is a DOCG red wine
that is produced in any number of style
s, ranging from light, fruity
wines to ones tending toward the dark
. If I had to generalize
from my own experience
, I would say that Chianti
s actually trend
toward being light- to medium bodied reds with low to moderate tannin
levels, offering a crisp
edge that makes them an excellent accompaniment
to dishes involving tomato
es or tomato sauces
The wine has had something of an image problem of late: wines labeled "Chianti" have generally been made in mass quantities and were therefore often of poor quality. In fact, with the rise of the Super Tuscans and the improvement of quality within the Chianti Classico zone (see below), many of the better producers are abandoning Chianti altogether. This will no doubt mean that, now and even moreso in the future, good straight Chiantis will be the exception, rather than the rule.
Chianti itself is an historic wine-making area In Tuscany. The traditional zone is located to the north of Siena and encompasses the towns of Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina, but a classification made by the Italian government in 1932 expanded the official boundaries of this area. Today, wines labeled "Chianti" are derived from grapes grown over 1.2 million acres spread over the provinces of Siena, Arezzo, Pistoia, and Firenze (the area around Florence). The seven major Chianti zones are:
These locations may not be included on the label of the Chianti you're considering, but they often are in the case of the three best zones (Ruffina, Senesi, and Fiorentini).
Making the Wine
The principal grape of Chianti is Sangiovese (sometimes called "Sangioveto"), one of Italy's most widely planted varieties. This grape is also becoming popular with planters worldwide, as it allows the vintner to make wines in many styles, while retaining the grape's fruity, floral character.
Until relatively recently, winemakers were required to blend many types of grapes to produce Chiantis. Today, they may use 100% Sangiovese or a blend, as they prefer. Some of the other grapes often found in Chiantis include:
Traditionally, much Chianti was produced using the governo method. This involved using raisined Canaiolo grapes to add sweetness and help encourage malolactic fermentation, which converts harsher malic acid in the wine to softer lactic acid. This technique, despite tradition, is being phased out.
A note on Chianti Classico
There are, technically speaking, eight Chianti zones, the eighth being Chianti Classico, the region sandwiched between Siena and Florence, covering only about 173,000 acres. Wines labeled Chianti Classico thus come from the traditional production area, and are therefore, in general, considered to be of much higher quality. This is due largely to soil conditions: grapes tend to flourish in loose, sandy soil (such as is found in the Classico area), but have a more difficult time in the heavier clay soils found over much of the other Chianti area.
Were I to make a general recommendation, I would urge wine drinkers to bypass straight Chiantis in their entirety and focus on the offerings from the Chianti Classico DOCG.
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BTW the "black rooster" label is primarily a marketing tool, and not all true Chiantis bear it. You want to look for the label that says "Chianti DOCG" or "Chianti Classico DOCG."