Chianti wine is an invention of nature and of the culture of the Italian region that’s best-known and loved in the world. The beauty, history, sensations and unique flavours of Tuscany are all found in this wine, which is one of the first symbols of commodities “Made in Italy”.
Going back in time and seeking out the origins of Chianti docg, we find that the development of viticulture in Tuscany grew exponentially with the advent of the Medici family.
As early as the second half of the 15th century, Lorenzo dei Medici, in the Symposium and the Song of Bacchus, illustrates a popular atmosphere, where wine is the essence of a theatre of wit and banalities, bordering on the grotesque. The Medici, a family of merchants and bankers, saw wine as an asset and a gift, food, commodity and symbol. The story goes that, from the days of the hard and sagacious Cosimo the Elder until those of the unfortunate Gian Gastone, the favourite wine in the Medici household was that made in the Chianti area. In addition to the wines from this area, those drunk, first at the Palazzo in Via Larga, then at Palazzo Pitti and always in the Medicean villas in the countryside, were Schiavo, Vernaccia, Moscatello, Greco, Malvasia, Ribolla and “vin cotto”.
There is a close link between the Medicean dynasty and oenological science or, more simply, wine. It is no mere coincidence that, when the 13th century Palazzo Vecchio was renovated in the 16th century, in honour of the Medici family, the columns were adorned with vine leaves, shoots and bunches of grapes, which can still be admired in the courtyard of the palace.
The Medici were Lords of Florence, of the countryside, and, from the 16th century, they were also Grand Dukes of Tuscany.
It is therefore natural that one of the region’s most famous products would become closely linked with the world of politics. But wine also left its mark on fun, splendour, and the desire for inebriation and forgetfulness that many members of the Medici family, particularly Lorenzo, cultivated, not without a secret vein of sadness.
Numerous disputes arose to establish the age of Chianti, one of which concerned the meaning of the name: for some people it means “beating of wings” or “clamour and sounds of horns”, or is more simply the topographic extension of the Etruscan word “Clante”, a personal name, frequently used in the onomastics of the Etruscans, traces of which have been found in certain accounting documents dating back to the 14th century. Lamberto Paronetto, in one of his books, mentions its use in a deed of donation dated 790 belonging to the Badia di San Bartolomeo a Ripoli. From the deed of donation, we progress, with a jump of several centuries, to the documents of the Datini archive (1383-1410) of Prato, where the term “Chianti” was also used for the first time to designate a special type of wine. However, one of the most remote and sure mentions of the word “Chianti” with reference to wine, seems to be that which appeared in the holy representation of Sant’Antonio towards the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century.
However, despite the rare 15th and 16th century appearances of the word, the current denomination of this wine continued for many years to be related to the name of “vermilion” or that of “wine of Florence”. It was only in the 17th century, with the intensification of sales and exportations, that the name of the region was to be universally recognised also for the famous product made in the area.
In September 1716, the “illustrious lords appointed to the new congregation on the sale of wine” established the terms of trade within and outside “the States of His Royal Highness”, formulating, without wishing to do so, the first real regulations of “Chianti” and the other wines, which were famous at the time, destined to merge into the same denomination in future.
The Announcement posted “in the usual and unusual places” of Florence, regulated not only the original zone of Chianti, but also those of Carmignano, Pomino, and Valdarno di Sopra. The proclamation by the Grand Duke also indicated severe punishments for all cases of counterfeiting and smuggling, anticipating the regulations for the places of origin in a prelude to today’s denomination of controlled and guaranteed origin. The illustrious controllers of the time wrote: “all those wines that are not produced and made in the delimited regions cannot and must not, under any pretext or this colour, enter into negotiations for navigation as Chianti, Pomino, Carmignano and Val d’Arno di Sopra wine, on pain of punishment as provided in the announcement”.
The announcement clearly stated:
“His Royal Highness, The Most Serene Grand Duke of Tuscany, our Lord, deeming it important to maintain the ancient credit for any kind of merchandise which may leave his fortunate States, not only for the decorum of the Nation which has always retained an untainted public trust, but also to cooperate as much as possible to the relief of his beloved subjects….”
