“This is Italy, land sacred to the Gods.” So said Roman military commander and writer Pliny the Elder around 2000 years ago. And, despite the Roman Empire crumbling and modern life taking over, the quote still rings true – Italy is surely the land of the Gods. Home to many of the world’s greatest works of art, architecture and gastronomy, this is a county that elates, inspires and moves like no other.
Italy is a country that is packed full of gems. Its capital, Roma, is not called the eternal city for nothing. This is a country that is eternally magical. It is a country where almost every city groans under the weight of their cultural cachet: it’s here that you’ll stand in the presence of Michelangelo’s David and Sistine Chapel frescoes, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and da Vinci’s Last Supper. Only in Italia can you walk in the footsteps of ancient Romans in Pompeii, revel in Ravenna’s glittering Byzantine treasures and get breathless over Giotto’s revolutionary frescoes. The country is a cultural conundrum that is as thrilling as it is overwhelming.
Of course, the urban delights are one of Italy’s strongest pulls. But it is also packed full of bucolic treasures too – Calabria in the south is warm almost all year round, Liguria on the coast is home to some of the country’s best cuisine and Tuscany – oh Tuscany – is world famous for its rolling hills and sienna landscape.
This latter region (there are 20 in all) is surely the jewel in the country’s crown. Tuscany has seduced visitors from the Christians onwards, and continues to do so today. With its fig trees and sea views and medieval cities and heart melting landscape, this handsome region beggars belief. Only in Tuscany can you go from visiting Bottielli’s Primavera in the Uffizi in the morning to sipping home grown Chianti wine in the afternoon. After all, why would you drink anything else?
The Chianti Wine Region
Chainti (pronounced “key-ant-ee”) is one of the cornerstones of Italian wine. Chianti Classico is known for its concentration, power and oak, prioritising style over terroir. The eponymous wine is tailor made for the region’s gastronomy – few things in life are as satisfying as a tart, spicy, herbaceous Chianti wine next accompanied by a plate of prosciutto or a bowl of pasta al Pomodoro. As Italian wine regions go, it is by far one of the most prestigious in the country, home not only to the aforementioned and eponymous Chianti Classico but also Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
By far the most picturesque winemaking region of Italy, Chianti is poetry to the rest of Italy’s winemaking prose. Its climate is perfect: the cooling breezes from the Tyrrhenian Sea offers welcome respite in the hot summer months prior to harvest. Its sandy-clay terroir is ideal for strong, structured wines that are full-bodied and rich in colour (thanks to the iron percentage in the soil). The second region to produce the highest ratio of DOC wines (after Veneto), Tuscany’s Sangiovese from the Chianti Classico region is what put it on the map, and is what keeps it there. Any wine produced within the holy trinity of Chianti, Montalcino, and Montepulciano can carry the Sangiovese application. Tuscany is also the home of the Super Tuscan wine – i.e. wines that are made from non-indigenous grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, which have become the region’s most lucrative calling card. Certain Super Tuscan wines are stunning and have great appeal for both primary buyers and the investor market.
It should be noted that while some white wine is made from Vernaccia grapes found around San Gimignano, in general, when we are talking Chianti wine, we are talking red wines made from Sangiovese. And just in case you didn’t already know, in order for a wine to be considered a Chianti Classico, it must contain at least 80% Sangiovese.
The Chianti Wine Classification System
As we explain in our wonderful article on Italian wine here, there are four Italian types of classification. Now, with Chianti, it’s a little bit trickier. The classification system in Chianti is based on age and, according to each subzone (see below), there are different age requirements. First however, the appellation needs to be defined. These are:
- Chianti – wine which is aged only for 6 months, Tastes simple and tart.
- Superiore – wine which is aged for a year and will have a bolder, smoother taste.
- Riserva – wine which is aged for 2 years. Usually considered the top class for a chianti.
- Gran Selezione – a small selection of wine that is aged for 2.5 or more years. This appellation is only used in Chianti Classico.
Chianti DOCG is known for its seven subregions. These are:
Chianti Rufina (aged for 12 months), Chianti Colli Aretin (aged for 6 months)i, Chianti Colli Fiorentini (aged for 12 months minimum), Chianti Colli Senesi (aged for 6 months), Chianti Colline Pisane (aged for 6 months), Chianti Montalbano (aged for 6 months) and Chianti Montespertoli (aged for 9 months minimum).
Of the above regions, it is worth noting that:
- Rufina is considered one of the most quality-driven zones, although low production means wines are little known outside of their native region.
- Colli Senesi comes next, mainly because of its proximity to the Tuscan DOCGs of Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. As understanding of terroir grows, the potential for this region is very exciting.
What Does Chianti Wine Taste Like?
