Chianti Wine: The Pride of Tuscany


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

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.

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
fiasco straw-wrapped wine bottle of Chianti

The straw-wrapped wine bottle of Chianti is called a fiasco.
source: Marco Bernardini

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 Wine Map

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Chianti wine is more than just a place.

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.
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tuscany pizza

source: 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 (find out more about Brunello below). 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.

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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.)

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