Chianti is a region in Tuscany, although its borders are not clearly defined. Generally, the area between Florence and Sienna is defined as the Chianti region. It is a very beautiful area with old and charming towns amongst green hills and picturesque valleys. Well worth visiting, even if you are not interested in wine.
Chianti wines have long been associated with the squat bottle in a wicker-cane base. Unfortunately, the wine was generally of poor quality. But lately, the producers in Chianti have significantly improved the quality of the wine.
Sangiovese is the main grape in Chianti. The name of the grape is supposed to come from sanguis Jovis, meaning the blood of Jupiter. Sangiovese has a number of local names as well, the most well known are brunello, morellino and prugnolo.
In 1713 the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, established the boundaries for the production area of Chianti wine as well as a production code. This is supposed to be the first time in history that a law is defined around wine production.
In 1932, the Chianti area was completely re-drawn by ministerial decree. The new Chianti area became much larger and divided in seven zones: Classico, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rufina. The old Chianti zone was just a minor part (about 15%) of the new Chianti Classico zone.
Many see this expansion of the Chianti zone as the beginning of the deterioration of the wine. A lot of producers wanted to make fast cash using the popular Chianti label, quantity become more important than quality. Sangiovese was blended with white grapes, creating a thin and unbalanced red wine.
In 1966 the Chianti area was granted DOC status. Unfortunately, this forced vineyards to use white grapes in their red wines, preventing them from producing good quality wine. In the 1984 the Chianti region was upgraded to DOCG status.
But some of the producers found a way around this problem. In the 1970’s so called Super Tuscans started to attract attention. In order to produce good wines, the vineyards had to go around the strict DOC regulations, the solution was to downgrade their wines to IGT wines.
In 1996 Chianti Classico was recognized as an independent DOCG appellation. This meant that Chianti Classico could now be up to 100% sangiovese. No longer can white grapes be used. Thanks to the success of the Super Tuscans, many producers prefer to keep their wines classified as IGT rather than the more prestigious DOCG. The black rooster (Gallo Nero) appears on the neck labels of many Chianti Classico wines.