A few decades ago, Chianti was the most recognizable Italian red wine in the United States. When I was young, I recall visiting Italian restaurants decorated with red-checkered tablecloths and pear-shaped, straw-covered wine bottles holding half-burnt candles. Those straw-covered wine bottles (called a fiasco in Italian) once contained an inexpensive DOC wine from the Chianti region of Tuscany.
Chianti wine is composed mostly of Sangiovese grapes that must be harvested in Tuscany in a region around Florence (See map). For a wine to be a called Chianti, it must be produced in the Chianti region and be made of at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. While many less-expensive Chianti wines are composed of 100% Sangiovese, some winemakers blend the Sangiovese with a mixture (up to 20%) of other grape varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah to even out the acidity, tannins and textures of the finished wine. Regardless of the “mix”, it is a rustic wine with high tannins and high acidity. Because of these characteristics, Chianti is not a wine that you would sip while sitting around and chatting with your friends. To really appreciate any Chianti wine, you must drink it with fatty foods such as salami, prosciutto, T-bone steak and such.
In case you forgot, DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin). The DOC designation for wines was introduced in the early 1960s. The regulations for each DOC wine delimit the production area, wine color, permitted grape varieties and proportions, styles of wine, minimum and maximum alcohol levels, as well as permitted or mandated viticultural, vinification and maturation techniques.
You’ll notice on the map there is a region (noted in blue) named Chianti Classico DOCG. This is generally thought of as the oldest, original Chianti region. The Chianti Classico region contains 12 villages in the province of Florence and two regions in the province of Siena. Wine has been produced here since Etruscan times, more than 2000 years ago. In 1716, Gran Duke Cosimo de’ Medici III recognized and named this region Chianti. The black rooster seal was conceived in 1924 as a means to protect and promote this wine region and to prevent wine fraud.
In order for a wine to be classified as Chianti Classico, 80% of the Sangiovese grapes must come from the Chianti Classico DOCG region. Vintners may, if they choose, blend in up to 20% of other grape varieties such as Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as other international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine must be aged at least one year and contain 12% alcohol.
The best Sangiovese grapes from the region are held in reserve to produce Chianti Classico Reserva. Riserva must contain at least 80% Sangiovese from the region and be aged a minimum of 24 months, of which the last three must be in the bottle. The alcohol content must be at least 12.5%.
In 2014, a new category known as Chianti Classico Gran Selezione was introduced. Gran Selezione is made exclusively from a winery’s own Sangiovese grapes that are grown according to stricter regulations. The Gran Selezione designation is granted after the wine passes an authorized laboratory test and is approved by a special tasting committee.
Chianti Rooster Logo
In February 2013, the Black rooster associated with the Chianti Classico got a facelift. The chest is bigger and rounder, the tail feathers look fluffier, and there is a new angle of the beak. According the Chianti Classico consortium, this new design shows “a greater sense of energy, strength and pride. The new rooster looks prouder and is perhaps a slightly more ‘macho’ rooster than before”.
The Legend of the Black Rooster of Chianti
In the Middle Ages, Florence and Siena were always at war, fighting for precious land. One day the rulers of each city met and decided to declare a truce. However, there was still the matter of determining the cities’ borders. It was decided that there would be a competition between two knights, one from each city. Each knight would leave his city’s center on horseback at sunrise, when the first rooster crowed, and the official border would be determined at the point where the two knights met.
The Sienese chose a white rooster and fattened him up for weeks before the competition. The Florentines chose a black rooster and put him in a dark box without any food for many days.
On competition day, the light-deprived, hungry black rooster in Florence was set free at midnight - and it immediately crowed. So, off went the Florentine knight on his horse heading south toward Siena. The fat white rooster of Siena crowed at daybreak and the knight from Siena began to head north by horseback. As you can imagine, the Florentine knight traveled much further than the knight from Siena. In fact, the two met 7 miles north of Siena (25 miles south of Florence) near Fonterutoli, in Castellina.
Tours to Italy
Interested in sampling a local Chianti? Join us on one of our upcoming tours.
Essence of Italy – A 9-day tour with stops in Rome, the Cinque Terre, Pisa, Volterra, Siena and Florence.
2018: June24-July 2, September 16-24, October 14-22.
2019: April 7-15, May 5-13, June 30-July 8, September 22-30
Best of Italy – A 13-day tour. All the destinations of the Essence of Italy, plus Venice, Lake Como and Milan.
2018: June24-July 7, September 16-29, October 14-27.
2019: April 7-20, May 5-18, June 30-July 13, September 22-October 5
Tuscany Villa Vacation – Enjoy a relaxing stay in a Tuscan villa with day trips to Volterra, Siena, San Gimignano and Lucca. Begin and end your tour in Florence.
2019: May 24-June 2, September 13-22
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