If you’re at all familiar with the world of Italian wines, you’ve definitely heard of Chianti. Chianti is essential to Italian cuisine, and is probably the most written about, drank, and talked about wine in Italian history.
However, many people state-side still don’t have a firm grasp on what Chianti actually is. What does Chianti taste like? Where does it come from? How do I select a good bottle? Chianti is a truly unique, fabulous wine with an incredibly interesting history.
What is Chianti wine?
Chianti, pronounced “kee-on-tee,” is a red blend from Tuscany, Italy. It is made from primarily Sangiovese grapes, and it is considered the perfect food wine. Common tasting notes you’ll find in Chianti wines are red fruits, dried herbs, balsamic vinegar, smoke, and game. You may notice notes of preserved sour cherries, dried oregano, balsamic reduction, dry salami, espresso, and sweet tobacco in higher-end bottles.
Sangiovese, the main grape used in Chianti, is an Italian staple. It’s a thin-skinned grape, so it tends to make very translucent wines. In the glass, Chianti is a ruby red color with flashes of bright burnt orange. This coloring is commonly associated with aged wines. In addition to Sangiovese, Chianti blends may contain grapes such as Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even Merlot.
Chianti encapsulates the aromas and flavors of Italy, which is why it pairs so well with classic Italian dishes. It offers a slight coarseness and tartness on the palate. It pairs its savory flavors with high acidity and coarse tannins. Because of this acid, Chianti can cut through rich, fatty foods and tomato-based sauces. The tannins make Chianti an ideal pairing for dishes made with rich meat or olive oil.
Chianti is a staple of Italian culture not only because of its unique flavor profile. Chianti was actually once used as medicine, according to an 18th century-old recipe discovered in an old manuscript found among the shelves of an Italian pharmacy, dating back to 1715.
Wine has a long history of being used in medicinal applications. Research shows that drinking red wine may offer some health benefits. Chianti is thought to have therapeutic and anti-aging properties thanks to resveratrol, a compound found in the skins of red grapes. Resveratrol is also said to help prevent heart disease and other age-related illnesses.
Pairing Chianti with food
Chianti is a staple of Italian culture because of how well it pairs with food. Food and wine are both incredibly important to Italians, and they take both things very seriously. Chianti is a savory, tannic red wine, which pairs well with various rich, tomato-based dishes.
Pasta is a particularly great companion to Chianti. Pasta with a red sauce such as meaty ragu or spaghetti Bolognese are classic pairings, but simple pasta dishes such as pasta e olio are also delightful. Other classic Italian dishes, such as Margherita pizza and charcuterie boards, are also great choices with a bottle of Chianti.
Chianti classifications and aging
Italy has rules for nearly all its wines. These rules stipulate things like quality, grape type, aging, and more. There are many classifications and categories of Chianti, as stipulated by the Italian government. Chianti is the catchall term for all wines in the category. As you go up in quality, the categories have more specific names and specifications.
Chianti DOCG is Chianti’s broadest appellation. This subcategory requires at least 70% Sangiovese grapes and a maximum of 10% being the white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano. A combination of Italian and international grapes are also allowed, such as Canaiolo Nero, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.
There are seven Chianti DOCG subzones, which include:
- Chianti Colli Aretini
- Chianti Colli Fiorentini
- Chianti Colli Senesi
- Chianti Colline Pisane
- Chianti Montalbano
- Chianti Montespertoli
- Chianti Rufina
Any of the wines from this appellation may just be simply labeled “Chianti.”
Chianti Classico DOCG
Chianti Classico DOCG is an appellation located in the heart of the Chianti region. The boundaries of this region were first defined in the 18th century but were enlarged significantly in the 1930s. Chianti Classico DOCG is thought to be the highest quality offering of Chianti available.
The symbol for Chianti Classico is a black rooster, which references a legend about the use of roosters to settle a border dispute between the warring provinces of Sienna and Florence. The black rooster represents Florence, the province that dominated the battle.
Chianti Classico is characterized by refreshing acidity. The grapes used in Chianti Classico are usually planted at higher elevations than those used in Chianti DOCG. Flavors in Chianti Classico usually include violet, spice, and cherry. The higher the quality, the more tannic and structured the Chianti.
Chianti Classico must contain at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. A maximum of 20% of other red grapes, Colorino, Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, may be used. White grapes have been banned since 2006.
There are three quality tiers within the Chianti Classico category. Annata is the standard tier, which ages 12 months before release. Riserva is the next highest quality, and it must age for 24 months. The top quality is Gran Selezione, which must be aged for 30 months.
Chianti wines to try
There are so many wonderful Chianti wines to try out there. We’ve compiled some of our favorites below.
Ruffino Chianti is a gorgeous ruby red color. It is approachable and easy-drinking, with predominantly fruity and floral aromatics and hints of spice and hazelnut. It is soft and medium in body, with incredible balance.
It is low in alcohol and brightly acidic, making it a great pairing for traditional Italian dishes and international favorites such as hamburgers and tacos.
Gabbiano Chianti is an extra dry Chianti that is savory and juicy, with delicious sour cherry notes. It is supple, smooth, and full-bodied, with incredible acidity that pairs wonderfully with tomato-based pasta dishes. On the nose, it offers sweet cherry, vanilla, and gentle violet aromatics. The palate is juicy and fruit-driven, with bright berry flavors and mocha nuances.
This is a great food-friendly wine and pairs with a great variety of dishes.
Da Vinci Chianti
The Da Vinci Chianti is well-balanced and medium in weight, with jammy flavors of ripe plums, cherries, and red fruit. The color is a beautiful deep crimson. It’s a very lively Chianti, high-toned cherry fruit aromas, and vanilla oak character. The finish is long and peppery, with soft minerality and round tannins.
Like many Chianti wines, the Da Vinci Chianti is a great food wine, pairing well with various traditional Italian dishes.
Verrazzano Chianti Classico
Carrying the signature black rooster, the Verrazzano Chianti Classico is a great example of the style. It’s a ruby red color and offers intense aromas and rich flavors of mature red fruit, such as blackberry and cherry. This wine is incredibly balanced and structured, with oak striations and a fine, sweet tannic component. If you’re looking to try a Chianti Classico, the Verrazzano is an excellent choice.
Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale
Ruffino makes a variety of Chianti wines, but the Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale is one of the most coveted bottles. The color is an intense ruby red, and the aroma is complex, characterized by cherry and violet notes, with delicate hints of tobacco and white pepper. On the palate, this wine is well-balanced, with velvety tannins, firm acidity, and a lingering finish of rosemary.
Its incredible structure means it ages exceptionally well, making this bottle a great investment.
Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva
Made in the heart of Tuscany, the Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva opens to a deep garnet color and a velvety texture. It is dry, with a full, well-expressed bouquet, with dark fruit and dried tobacco notes. This wine is beautifully floral, with plum, lavender, spice, menthol, and earthiness flavors.
Chianti is an incredibly important wine to Italian culture. It is a savory, delicious wine that pairs incredibly well with a wide variety of Italian dishes. Chianti is available in a wide variety of classifications, as defined by the Italian government. However, even lower quality Chianti wines are still a treat, especially when paired with dishes like pasta or pizza.
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