What is Chianti’? It is Italy’s most famous red wine. That’s the short answer, however, as with all things in life, there is so much more to explore behind that simple question. If you enjoy a glass every now and then or if you are a dedicated consumer of this vino, we guarantee that a little bit more knowledge will enhance your pleasure. So, pour yourself a glass and sit back as we answer all your questions.
What is Chianti?
A dry, medium-bodied, red with a high tannin level which is recognisable by its tartness and flavours of cherry and earth. It is savoury and gives off a lovely floral aroma. The region in which it is produced, rather than the grape variety, gives this wine its name.
There are eight zones within the region, each producing its own distinctive type:
- Montalbano – west of Florence
- Rufina – east of Florence
- Colli Fiorentini – south of Florence
- Colli Aretini – southeast of Florence
- Colli Senesi – including Montepulciano and Montalcino
- Montespertoli – southwest of Florence
- Colli Pisane – the westernmost zone
- Chianti Classico – between south of Florence and north of Siena
The Classico type is produced by only the longest established and superior estates in a tiny sub region of approximately 17,000 acres located between Florence and Siena. Its rolling hills and vineyards are world famous, and exploring them makes a wonderful day excursion away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Our specially modified off-road safari bus takes visitors cross country into the very heart of the vineyards from which these glorious bottles are produced.
If Chianti is a Region then What Grape is Chianti Classico Made From?
The Sangiovese grape, the main variety in this vino, is a dark grape varietal that has a high yield and ripens slowly. It is tough to work with and it had a reputation as a poor quality grape, a criticism that was only laid to rest as recently as the 1980s after winemakers improved their techniques and focused on quality over quantity. Since then the Sangiovese grape has soared in connoisseurs’ esteem. In addition, some experimental viticulturalists produce blends using other grapes.
For Chianti Classico, only very small quantities are made from only the finest grape crops. The bottles are labelled with a black rooster seal.
What Type of Wine is Chianti Classico?
As you’d probably guess, there’s no single answer to this question. It’s better to think in terms of ‘types’ or ‘classifications’. Each has a distinct character defined by the requirements of the classification regarding the ageing, zone of origin and grape variety.
When we take our customers on a tasting tour to the vineyards we generally introduce them to three specific types.
- Annata – minimum aging 12 months.
- Riserva – aged for at least 24 months, of which at least 3 in bottle, and characterised by softer tannins.
- Gran Selezione – made using the best selected grapes, aged for at least 30 months, of which at least 3 in bottle.
What’s It Like to Drink?
Heavenly, particularly if you are sipping a Classico alongside a Tuscan feast of wild boar, steak or salami. This is a wonderfully versatile wine that pairs well with strong red meats and the many Italian dishes with a tomato base.
Is it light or heavy?
In general, the Sangiovese grape produces a medium bodied wine but when blended or aged, it moves more towards the lower end of the full-bodied and heavy wines on the sliding scale. It will be heavier than a Beaujolais or a Rioja but lighter than a Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon.
What is it similar to?
If you’ve never had Chianti, or if you’re trying to find a substitute with similar properties then consider a Shiraz. This is also dry and medium to heavy bodied with a fairly high acidity – it’s flavour profile also evokes red fruits and herbs. It is equally bold and some bottles will remind you of the smoky, red meat hints that you can find in a Chianti.
What’s the difference between a Merlot and a Chianti?
Merlot has a similar flavour profile but the difference in acidity and tannin levels creates a very different drinking experience. The high levels of acid and tannin are perfect for offsetting the richness of traditional Tuscan dishes. However, over a prolonged period the acidity might begin to wear on the palate. Merlot has a mild acidity and velvety tannins, which make it really easy to drink but less rewarding as an accompaniment to heavier, red meat dishes.
Is Chianti a healthy red wine?
It shares the health benefits of red wine, if drunk in moderation. Its polyphenol strengthens gums and teeth, while initial research is showing that its resveratrol may reduce the rate of cancer growth and stimulate the release of insulin.
Red wines are loaded with ingredients that help maintain healthy skin. The Alpha hydroxy acids act as natural anti-inflammatories, whilst the antioxidants that come from the tannins stimulate collagen in the skin to keep it looking youthful. The wine is also packed with amino acids that contribute to the natural barrier skin produces to defend itself from harmful UV rays.
Practical Applications of Knowledge
So as you can see, not only is there not one answer to the question ‘what is Chianti’, there is actually more than one question. You are now in the perfect position to apply this knowledge in a practical context, and what better context could you find than on a tasting safari to the region?
If you’ve planned a visit to Florence we would strongly recommend that you set aside a day to explore the Tuscan hills and tour the estates and their vineyards. Our guides have sommelier training, and a passion for Chianti’s history, landscape and produce. You’ll get to sample wines on the estates where they are produced, and you’ll go behind the scenes to see how it is made.
If you’d like to expand your knowledge of the region’s famous vino in the most enjoyable way possible (with tastings and a traditional Tuscan lunch) then book yourself a place on our Chianti Safari: Off Road Tuscany Wine Tour with Lunch from Florence.