Chianti wine is a pure taste of Italy. It smells like Italy, it tastes like Italy, and it is packed full of Italian passion that only one country in the world can create. It is at times sweet and seductive, smoothing out any acidity with its silver tongue, while as it ages it will be full of rounder and less acerbic. It goes on to develop rustic, earthy notes such as dried flowers or clay pot which are ideal for pairings with Tuscan cuisine. There will be a little coarseness and tartness on the palate, but these aren’t flaws, they are classic benchmarks of great Sangiovese.
How to Serve Chianti Wine
Like many, nay most, things Italian, Chianti deserves a bit of pomp and ceremony when you serve it. So, choose your vintage carefully (we have chosen our favourites below), decant with precision, especially if you’ve chosen an older wine which might have sediment (if you need to know how to decant properly, read our new article on that exact subject here) and enjoy. Chianti is as much a way of life as it is a wine, so this is one wine where you can indulge your inner
Fellini and live la dolce vita in style.
Chianti Wine Temperature & Decanting
As Chianti wine tends to verge on the lighter-medium bodied side, we suggest a slight chilling prior to serving. This will break down the acidity and create a smoother, sexier aftertaste (oh Italy, you do spoil us so). However, beware, serve Chianti too cold and it will resemble a Tinder one night stand more than the love of your life. Too cold Chianti equals a tannin aftertaste (this is a young buck of a red wine, remember) and who wants that?
We suggest serving around 60°F or 15°C as the wine will warm up once it’s in your glass.
Chianti Wine Food Pairings
If Chianti wine is a pure taste of the Chianti countryside, it only stands to reason that it pairs perfectly with local cuisine. Because of Chianti’s smoky, spicy profile and gorgeous ruby red colour that sits nicely against the green scenery of Tuscany, what you really want when pairing this typical Italian wine is some typical Italian food. So we suggest serving with foods that complement its high acidity and deliciously abrasive qualities.
Normal Chianti works well with simple pasta dishes (especially ones with a tomato sauce, which balance the taste) and antipasto – I reiterate what I said previously that few things in life are as glorious as a simple glass of Chianti with a plate of charcuterie. Chianti classico goes very well with big, tasty meat dishes like ossobuco, lamb, richly spiced beef in sauces, wild duck, venison and pizza with meat. Buon appetito!
4 Chianti Wines to Try
Try our top Tuscan wines, available on Vindome.net’s live market.
Antinori, Solaia 2016
The Tenuta Tignanello estate is in the heart of Chianti Classico, in the gently rolling hillsides between the Greve and Pesa river valleys. The sunniest part of Tignanello’s hillside is home to the Solaia vineyard. The vines enjoy hot temperatures during the day and cooler evenings throughout the growing season. The very best grapes from the very best vineyard. All the rest is passion, the utmost care and research. These are the secrets of Solaia together with the finest Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese grapes from its namesake vineyard.
Rocca di Frassinello, Baffonero, 2015
Bruce Sanderson – Senior Editor for Wine Spectator, the international wine bible – described this 2015 Rocca di Frassinello, Baffonero as “…a fantastic wine!”. Robert Parker gave it 94/100. Antoni Galloni 93/100. Suffice to say, that the 2015 vintage is one of the estate’s best. Despite only being released in end 2018, this vintage has proved to be one of the fastest rising on the secondary market of the decade. Market data confirms a 48% increase in two years. Unsurprising really when you consider that the wine is the lovechild of Castellare di Castellina and first growth Domaine du Barons de Rothschild-Lafite.
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, 2015
One of Italy’s most expensive wines, if you’re looking for a behemoth of a Chianti then look no further. Named the “Petrus of Italy”, if you can manage to add a case of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia to your portfolio, cellar or table then welcome to the big league.Ornellaia is one of the best performing components of the Liv-ex Italy 50 index and little volatility makes any investment in the fine wine very tempting.This Bordeaux-style blend is one of the original Super Tuscans. It is made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, instead of Tuscany’s most famous variety, Sangiovese. The vineyard located in Tuscany’s coastal Maremma region, enjoys gentle sea breezes, which mitigate the summer heat, and is sheltered by neighboring hills from cold winter winds. The soils are a complex mix of alluvial, volcanic and marine elements, providing a good base for the Bordeaux varieties planted here. After hand-picking and careful selection – firstly by bunch and secondly grape by grape – each variety and each vineyard block is vinified separately in stainless steel tanks. Ornellaia is aged for around 18 months in oak, 70 percent of which is new.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, 2013
Only one word could describe Tenuta San Guido: legendary. It is located in the Tuscan region of Maremma, and has its own single-estate DOC appellation (Bolgheri Sassicaia) applied to its flagship label. Sassicaia, one of the original Super Tuscan wines, is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon with a small amount of Cabernet Franc. It is known for its supple texture, elegance and perfume. The grapes that go into Sassicaia are picked just before they reach full ripeness, which contributes to finesse and fragrance as well as a lower alcohol levels. After two weeks’ fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine is aged for around 24 months in French oak barrels (around 20 percent of which are new).
Now that you know everything about the Chianti Wine region, check out our guide on the world’s best wine regions!