Chianti Wine: The Pride of Tuscany

Chianti wine 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.

Find out more about this savory delight, including the official classifications levels and how to pick out quality.

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

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 wine.

What is Chianti Wine?

Chianti wine (“kee-on-tee”) is a red blend from Tuscany, Italy made primarily with Sangiovese grapes.

Sangiovese Taste profile wine folly

Common tasting notes include red fruits, dried herbs, balsamic vinegar, smoke, and game. On the high end, wines offer notes of preserved sour cherries, dried oregano, balsamic reduction, dry salami, espresso, and sweet tobacco.

The Science Behind Flavors

The Science Behind Flavors

Explore flavors in wine, and their origins, on this handy aroma wheel.

Buy Now

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.

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.

Chianti-Wine-Classifications

Aging & Classifications of Chianti Wine

There are a lot of taste differences in Chianti wine when you age it.

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 has several sub regions. The original is Chianti Classico. Each subzone has different minimum aging requirements. Some say that this is a sign of quality.

  • 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-by-Wine-Folly

Tuscany Wine Map

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 Tuscany
The 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.

italy-wine-map

Get The Map

Learn more about Italian wine with this useful map.

Buy Map

Wine Map of Champagne

Wine Map of Champagne

Learn the regions and crus of the Champagne region in France.

Buy Map
Sources:

About 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