Wines of Worth: Chianti Classico’s Evolution (& Revolution?)

WoW - Chianti Classico2


Wines of Worth: Chianti Classico’s Evolution (& Revolution?)

When your region has been officially delimited, your wines recognized for quality and your name familiar all over the wine drinking world since the early 18th century, one might assume you’re set. Non è vero – not true at all.

While 2013 has been dubbed the year of the Chianti Classico wine revolution by their consortium, Chianti, as a wine and a region, has been redefining itself since Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, officially delimited the Chianti production zone in 1716. Back then the production zone was bordered between the cities of Florence and Siena, where the wines of the time were appreciated for their quality. In the early 20th century, as Chianti’s popularity grew, so did producers’ use of the term. These “Chianti-style” wines were made from further and further abroad, diluting the brand. To defend their wines, the original producers of Chianti, based in the historical heartland, founded the Consortium for the Protection of Typical Chianti Wine and created a Mark of Origin in 1924. Still today, the Black Rooster, proud symbol of local legend, stands for wines from this original area. In 1932, to further differentiate the historic importance, wines from the original Chianti added “Classico” to their names, formalized by ministerial decree. Wines outside of the core centre, but still within a wider, officially recognized zone within Tuscany were simply called Chianti, often accompanied by their region (Rufina, Colli Senesi, etc.)

The Black Rooster wines of Chianti Classico were awarded DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Demonimation of Origin) status in 1984, the highest level for premium Italian wines. As is the case with appellation controls worldwide, every step up the ladder comes with tighter restrictions with regards to aging, yield, grapes, alcohol and more. Now, in 2013, classification changes have been approved that allow for a whole new category at the top of the DOCG Chianti Classico quality pyramid: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. To qualify for this elevated status, Gran Selezione wines must be 100% produced from the winery’s own grapes (no purchased grapes allowed), be aged for a minimum of 30 months (at least 3 of which must be in bottle) and have stricter technical parameters. Producers can apply in advance for this special certification, which must pass through strict committee testing and tasting before approval.

Under this top level will be Chianti Classico Riserva (24 months aging), with Chianti Classico Annata, (minimum of 12 months maturation) making up the base of the quality pyramid.

Of course, all of the wines of Chianti are based on the Sangiovese grape, “the soul of Tuscany”. Years of dedicated research have identified a handful of superior Sangiovese clones out of the hundreds found in Italy, and these are being encouraged for new plantings. Chianti Classico has to be a minimum of 80% Sangiovese (up to 100% – “in purezza”), and can only be blended with other approved varieties. Red indigenous grapes like Colorino and Canaiolo are allowed, as are some international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – the grapes found in some of the famous Super Tuscan wines. Since 1996 no white grapes are allowed in the Chianti Classico recipe. It will be interesting to see if legendary IGT Super Tuscans like Antinori’s Tignanello (85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc) will adopt the new Chianti Classico Gran Selezione title, since they qualify to apply. My guess is non una possibilità, but the option is open to them. It also remains to be seen how many producers will apply for this new rank, or how it will affect pricing, supply and demand. Other than sharpening winemaking criteria slightly, the wines are still the same; there are no tighter soil/terroir definitions. Note that while the wines all have to come from the producer’s estate to quality, there is nothing stipulating single vineyards or sites. And I wonder if Chianti – already a confusing enough category for the consumer – will see any benefit from these new regs, or if it’s just muddying the waters more. Do we have another fiaschi on our hands?

The Consorzio was in Vancouver earlier this month to introduce the new classification changes and present a wide range of proud Black Rooster, Chianti Classico DOCG wines. It is expected that the new law will come into effect later this year, meaning that unreleased wines from the 2010 vintage will be able to qualify as Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

Chianti Classico –

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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