Chianti Classico’s Climb

Home to one of Italy’s most famous wines, this region’s wine-producing reputation wasn’t always as celebrated as it is today.

Published on Jul 25, 2011
By Kevin Lynch

Within the undulating hills of central Tuscany lies the charming region of Chianti Classico, a nearly 100-square-mile sprawl of picturesque land dotted with vineyards, olive groves and Cyprus trees. Home to one of Italy’s most famous wines, this region’s wine-producing reputation wasn’t always as celebrated as it is today.

During the post-World War II years, Chianti’s population erupted. And in order to satisfy consumer demands, winemakers began to take shortcuts—shortcuts some viewed as sacrificing quality for quantity. High percentages of the inferior white varieties Trebbiano and Malvasia were added, ultimately diluting the Sangiovese-based wine.

The hills outside of Castellina in Chianti/ Photo Credit: Amber ShareThe hills outside of Castellina in Chianti/ Photo Credit: Amber Share

Before Chianti Classico was given DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata y Garantita) status in 1984—an initiative intended to improve quality through more stringent winemaking regulations—Chianti was known for its intense cherry flavors and slight sourness. But despite that, it still garnered quite the fan base—if not for its affordability than perhaps for the trademark, straw-enrobed squat bottle that contained the wine, which consumers often turned into a candleholder post consumption.

But by the mid-1980s winemakers began sourcing superior Sangiovese clones, observing improved viticulture practices and reducing the amount of white grapes used in their blends.

With the increased quality, the original Chianti producing area that included the towns of Radda, Gaiole, Castellina and Greve—defined in 1716 by the Grand Duke Cosimo III of the Medici family—was granted DOCG status and the title of Classico appended to its name. All Chianti produced outside this central district was in turn simply defined as Chianti DOCG.

Today, quality is at an all-time high, and wines from Chianti Classico are some of Italy’s finest. White grapes are no longer permitted in Chianti Classico production, and while they are still allowed in the broader Chianti designation, they can only account for 10% of the blend. Many producers, however, eschew this practice. As a means to please the New World palates of today,  small additions of international varieties—specifically Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot—are allowed, creating plush textured wines rich in black cherry, violet and cocoa flavors, a far cry from the dilute versions of yesterday.

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