The Chianti Territory
The Chianti is an area or territory bordered by Florence to the north, the Chianti mountains to the east, the city of Siena to the south, and the valleys of the Pesa and Elsa rivers to the west. The area has ancient traditions and a rich history that spans the centuries, from the Etruscans who left many traces of their activities – including the wine sector - to the fortresses and castles that witnessed countless battles, for the proud Republics of Florence and Siena fought for control of the Chianti throughout the Middle Ages.
Many of the fortified villages, monasteries and farmhouses appeared during this period and many were later transformed into villas and country residences when times were more tranquil. Spaces were cleared in the vast forests of chestnuts and oaks for the cultivation of vines and olive trees, activities that transformed the area into the much-loved rolling hills of small parcels of vineyards and groves that can be seen on postcards and calendars featuring Tuscan landscapes.
Chianti wine production – a history
Wine production in the Chianti area progressively assumed economic importance and soon established an international reputation; the first notarial document in which the name Chianti appears in reference to the wine produced in the area dates back to 1398 and by the 17th century exports became frequent. As often occurs when a product is highly successful, numerous imitations began to surface over the years and Chianti producers wanted their wine’s name to remain untarnished by lesser quality wines produced elsewhere.
As a result, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, issued an edict in 1716 in which the boundaries of the Chianti were officially recognized. This was the world's first legal document defining the production zone of a wine!
Unfortunately it proved to be insufficient, since makeshift Chianti continued to appear, so a group of producers finally decided to deal with the problem in 1924 by establishing a voluntary association to defend and promote their authentic wine. The Chianti wine-producing area was delimited in 1932 by ministerial decree and the boundaries have essentially remained unchanged since then. The decree described the district where Chianti Classico is produced as the oldest zone of origin: a wine that can be distinguished from Chiantis created later and produced in areas that are different from the original Chianti territory. The historic production area produces only Chianti Classico wines, which therefore means the first or the original.
Chianti Classico wine now
Not all wine produced in Chianti is Chianti Classico wine, since the provenance from a determined territory is not sufficient to permit the use of the Chianti Classico appellation. The wine produced must also respect the production code, which gets updated with more stringent rules over time. The first version dates back to 1984, when Chianti Classico was still considered a sub-denomination of the Chianti DOCG, albeit with separate and stricter production rules, with modifications made in 1996, 2002 and, more recently, in 2013 when the “Gran Selezione” was introduced. The production code fills many pages and get quite technical, but the most important include: the minimum percentage of Sangiovese that must be used is 80% and the Sangiovese grape can be used alone; other native red grapes like Canaiolo and Colorino, or international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can also be used (at a maximum ratio of 20%), while no white grapes are permitted (since the 2006 vintage, so older Chianti Classicos may contain a small percentage of Trebbiano or Malvasia). Other rules refer to alcohol content (min. 12% vol. for vintage wine and 12.5% vol. for Riserva) and production guidelines that ensure that a high standard is met: vineyard density and yield (so that the output per vine cannot exceed 3 kg or 6.5 lbs) as well as aging requirements.
Producers have the liberty of making many different production choices, but any consumer can know, that if they are drinking a Chianti Classico Riserva, they are drinking a Sangiovese wine that has aged for at least 2 years! They can also trace the bottle right back to its origins by typing the alphanumerical code on the banderol into the Chianti Classico's traceability system on their website.
Three Types of Chianti Classico
There are now three types of Chianti Classico, the Annata vintage or yearly wine and Riserva wines (that must age for longer and in wood) that are familiar to most, as well as the more-recently introduced Gran Selezione, which offers a higher standard of quality through estate-grown grapes that are selected a priori and longer barrel aging and bottle refinement requirements. The production of these different wines can easily visualized as a pyramid, where the more commonly produced Annata, as a foundation, peaks into the more exclusively produced Gran Selezione.
The Chianti Classico Consortium
Over the years, the organization changed its official name several times and is now known as the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico. It has, however, always retained the symbol of the Black Rooster, which has become an essential element of its image and guarantee of quality. As a symbol, it has always identified the Chianti area and although the true origins of this symbol are unknown, it is connected to a fascinating legend about the rivalry between Siena and Florence, who have always contended the Chianti. The Consortium therefore chose that old symbol as a symbol of the quality of their authentic wines. At its inception in 1924, the Consortium had 33 producer-members. The membership has steadily grown and now exceeds 600, of whom 270 bottle wine under their own labels.
The legend of the Black Rooster
A fascinating legend links the Black Rooster with the Siena-Florence rivalry, which characterized the Chianti for centuries. In a bid to end their interminable wars, the two Tuscan cities decided to entrust the definition of their boundaries to an unusual contest between two horsemen. They agreed that the frontier of the two Republics would be drawn at the point where the riders met after setting out at cockcrow from their respective communities. The Sienese selected a fine and much-pampered white rooster, while the Florentines chose a black rooster and gave it so little to eat that on the appointed day, it began to crow long before dawn. As a result, the Florentine rider set out early and met the other horseman at Fonterutoli, only a dozen miles from Siena. For that reason, virtually all of the Chianti Classico area passed into the hands of Florence.
Although the account is just a legend, it is absolutely certain that the profile of a black rooster was the emblem of the historic League of Chianti, which governed the territory from the early years of the 14th century. Giorgio Vasari painted a black rooster on the ceiling of the Hall of the Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence as an allegory of Chianti.