Chianti’s vineyards are nestled in Tuscany/ Toscana between the great Renaissance cities of Siena and Florence. The landscape is an unchanged medieval tapestry of woodlands, olive groves and cypress trees guarded by aristocratic villas. In this serene land the Sangiovese grape rules with aristocratic quiet reserve and self-confidence. Sometimes blended with up to 20% of the local Canaiolo or Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to add colour and substance to the status. Vineyards owned by the same family for nearly a thousand years are not uncommon.
Italy matches France as the world’s largest producer of wine with nearly five billion litres annually. The country boasts over 1,000 different wine-grape varieties, the most important being Sangiovese, as Chianti is Italy’s most exported wine. In true Italian fashion, the wine is intended to flatter food rather than itself. Traditionally understated, frugal in fruit and with a lively acidity over a blueberry and sour cherry fruit character with a savoury tomato and herbal edge. With age, impressions of tea leaves and faded rose scents may develop.
Some terms on the wine label highlight additional quality and refer to either the vineyard or the winemaking. For instance, Classico refers to the heartland of the original vineyards on the best hillside sites. While Chianti alone refers to the flatter valley floor where lighter and fruitier styles of wine are produced.
Meanwhile, in the winery, Riserva means extra aging in barrel and implies better quality. Superiore qualifies a more concentrated style from lower yields and higher alcohol. A black cockerel on the bottle’s neck notes membership of Chianti’s Consorzio, a voluntary group of dedicated winemakers committed to quality and regularly exceeding the minimum criteria.
Chianti dons a pink paper tag with the letters DOCG which means in Italian: Denomination of Origin that is Controlled and Guaranteed. It is a step above the DOC status which applies to the majority of quality wines. Some of Italy’s other prestigious wines are awarded the DOCG: Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello di Montalcino. It implies that stricter controls are applied by the controlling Government authorities, the wines are made from lower yields and so are more concentrated, and have to be tasted by an official panel.
Above all it aims to preserve the tradition of winemaking unique to each specific area. Currently, seventy-four areas have been awarded the DOCG and they may display the pink paper tag or a pale green one for white DOCG wines. Meanwhile, there are 335 DOC wine areas.
Meanwhile, the European Union has been harmonising the names of the various member states’ classification systems. Currently, EU law allows Italian producers to continue to use these terms but the EU considers both to be at the same level of Protected Designation of Origin or PDO, known in Italy as Denominazione d’Origine Protetta.
Chianti is essentially a food wine and benefits from decanting to coax its character which may be withdrawn and shy when sipped solo.
Here are the highest scoring wines from a blind tasting of 25 Chiantis.
Geografico Chianti Colli Senesi 2014
€14.99 – Available at Wine Well, Dunboyne and at Carry Out in Bandon, Carraigaline, Douglas and Killarney
An attractive earthy bouquet with leather notes and a little cherry fruit. Concentrated cherry stone flavours with mouth-watering acidity supported by firm tannins.
Food Friend: Loves a lasagne.
Loggia del Conte Chianti 2014
€12.99 – Available at Molloy’s Liquor Stores
Aromas of dusky tea leaves and cherry fruit flesh. Very tasty cherry fruit core encased in a firm structure of tannin. Elegant.
Food Friend: Try Enjoy with spicy paprika meatballs cloaked in a tomato and basil sauce.
Rocca delle Macie Tenuta di Sant’Alfonso, Chianti Classico 2013
€23.50 at jnwine.com retail
Earthy aromas. Intense palate in a rich style giving a full-bodied taste showing dusky and dusty fruits. Very classy.
Food Friend: Enjoy with a bean and pork stew in a tomato and sage sauce.
Machiavelli Solatìo del Tani Chianti Classico 2013
€18-€20 at Morton’s, Ranelagh; WineOnline.ie; The Drinks Store, Manor Street and Gerry’s, Skerries
Muted aromas. Tingling fresh acidity and good depth of flavour. Perfect balance between acidity and tannins.
Food Friend: Go wild with a risotto of Morel mushrooms.
Castellani Chianti Superiore Poggio Al Casone 2014
€12.99 at EuroSpar, Spar, Mace and Londis stores nationwide
Attractive ripe cherry fruity aromas mirrored on the juicy fruity palate. Excellent balance and long finish.
Food Friend: Serve with slivers of pan-fried liver with caramelised onion rings and tagliatelle.
Castellore Chianti 2015
€6.99 in all Aldi stores nationwide
Scented with dusky tea caddy and cherry stones. Palate delivers a good depth of red fruit with grippy tannins and well integrated acidity, very long cherry stone aftertaste.
Food Friend: Match with a carpaccio of beef with rocket and freshly shaved Parmesan.
Fortezza dei Colli Chianti Classico 2010
€10.99 at Lidl stores nationwide
Pale ruby colour with a tell-tale tinge of garnet hinting at its age. Muted and neutral bouquet doesn’t prepare for the mellow and smooth palate of baked cherries, gentle tannins and perfect balance of a Chianti at its peak.
Food Friend: Party with pepperoni pizza.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.