Regions - Italy - Chianti

Italy - Chianti

Continuing our voyage through Italy, this month we give you a glimpse of one of the most fascinating wine regions in the world, Chianti.

The region of Tuscany is dominated by Chianti. This is the wine that nearly every wine lover knows. From the straw-covered bottles hanging from the family run trattoria down the street to the bold, imposing and long lived "new wave," one may be introduced to every imaginable style of red wine and never leave the area!

Chianti is produced over a large part of Tuscany, with seven different sub-zones recognized in the D.O.C.G. regulations. Chianti Classico comes from the heart of the area, from the enchanting hills between Florence and Siena, dotted with medieval castles and Renaissance villas. This is where most of the best Chiantis are made, wines with length and complexity. The small area of Rufina also produces some long-lived wines as do the other sub-zones, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Aretini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane and Montalbano.

Chianti has undergone an enormous transition in the last twenty years. The Sangiovese grape is the mainstay of Chianti and indeed of all the red wines of Tuscany. The D.O.C. regulations of 1967 allowed for as much as 30 percent of white grapes in the making of the red wines of Chianti. The 1960s also saw the dismantling of the mezzadria or sharecropping system of landholding and agriculture, which had been a part of Tuscan life since the Middle Ages. This brought radical changes in land ownership and overthrew the growing of mixed crops which had provided the traditional framework of the countryside. Instead specialized vineyards were planted, often without thought and with the wrong grape varieties. The market became awash with bad Chianti, resulting in a crisis of confidence. Chianti lost many friends.

The thinking grower realized that something had to be done. The introduction of the D.O.C.G. regulations (stricter than the previous D.O.C. rules) in 1984 reduced the permitted percentage of white grapes, and certainly helped to eliminate some bad wines. It also gave producers a much needed boost of confidence. More exciting, however, is the wave of revolutionary winemaking outside the regulations that has swept through Tuscany in the last few years.

Over the last ten years Tuscany has seen the creation of an astonishing number of new wines. Most attention has been paid to Sangiovese, which is now recognized as a fine grape variety in its own right; varieties from outside Tuscany have also been planted. These changes in the vineyards have been accompanied by an enormous improvement in winemaking techniques, not least in the aging of the wine, with the increasing use of French barriques.