It was, therefore, decided to order the constitution of a special congregation, with the task of ensuring that the Tuscan wines ordered for navigation, would be covered by a guarantee to ensure their quality: “ … criminally against the carriers, shippers and anyone else who shall handle said wines for fraud until delivery to the warehouse of the foreign buyer or directly to the ships and in relation to the damage caused to the public benefit”.
Lastly, there was the intuition of Baron Bettino Ricasoli, with the definition of the ampelographic base of Chianti wine and the introduction of special vinification techniques, such as that of “governo”, using “Colorino” grapes, previously withered on mats made with reeds (cannicci). The practice of “governo” gave the wine a higher glycerine content, making it smoother to drink and therefore ideal in pairing with typical Tuscan dishes, such as cured meats, roast and grilled meats, etc.
In 1870, Ricasoli wrote to professor Studiati of Pisa University: “the wine receives its main dose of aroma and a certain vigorous sensation from Sangiovese; Canaiolo conveys the smoothness that tempers the harshness of the former, without detracting any of its bouquet, having one of its own; Malvasia tends to dilute the product of the first two grapes, enhancing the flavour and making it lighter and ready sooner for service on the everyday table”.
Chianti d.o.c.g. is now a bright ruby red coloured wine, tending towards garnet with age. It has a harmonious, dry, savoury and slightly tannic flavour, with an intensely vinous aroma, sometimes with scents of violet. Some types of Chianti can be served when young, fresh and pleasant on the palate, but the vocation of certain areas for producing wines ideal for medium/long ageing, which mature unmistakable colour, bouquet and flavour is also well known. Moreover, soft pressing, fermentation at the right temperatures, evolution in fine wood and ageing in glass, convey personality to the wine: more gentle and smooth in terms of flavour, more complex in the bouquet and more intense in colour.
The same grape varieties have been present in the vast Chianti production area for centuries: first and foremost, Sangiovese, which can be joined in smaller proportions by others, as long as they are grown within the area.
The combination of the grape varieties and the character, body and perfumes that the different soils, altitudes and microclimates convey to the grapes, give life to Chianti Wine with the Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.
Its quality has been protected since 1927 by Consorzio Vino Chianti.
Large and small rows of vines, in colours that change with the changing seasons, in harmony with the other colours of the countryside. This is the result of work done in days gone by – Indro Montanelli referred to it as “a combination of fatigues” – now joined by the most advanced winegrowing research.
The dark bunches of Sangiovese, the grape variety that gives Chianti its unmistakable personality. The search for and rediscovery of antique clones now allow the connection with the greatness of the past that has returned to make itself known to wine lovers.
In addition to Sangiovese, which is the basic grape variety of Chianti docg (minimum 70%), Chianti is made with other important, historical grape varieties (originally identified by Baron Ricasoli in Brolio) such as Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Toscana and Trebbiano. Towards the end of the 20th century, these traditional grape varieties were joined by a series of new grape varieties which contributed to improving the quality of Chianti docg wine, such as Cabernet, Merlot, etc…
The Production Regulations are a regulatory document establishing precise rules for the production of d.o.c. and d.o.c.g. wines, with the legal form of the Ministerial Decree. The Production Regulations aim to defend quality wines and their severity is directly proportional to the quality level of the wine made.
D.o.c.g. wines offer important guarantees: the certainty of their good quality and origin. This certification is, indeed, attributed to wines with characteristics which basically depend on the vineyards and natural conditions of the environment. D.o.c.g. stands for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita” (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin), and is assigned to d.o.c. wines which, as well as having prestigious organoleptic qualities, have also acquired particular fame. D.o.c.g. is the highest qualification envisaged and it imposes checks on the wines not only during production but also during the bottling phase.
After passing the chemical-physical and organoleptic test, the producer receives special government labels to apply to every bottle, printed by the Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato (State Polygraphic Institute) and distributed by the Consortium.
The name “Chianti” can be joined by the additional mentions Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Rufina and Montespertoli, the former of which correspond to the geographic subzones contemplated by the first delimitation of the area, established with Ministerial Decree dated 31 July 1932, while the latter, Montespertoli, was acknowledged by Decree dated 8 September 1997. In these specific areas, more restrictive production methods and particular requirements are envisaged for the wine.
It is interesting to note the recovery of the “Superiore” version of the wine, with higher characteristics, which potentially regards the whole Chianti wine zone.