chianti region, now known as Chianti Classico, is directly between the cities of Siena and Florence.  Other regions are spread throughout Tuscany, with CollinePisane closer to the city of Pisa, and ColliAretini and ColliSenesi consisting of geographically close but separated regions.  Although Chianti wine regions are exclusively grown in Tuscany, most of Tuscany is not certified for growing grapes used in Chianti.

In addition to terrior/location, Chianti can also be classified by aging.  Normal Chiantis can be aged for as little as six months.  Next are Chianti Superiore, which are typically aged for about a year.  Next is Chianti Riserva, which is aged for two years.  Finally, the longest aged Chiantis are known as Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which is aged for at least 2.5 years, and must undergo a vigorous testing process.

With eight categories based off of location, as well as four categories based off of aging, there is an incredibly diverse and well-regulated variety of Chianti wines.  In addition, as previously mentioned, Chiantis can be made of different blends of wines, as long as it is primarily made from Sangiovese.  All things considered, Chianti is a very broad and varied ecosystem of wines.

The Sangiovese

The Sangiovese grape is the primary grape in the various blends which make up the Chianti families of wines.  Sangiovese is a thin-skinned grape native to Italy which thrives in warm environments.  Sangiovese has a history in the Italian peninsula which dates back to the time of the Ancient Etruscan civilization, far predating the Chianti blend which would eventually follow.

Sangiovese has come to become the most widely grown variety of wine grape in all of Italy, accounting for 10% of wine grapes grown in the country.  Sangiovese is medium to high in tannin, body, and acidity, dry, and medium in alcohol level.  Since Chianti is mostly made from Sangiovese, the two wines have very similar flavor profiles, although Chianti is slightly higher in tannin and slightly lower in alcohol content.

Since Chianti is made primarily out of Sangiovese, there is an undeniable overlap between these two wines.  However, there is still a noticeable difference between the wines.  Chianti can be mixed with a variety of other wines, which can help reduce the Sangiovese character of the wine.  Similarly, Sangiovese is not only used to create the Chianti blend.  The former is also used to create various other wine blends, such as Super Tuscans, which do not share as much of a resemblance with Chianti wines.

Sangiovese should be best known as the grape which has spawned various blends and varieties of wine, underlying the quality of the grape.  On the other hand, Chianti demonstrates the amazing ability of winemakers to create bold new flavors by carefully experimenting with terrior and the mixing of different wines.

To Wrap Things Up

Chianti refers to a family of red wine blends made in Tuscany which are primarily made of Sangiovese.  Sangiovese, being the primary ingredient in Chianti, has a large impact on the characteristics of Chianti, which accounts for similarities in areas such as body and acidity.  That being said, the unique terrior of the Tuscany region as well as the various other wines blended together to make Chianti make this wine a very distinct product.

Chianti has a long history in Italy, paired with a very distinctive looking straw-covered bottle.  Although the reputation of the Chianti suffered a certain amount in the 20th century, the reputation of Chianti has rebounded enough to make it a very respectable wine.

♦ In-Depth Varietal Comparisons

If you have any experience with Chianti then you may find some of these comparison pieces interesting, helpful, and educational.

Differences Between Chianti & Zinfandel
Differences Between Chianti & Merlot

♦ Questions Our Readers Have About Chianti

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