Chianti Wine: The Pride of Tuscany


December 22, 2014 Blog » Learn About Wine » Chianti Wine: The Pride of Tuscany

Chianti Wine (“kee-on-tee”) is a red blend from Tuscany, Italy made primarily with Sangiovese grapes. Find out more about this wine and how to find great quality.

Why is Chianti more written about, drank, and talked about than any other Italian wine in history? What makes Chianti the perfect food wine? We’re going to tackle these questions and more in our exploration of Chianti.

Chianti, a red blend from Tuscany, is the most recognized wine outside of Italy. It is as essential to Italian cuisine as extra virgin olive oil. There are few pleasures as distinct as a tart, spicy, herbaceous Chianti wine next to a plate of sliced prosciutto or pasta al pomodoro.

chianti-wine-fiasco-straw-bottle
The straw-wrapped wine bottle of Chianti is called a fiasco. photo by Marco Bernardini

What is Chianti Wine?

Description
Chianti wine is a red blend from Tuscany, Italy made with Sangiovese grapes.
Pronounced:
“key-on-tee”
Flavors:
Red Fruits, Bitter Herbs, Balsamic Vinegar, Smoke, Game
Premium Notes:
Preserved Sour Cherries, Dried Oregano, Aged Sweet Balsamic, Dry Salami, Espresso, Sweet Tobacco

Chianti is Sangiovese

The Sangiovese that forms the majority of the Chianti blend is a thin-skinned grape, so it makes translucent wines. In the glass, Sangiovese displays a ruby red color with flashes of bright burnt orange –a hue commonly associated with aged wines. Besides Sangiovese, Chianti wines may contain wine grapes like Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Merlot. White grapes were once allowed in Chianti Classico but not anymore.

Learn how to read an Italian wine label.

The best examples of Chianti are a visceral tasting experience. Imagine the smells as you walk through an Italian grocery store: at the entrance there’s a bowl of preserved sour Amarena cherries. You walk under bunches of dried oregano, past a wall of dark, aromatic balsamic vinegar, then pass a counter where dry salami is being sliced. At the bar, dark espresso is dripping into a ceramic tazzo. A whisper of sweet tobacco wafts in the door from the pipe of the old man outside. Chianti smells and tastes like Italy. There will be a little coarseness and tartness on the palate, but these aren’t flaws, they are classic characteristics of Sangiovese.

tuscany pizza
The high acid cuts through richer fatty dishes and stands up to tomato sauces like pizza. by jpellegen

Chianti Food Pairing

Chianti has savory flavors paired with high acidity and coarse tannin which makes it an incredible wine with food. The high acid cuts through richer fatty dishes and stands up to tomato sauces (pizza!). All that dry, powdery tannin makes Chianti wines ideal with dishes that use olive oil or highlight rich pieces of meat such as Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Other food pairing ideas for Chianti

Tomato-based pasta sauces are fantastic, such as the Tuscan slow-simmered Ragù al Chingiale made with wild boar. Pizza is another favorite pairing and works with all styles of Sangiovese, from lighter Chianti wines to richer Brunello di Montalcino. A personal favorite is Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a dry-aged porterhouse steak from the grass-fed and grain-finished Chianina cattle. When done properly it’s one of the most succulent meat dishes on the planet.

italian-red-wines-excerpt

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Aging & Classifications of Chianti Wine

Chianti-Wine-Classifications

General Aging

Chianti:
Aged for 6 months. Young simple tart Chianti.
Superiore:
Aged for a year. Slightly bolder wines with smoother acidity.
Riserva:
Aged for 2 years. Usually the top wines of a Chianti producer.
Gran Selezione:
Aged for at least 2.5 years (only used in Chianti Classico). Top wines from Chianti Classico.

Chianti Sub-Zones

Colli Senesi:
Aged for 6 months.
Colline Pisane:
Aged for 6 months.
Colli Aretini:
Aged for 6 months.
Montalbano:
Aged for 6 months.
Montespertoli:
Aged for 9 months (min.)
Classico:
Aged for a year (min.)
Rùfina:
Aged for a year (min.)
Colli Fiorentini:
Aged for a year (min.)

 

Tuscany Wine Map

Tuscany-Wine-Map-by-Wine-Folly

Chianti is a small region within Tuscany, but a wine calling itself “Chianti” is allowed to be made almost anywhere in Tuscany. Because of this, Chianti has 8 sub-zones. The truest examples come from Chianti Classico, which is the name given to wines from the original historic boundaries. Both Chianti Classico and Chianti Rufina are likely to be of higher quality, since they are made in smaller quantities from distinct historical areas.

San Gimignano Chianti TuscanyThe city of San Gimignano within the Chianti region of Tuscany. source: Kevin Po

The most serious examples of Chianti Classico come from a small group of villages from Siena in the south to the hills above Florence. The Classico region’s warm climate and clay-based soils, such as galestro marl and alberese sandstone, produce the boldest Chianti wines.

TIP: A wine labeled “Chianti” for $7-$11 is most likely made in bulk from a larger area and won’t have the classic taste of a great Chianti.

 

Italian wine map poster

Get the Map

A 12×16 inch reference map to Italy’s major wines and regions printed on spill and tear resistant paper.

12×16 Italy Wine Map

 

Sources: Map corrections by Tuscany wine expert, Tony Polzer of 3 Millennia Tours


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By Jackson Rohrbaugh
Jackson is a Sommelier at Canlis in Seattle, WA who enjoys introducing people to new wines, beers and spirits. He loves to share the stories and passion that go into the production of great drinks. @jacksonwr