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Chianti Wine: Exploring the Unique Taste and Characteristics of Chianti
McKenzie Hagan |
Red checkered tablecloths, meatballs and marinara, and a red blend housed in a straw-covered bottle — your vision of your favorite Italian eatery starts with a bottle of Chianti wine sitting center stage.
While many wine lovers can visualize a Chianti wine, few can pinpoint what makes a Chianti. Which we certainly fault no one for — the classification of Chianti wine changed slightly over the years, and can be quite complicated. The result is a smoky red blend with hints of cherry and oak, and while it might not find a spot on a sommelier's list of recommendations, it will forever hold its place at your quintessential Italian restaurant.
Below, we explain where Chianti wine comes from, the history of this lustrous red, and how to enjoy it (red checkered tablecloth and straw baskets optional).
What Is Chianti Wine?
Chianti wine (pronounced kee-on-tee) is a red blend made in the Chianti region of Italy, within the hills of Tuscany. Located an hour's drive from Florence, the Chianti region is known for its mild climate, rolling hills, and picturesque vineyards and farmland.
Just as a true Champagne must come from Champagne, France, and a Bordeaux must come from Bordeaux, a true Chianti must come from the Chianti region. By 2,000 B.C., the fertile soil captured the attention of the Etruscans, who began cultivating grapes. The Etruscans were later occupied by the Romans, who continued to develop agriculture and began to harvest olives to produce olive oil in Chianti.
While no one can pinpoint exactly where the name "Chianti" comes from, it first became classified as a type of wine in the 13th century. By 1716, Chianti wine gained national recognition. Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, declared the official boundaries of the Chianti region (i.e., where Chianti wine could be produced), thereby recognizing it as one of the most important wines in Tuscany.
Today, the official boundaries of the Chianti region are marked by Florence in the north, Siena in the south, Arezzo in the east, and Pisa in the west, as documented within the Chianti Classico DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). Translation for wine connoisseur hopefuls: The DOCG is the official guidelines and regulations on how wines — like Chianti — are classified.
Today, Chianti, Italy is no longer recognized as a political entity — rather, it's simply a part of central Tuscany and home to Chianti wine. The Chianti region is divided into seven sub-zones, including:
- Chianti Montalbano
- Chianti Rufina
- Chianti Colli Fiorentini
- Chianti Colli Aretini
- Chianti Colli Senesi
- Chianti Montespertoli
- Chianti Colline Pisane
While Chianti wine was once overproduced (and therefore known as a lesser wine), it's made a strong comeback in recent years. A Chianti wine is recognized by its deep, red color, full body and extremely dry taste, smoky flavor, large amounts of tannins, and high acidity level. With such a variation in Chianti wine (discussed further in-depth in the next section), it's a wine enjoyed by both loyal wine enthusiasts and newcomers alike.
How Is Chianti Wine Made?
The classification and winemaking process of Chianti has changed throughout the years.
By law, Chianti wine is made with Sangiovese grapes, a grape native to Tuscany. In the mid-1800s, a Chianti wine was made up of 70% Sangiovese grapes, with the remaining 30% divided between Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbiano, and other international varieties.
Today, a Chianti classico wine must be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. The remaining 20% can be made from a blend of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, or in some rare instances, Canaiolo, Colorino, Petit Verdot, Syrah, or Cabernet Franc.
A true Chianti wine must contain at least 12% alcohol, aged for 10 months, and have the "gallo nero" (black rooster) label on the bottle. Due to the strict guidelines of Chianti wines, it is not classified as a Super Tuscan wine, which is also a red wine type from Tuscany (we know — they take their wine regulations very seriously).
While a Chianti Classico wine is the most well known, there are plenty of Chianti wines. Each wine can have different requirements for aging, alcohol content, or the Chianti subregion where it’s produced. For example, a Chianti Classico Riserva is aged 38 months, with a 12.5% alcohol content. A Chianti Superiore, meanwhile, is only aged for nine months, and Gran Selezione is aged for two and a half years.
Throughout history, Chianti was made with other grape varieties — including white. However, since 2006, the use of white grapes is prohibited under the Chianti Classico classification. These days, Chianti is made solely from red grapes — you won’t find a Chianti white wine available for purchase.
Chianti Wine Tasting Notes
Sometimes referred to as the "Bordeaux of Italy," Chianti wine is a ruby-red, fruity wine, appealing to vino-lovers and wine newbies alike. This Italian wine sits on the drier side, with a high acidity level. When tasting a Chianti Classico wine, you might taste notes of:
How To Enjoy Chianti Wine
Now that you understand the Chianti region of Tuscany as well as how Chianti wine is made and classified, it's time to pour yourself a glass. Below, we describe how to serve Chianti — complete with temperature suggestions, food pairings, and which glass to grab from your cupboards.
While you may be used to serving red wine at room temperature, a Chianti should be chilled. The appropriate temperature to serve a Chianti falls between 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps reduce the acidity level of the wine, leading to a smoother finish overall.
Due to its rich taste and smoky flavor, a Chianti wine pairs well with extremely rich dishes. Think of classic Italian flavors — including tomato-based and red sauces, pizzas, pastas, and sausages. You might also enjoy a Chianti wine with a rare, fatty steak.
Due to it's high acidity profile, you would not enjoy Chianti wine as an after-dinner dessert wine, or paired with sweets.
Type of Wine Glass
At one point, Chianti wine bottles were always served in a fiasco — the straw baskets so reminiscent of the wine region in Tuscany. However, many winemakers have chosen to forego the classic fiasco, serving the Tuscan wine without it.
Serve your Chianti wine in a classic red wine glass with a stem. To truly enjoy a glass of higher quality Chianti wine (or to feel fancy drinking an inexpensive bottle), serve it in a chilled glass. Simply set your red wine glass in the freezer for several minutes before serving. This will assist in bringing down the acidity level.
Pour Yourself a Glass of Chianti Wine
Chianti wine has a rich history stemming from the gorgeous Chianti region in Tuscany. While once overproduced, Chianti wines are now incredibly nostalgic to consumers — creating visions of Little Italy neighborhoods and piles of carb-tastic pasta.
A Chianti wine must come from the seven subregions of Chianti. Made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes, this red wine is known for its high acidity profile, smoky, bold flavor, and tartness. A Chianti should be served slightly chilled, with classic Italian dishes such as meatballs, steak, marinara, or pasta.
Now, when you take a seat at your neighborhood Italian restaurant, you know exactly where those classic straw baskets come from. And you can tell your friends that a true Chianti wine must come from the Chianti region — and nowhere else in the world.
To learn more about Tuscan wines, including those made from Sangiovese grapes, continue reading our Usual Wines blog.