The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Brief History of Chianti

Posted on | June 22, 2010 | Written by Will Di Nunzio | No Comments

On May 14, 1924, a special meeting took place that would forever change the course of one of the most famous Italian wines in the world. Thirty-three producers gathered in an area called Radda in Chianti to establish a “Consorzio” meant to preserve and protect a 200-year-old tradition: the production of Chianti wine. It was called Consorzio per la Difesa del Vino Chianti—or the Consortium for the defense of Chianti wine—a phrase that sounds almost military.

As any Google search will tell you, this wine called Chianti was created at the end of the 14th century, though the area of production was established in 1716 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo III. During the two centuries prior to the Consorzio meeting, people made Chianti with complete disregard to the traditional methods; growers from all over Toscana would assemble random grapes from every corner of the region and name their wines Chianti. This practice did not sit well to those who dedicated themselves to the production of Chianti; they felt the imitations needed to end. Thus, the Consorzio was born.

When the Consorzio was created, producers immediately chose the Black Rooster as their symbol, because it was the historic symbol of the military battalion of Chianti. By September 1924, the members of the consortium grew from the original 33 to 189 winemakers. There were many legal battles from 1924 to 1967 that involved winemakers trying to pass off their grape juice as Chianti, a practice that added to the region’s rather dismal economy in the ‘50s and ‘60s. During that time, there was no guarantee about Chianti’s production, and the wine became popular more for being cheap than for being important or noble. Farmers started abandoning their lands, and the landowners would sell them off for next to nothing. This period gave birth to the reputation of Chianti being bad, and unfortunately this is the wine that most people who haven’t had recent Chianti think of when they haven’t tried the wine.

However, much has changed for Chianti. In 1932 seven production zones were recognized to produce Chianti wine. In 1967 the DOC (Denominazione Origine Controllata) was first applied to Chianti wines, thereby eliminating any possibility of imitation. It took another 17 years for the Classico production zone (named Classico in recognition of being the original or the “first” production area for this important wine) to battle, argue and ultimately prove their cause that they were a superior wine producing area. In 1984, they obtained the DOCG status (Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita). This label not only testifies that the wine was controlled for proper production from the vine to the bottle, but it also guarantees it. The Classico bottles can be recognized immediately by the Black Rooster on the pink DOCG tag around the neck of the bottles, and these are the go-to Chiantis if you want the good stuff!

Throughout the years, the blend of Chianti has changed many times. Originally, producers blended Sangiovese with white varieties like Trebbiano and Malvasia, which thinned the powerhouse, red variety. Essentially, the first rule was that in order to be called Chianti the wine needs to be a minimum of 80 percent Sangiovese and 20 percent whatever you wanted as long as it was grown within the designated production area. With that guideline in mind, winemakers began blending international grapes like Merlot (Castello di Cacchiano) to render a smoother, rounder version of the wine that would appeal more to an international palate. On the flip side, many recent producers (like Fontodi) have decided to make their Chianti Classico with 100 percent Sangiovese to highlight the grape’s savage beauty.

The result of both of these types of wine is stunning, and Chianti Classico—the crème de la crème of the area—has truly restored the reputation of this incredible wine. Even more amazingly, Chianti’s variety of styles has allowed producers to enchant all manner of palates.

Bravo, Chianti!


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