April 11, 2017
It seems like just yesterday we were sipping Chianti from the distinctive round-bottomed, straw-wrapped fiasco bottles that came to adorn Italian restaurants near and far as ambient candleholders.
Well, line up 300 of those candles and break out the cake. Because 2016 marked 300 years since Cosimo lll de Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany) drew a proverbial line in the hillsides of Toscana to delimit the Chianti zone in 1716 – creating the initial boundaries for those dedicated to making this revered wine.
The borders of the Chianti region have been revisited multiple times to accommodate the growing interest in this wine. Yet it is not just the bottle and the regional boundary that has evolved throughout the ages.
Would you believe Chianti’s origins were as a white wine?
There are written records dating back to 1398 of the local merchants in the villages of the Chianti Mountains who created the Lega Del Chianti (League of Chianti) to produce and help each other promote the wines. The records show that this early wine was in fact a white Chianti.
White Chianti is now but a fabled memory. The eventual shift to a red wine was dominated by little known local grape varieties such as Canaiolo, Mammolo and Marzemino. It was the Baron Ricasoli who created the modern day (Classic) Chianti recipe in 1872. His recipe featured Sangiovese as the dominant grape variety (at 70%), rounded out with red Canaiolo grapes and a small amount of white Malvasia grapes.
Since 1996, it has been legally mandated that Sangiovese be the dominant grape within the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico, with Canaiolo grapes playing a minor role. Yet you can bet your bottom dollar that many contemporary Chiantis are fortified with fleshy Merlot, structured Cabernet or fruit driven and seductive Syrah. Since 2006, the use of white grape varieties (such as Malvasia and Trebbiano) has been prohibited in Chianti Classico.
At Home at the Dinner Table.
In Italy, as they say, a meal without wine is called ‘breakfast’. Italians tend to enjoy their Chianti with food, rather than as a libation. The cheek-sucking juiciness, balanced structure, edge and fruit flavour make for a wine style that can be readily enjoyed any time of year with a vast array of culinary delights: from simple casual fare to haute cuisine.
So, join us in raising a glass to salute this classic wine on its 300th birthday. A hearty pasta is definitely recommended as part of the festivities.
Chianti Labelling Explained
A wine that is simply labelled Chianti is a basic level Chianti. You should expect a dry, medium or near light bodied wine with an easy, juicy and quaffable personality. Think good quality jug wine that is perfect for a casual lunch, a slice of pizza or simple tomato-based pasta dishes. White grapes are still permitted in basic Chianti (which brings the cost down). It must have a minimum alcohol content of 11.5%. There are no minimum aging requirements. Drink now.
A Chianti Classico is recognized by the Black Rooster on the label: the emblem of the Chianti Consortium. The grapes are grown and sourced from the original Chianti zone. Sangiovese must make up 80% to 100% of the wine by law. White grapes are prohibited. The minimum alcohol content is 12% and the wine must age for a minimum of 12 months in oak. Classic Tuscan fare is recommended (ragu, Steak Florentine, red meats and tomato sauces). Sangiovese is high in acid and puckers your cheeks. The acid and sweetness in tomatoes counteracts and balances the Sangiovese and Tuscan wines in general. Drink now or cellar for 5-7 years.
Chianti Riserva/ Chianti Classico Riserva
Riserva means the wine has spent a minimum of 2 years in oak and at least 3 months bottle aging before release. Minimum alcohol content is 12.5%. This results in a fuller bodied Chianti with more layers of flavour and texture, as well as a savoury sweet and sour cherry note. Ultimately you should expect a better quality wine here. A perfect companion to red meats, truffle flavoured dishes, strong cheeses, charcuterie – and of course – Bolognese, ragu and tomato-based pasta dishes. Drink now or cellar up to 10 years.
Chianti Classico Gran Selezione
A brand new quality level established by law in 2013. It includes wine from the 2010 vintage. The idea is to declare specific vineyard areas as high quality. These wines must come exclusively from a winery’s own estate vineyards and must be in the Classico zone. The wines may not be released for a minimum of 30 months after harvest (most far exceed this expectation). This is the cream of the crop for Chianti. Longevity, structure and deep expression are the hallmarks. Keep pairings very simple to enjoy the nuances and intrigue of these wines. Drink now or cellar through 20 years.
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