Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chianti Classico Wine Region

In a January 2001 article on Italian Merlot (New Wave Merlot in Italy, Wine, Franco Zillani notes that the presence of Merlot in Italy was first documented by one Salvatore Mondini who identified the variety as being present "in various regions of the north as well as in Tuscany, Latium, ... and Campania ..." The Merlots of note in Tuscany today are centered around Bolgheri and Suvereto in the Province of Livorno, Chianti Classico (Provinces of Florence and Siena), and Bucine (Province of Arezzo).  We have covered the Merlots of Bolgheri and Suvereto so far in this series and now turn our attention to the Merlots of Chianti Classico. We begin with a discourse on the region.

The modern Chianti Classico production zone encompasses a series of hills -- elevation between 200 and 600 meters -- that are bordered by Siena to the south, the Florentine town of San Casciano Val di Pesa to the north, the hills of the Arno River Valley to the east, and the Elsa River Valley to the west. Originally referred to as Chianti, the area shaded in blue in the map below was recognized as a wine region since the 13th century but was legalized as such by a decree issued by Grand Duke Cosimi III de Medici in 1714. A Ministerial Decree issued in 1932 expanded the Chianti region to cover eight sub-zones, one of which was the original Chianti. The former Chianti was expanded to its current borders (shown in the map below) and given the name Chianti Classico in a bow to its historical origins. Chianti Classico was granted DOCG status in 1996.

Tuscany wine region map (

The Chianti Classico climate is continental, with long summers and cold winters. Annual rainfall ranges between 700 and 800 millimeters and occurs primarily in the spring and late autumn.

The region possesses a diversity of soils: marl (San Casciano Val di Pesa); calcareous clay (Greve and all zones at lower altitudes); sandstone (backbone of Chianti Mountains); limestone (central and southern portions of the district); and tufa (around Castelnuevo Berardenga). When limestone and sandstone are found in alternating layers, that soil is called Galestro. Clay-limestone mixes are called Albarese. According to Berry Bros & Rudd, "The sandy alluvial soils of the lower sites yield fuller, meatier wines while the limestone and galestro soils of the higher vineyards deliver finer, more ethereal examples" (

Approximately 10,000 ha of vineyards are planted of which 7100 ha is classified DOCG. Vineyards have traditionally utilized the Guyot training system -- or a derivative known as the Tuscan bow -- but, more recently, spurred cordon is being implemented as it aids mechanization without sacrificing quality.

The DOCG production discipline requires maximum yield/ha of 7500 kilograms, yield/vine of not more than 3 kg, and minimum planting density of 3350 vines/ha. Average planting density runs between 4500 and 6500 plants/ha.

The varieties planted in the region are shown in the table below.

To be designated DOCG, a wine must be made of a minimum 80% Sangiovese and up to a maximum of 20% of the following regionally produced varieties: Canaiolo, Colorino, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon. A Chianti Classico D'annata cannot be sold until 1 year after the harvest and must be a minimum 12% abv. A Chianti Classico Riserva must spend 2 years in oak and a minimum 3 months in bottle. Alcohol levels must be 12.5% or greater.

After over two years of study, The Chianti Classico Consorzio has announced the introduction of a new tier of wine that will be positioned above the Riserva. This new tier will be called Gran Selezione and is designed to communicate the quality of the wines resulting from replanting over 60% of the regions vines in the past 15 years. The wines must be: made from estate-grown grapes with yields not to exceed 52.5 hectoliters/ha; 80% Sangiovese; spend 30 months in oak; and spend three months in bottle. Producers can begin offering these wines using their 2010 vintages. While some producers see this as a positive step, potentially leading to single-vineyard offerings, others see the possibility for creating greater confusion as the consumer wades through the thickets of Chianti, Chianti Classico, IGT, and the relevant tiers.

Besides its DOCG wines, Chianti Classico is also known for a sweet wine called Vin Santo and as the birthplace of the now-famous Super Tuscans. Vin Santo is made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes which are harvested and dried -- either on mats or hanging from ceilings -- for several months. After pressing, the wines are aged in oak casks for long periods. The Super Tuscan wines grew out of producer-frustration with earlier iterations of the wine laws which prevented them from making wines that were 100% Sangiovese or removing the allowed white varieties from the wine. These producers took this action anyway but the resulting wines could only be called table wine under existing laws. These wines were so finely made, and widely accepted, that the laws were modified such that a new level -- IGT -- was created above the table wine to support their initiative. The current instance of the Chianti Classico wine laws would allow many of the Super Tuscan wines to be labeled as Chianti Classico but many producers continue to retain the IGT label and the success that they have enjoyed as standalone brands.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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