Monday, December 11, 2006

Tuscan jewel: Chianti wine

Chianti is Italy's most famous red wine. It used to be easily identified by its squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket, called fiasco ("flask"). (The fiasco is only used by a few makers of the wine now; most Chianti is bottled in traditionally shaped wine bottles.) Low-end Chianti is generally fairly inexpensive, with a basic Chianti running less than US$10, though more sophisticated Chiantis are made and sold at substantially higher price points.

The popularity and high exportability of this wine at the moment of introduction of the
DOC, 1963, was such that many regions of central Tuscany didn't want to be excluded from the use of the name. As a result the large (for Italian standards) production area was split in seven sub-regions: Classico, Rùfina, Colli Senesi, Colli Fiorentini, Montalbano, Colli Aretini, Colline Pisane (from 1994 there is a new sub-area: Montespertoli, formerly part of Colli Fiorentini). Wines labeled Chianti Classico come from the heart of the area that is traditionally attributed to this wine. The other variants, with the exception of Rufina from the north-east side of Florence and Montalbano in the south of Pistoia, originate in the respective named provinces: Siena, Firenze (Florence), Arezzo and Pisa.

Until the middle of the
19th century Chianti was based solely on Sangiovese grapes. During the second half of 19th century Baron Bettino Ricasoli who was an important Chianti producer and, in the same time, minister in Tuscany and then Prime Minister in the Kingdom of Italy, imposed his ideas: from that moment on Chianti should have been produced with 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca (Malvasia bianca is an aromatic white grape with Greek origins). During the 1970s, producers started to reduce the quantity of white grapes in Chianti and eventually from 1995 it is legal to produce a Chianti with 100% sangiovese, or at least without the white grapes. It may have a picture of a black rooster (known in Italian as a gallo nero) on the neck of the bottle, which indicates that the producer of the wine is a member of the "Gallo Nero" Consortium; an association of producers of the Classico region sharing marketing costs. Aged Chianti (38 months instead of 4-7), may be labelled as Riserva. Chianti that meets more stringent requirements, (lower yield, higher alcohol content and dry extract) may be labelled as Chianti Superiore. Chianti from the "Classico" sub-area is not allowed in any case to be labelled as "Superiore".

Chianti is not the only traditional wine made in
Tuscany, and there are also new wines, based on sangiovese (i.e.: Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano etc.) and some popular French grapes that are usually dubbed "Super Tuscans". Due to rule changes, some of these wines (particularly the pioneering Tignanello) could legally be labeled as Chianti, though many producers of these wines have chosen not to do so.

The word "Chianti" can be used as a
semi-generic name in the United States if the place of origin is clearly indicated next to the word to avoid consumer confusion. However, with the popularity of varietal labeling, semi-generic names are rarely used today, even on jug wines.

Due to the wine's relative cheapness, its easy-drinking qualities, and the frequent use of the empty fiasco as a candleholder, Chianti is very strongly identified with
Italian American cuisine, especially the "red sauce" variety pioneered by southern Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century.

A Florence View - bed and breakfast Florence


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