ONCE upon a time, the powerful Republics of Florence and Siena were great enemies. Being medieval times™, it was decided a battle between two noble knights would settle the score over just who owned the territory between their beautiful cities, in the area we know today as Chianti.
At dawn, the rooster’s crow would be the signal for each knight to leave their city and where they met, they would fight to create a border between the territories. The Sienese had a lovely white rooster, who they groomed and fed. The Florentines had a black rooster, who they caged and treated (at least according to the Sienese) quite poorly. The little guy was underfed, and really, really hungry.
On the day of the duel, the black rooster was so eager for the day to begin, and for breakfast, that he started crowing and crowing, nevermind that dawn was hours away. Since, technically, Mr. Florence can now start to ride, he gains a massive head start on his journey south. Dawn arrives, and the white rooster crows. Mr. Siena starts on his way. But the black rooster has given Florence such a head start, that the two meet only a few miles north of Siena! The Florentine knight wins the duel, and coincidentally, most of the territory of Chianti comes under Florence’s power.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the black rooster comes to be on bottles of Chianti Classico… or so they say!
When you think of Chianti, does it bring to mind the straw-wrapped candle holder from Lady and The Tramp? Well, if so, it’s time to reconsider, and give Chianti a fresh chance. A good Chianti is a delicious prospect.
Chianti Classico is a region in Tuscany that lies between the cities of Florence and Siena. Look for ‘Classico DOCG’ and that trademark symbol of a black rooster on the label, this means you’re getting wine from this specific region. There are about 10,000 hectares of rolling-hill vineyards in Chianti Classico, and most of them are the grape variety Sangiovese. Sangio must make up at least 80% of what’s in your bottle, and the other 20% can be a local grape like Canaiolo or the more familiar Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
About that Sangiovese: when it’s a younger wine, expect red fruit flavors like strawberry and some good tannins. Then, as it matures, it can develop an earthy, baking spice note that is quite appealing, and as those tannins soften they become almost magical. I love this grape when I catch the scent of violets. I think of it in some ways as a more powerful cousin to Pinot Noir, so if you like those aromatic PN qualities, I think you’ll enjoy Sangio.
Sometimes, it’s a little confusing – what’s the difference between regular Chianti and Chianti Classico? For that, we have to go back to 1716, when the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, gave official borders to the wine region. Then, flash forward to the early 1900’s, when Chianti, growing ever more popular, has greatly expanded production. In response to the higher demand, wine starts being grown in lesser areas, outside the official zone but still called Chianti.
Of course, quality and reputation start to suffer. So, in 1932 specific rules were set out, that only Cosimo’s original historic area can call itself ‘Chianti Classico’ (there are 9 communes within Classico such as Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti). The outer areas that don’t fall within Classico can call themselves plain old ‘Chianti’ plus a place name (for example Chianti Rufina, Chianti Colli Senesi).
Italians love quality, just think of Italian suits or Italian sheets. So of course, they have a quality ranking system within Classico:
~There’s the basic ‘Chianti Classico’, which has to have at least 12% alcohol and mature for 12+ months. These can be quite good, and will be the most cost-effective option.
~Then there’s Riserva, which has a little more alcohol, 12.5%, implying that maybe the fruit was a little better, and it gets double the aging at 24+ months, which can also help those tannins get a little smoother and bring out the spice and earth notes. Very good value to be found here.
~Now, as of 2013, there’s a new top tier blockbuster, called Gran Selezione, boom! It needs to have at least 13% alcohol and age for 30+ months, plus it must be made from the winery’s best grapes of a single vineyard – and yes, the price is much higher to match. If you like Brunello, you’ll love the Grand Sel’s.
If you’re open to giving Chianti Classico a try (and you really should), these are all wines that I loved and would give my ‘buy’ rating to:
Chianti Classico DOCG Cennatoio Avorio 2012
Chianti Classico DOCG Casina di Cornia 2012
Chianti Classico DOCG Rodano 2010
Chianti Classico DOCG Castello di Cacchiano 2009
Chianti Classico DOCG Felsina Berardenga 2012
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Castello di Gabbiano 2011
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Villa Antinori 2011
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Cortevecchia 2011
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Carobbio 2011
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva O’Leandro 2011
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Casa Sola 2009
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Montornello 2012
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Poggio a’ Frati 2011
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Vigna Misciano 2011
Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Campoalto 2009
Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Don Tommaso 2010
Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Castello Fonterutoli 2011
Cin Cin, Rachel