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The Tuscany region of Italy has been witnessing a 21st century Renaissance as modern day wine makers who are famous for producing the Chianti Classico are now shifting towards terrior-driven wines that are highly polished and are loaded with finesse and perfection. The Chianti Classico that can be found today is believed to offer a great level of complexity and it is extremely food friendly as well. Vine Vera also discovered that that the modern Chianti Classicos are much better in terms of quality when compared to their ancestors.
According to Roberto Stucchi Prinetti of the Badia a Coltibuono estate, investment and research into the Sangiovese grape coupled with the emergence of trends that allow winemakers to mask the identity of the Sangiovese has resulted in better practices and decades of hard work is now bearing fruit. One of the main reasons behind the Renaissance of the Chianti Classico is improved vineyard management. This has allowed winemakers to focus on selecting the very best Sangiovese clones that highlight the perfection that modern Chianti Classico has to offer.
Despite the massive changes and improvements, Tuscany still faces a major challenge in the form of a lingering public opinion that usually associates the Chianti with mediocrity. This image stems from the industrial quantities of Chianti Classico that dominated the market until the 1980s and was sold in inexpensive pizzerias and local cafes.
Another reason that affects the popularity of Chianti Classico is the name Chianti. Most consumers don’t realize that Chianti and Chianti Classico are different wines. This is one of the main reasons that Chianti Classico remains to be one of the least understood denominations despite being one of the most internationally recognized and oldest denominations in Italy.
Chianti Classico refers to the original wine growing zone, which was given its title by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in the year 1716 because of the superlative wines that the area produced. However, others cashed in on the Chianti brand and also began to label their wine as Chianti. In fact, the Italian government identified 7 different Chianti producing areas in the year 1932.
The mandatory blending with white grapes also hurt Chianti’s image and quality. By the year 1960, Chianti wine contained approximately 30% of white grapes, which led to the creation of light colored and highly dilute wines that were not suitable for aging. Things finally began to change in the year 1971 when Piero Antinori realized that a great red wine could never be made using such high percentages of white grapes. The resulting Tigananello which was made using red grapes and aged in barriques to give it a splendid taste and a rich texture quickly gained superiority over the diluted Chianti wine.
After the success of Tignanello, other producers began to follow suit and renegade wines like the Cepparello and Fontalloro emerged as some of the best offerings from the region in the early 1980s. Shamed by the insult, Chianti Classico producers finally began to clean house and the Chianti Classico region finally managed to split from the Chianti denomination in the year 1996. It re-emerged as an entirely new denomination that had its own production code. As a result, the modern Chianti Classico must now contain at least 80% of the Sangiovese grape and 20% of other red grapes. The use of white grapes in Chianti Classico production was phased out over the years and it was completely banned in the year 2006. Chianti Classico bottles also began to adopt the black roster symbol to distinguish themselves from the Chianti. However, this did little to diminish consumer confusion.
Thus, the future of the Chianti Classico actually lies in ensuring that consumers become aware that the Chianti Classico is entirely different from the Chianti wine. The variety of styles and quality levels found in the Chianti Classico region also poses a major challenge. And given that the appellation covers 17790 acres, a range of temperatures and soils and 9 townships, resolving this problem won’t be easy either.
The sheer size and diversity of the growing area is also one of the major reasons why a majority of the producers in the region are pushing for zoning within the Chianti Classico itself. Apart from the differences in soils, the vineyard altitudes also range between 820 feet to 1968 feet, which ends up generating all sorts of temperature variations and micro-climates.
Experts believe that naming the township from where the grapes originated on bottles would be the first major step in making the Chianti Classico more understandable for consumers. It would also help to give the Chianti Classico a better identity and boost its consumer image. Whether or not the region gets over its problems remains to be seen. But one thing that is certain is that the Chianti Classico wine now tastes much better than it ever used to.
Choosing between the various Chianti varieties
- Chianti Classico – Chianti Classico is released in the month of October following its vintage and is immediately accessible. Some of the top Chianti Classicos that are available include the 93 Isole e Olena 2011 that is famous for its meat juices, woodland berries, blue flowers and spicy aromas, 93 Fattoria Nittardi 2011 Casanuova di Nittardi which is famous for its black fruit and floral aromas, the 91 Badia a Coltibuono 2009 Cultus Boni that is known for its ripe red berry, blue flower and exotic spice aromas and the 92 Casina di Corina 2011, a delicious 100% Sangiovese with a wild cherry fragrance.
- Chianti Classico Riservas – Chianti Classico Rivseras must be aged for at least 24 months before it leaves the winery. Usually, the most robust wines enter the Riservas program and these wines age beautifully for up to 15 years. Some of the best Chianti Classico Riservas wines include the 93 Castello di Verrazzano 2010 that is known for aromas of leather, red berries, soil and smoke, the 96 Monteraponi 2010 Baron’ Ugo that has a blue flower, spice, leather and berry aroma, and the 93 Castello di Ama 2009, an amazing blend that has 80% Sangiovese and 20% Malvasia.
- The Gran Selezione – A number of Chianti Classico producers are offering wine lovers with a brand new category of Chianti Classico wines – the Gran Selezione. This wine must undergo at least 30 months of aging and needs to be entirely grown, produced and bottled at the estate itself. The category is basically an attempt to attract Super-Tuscans back under the Chianti Classico family.