Forget the flask, the pot-bellied straw-covered bottle that evokes checkered tablecloths and trattorias. Chianti Classico, which is the international symbol of fine Italian wine, boasts a very respectable pedigree. So it must be considered for what it truly is. It comes in a Bordeaux bottle and has a sort of passport distinguishing it from numerous wannabes but also from a different DOCG (controlled and guaranteed designation of origin) like ordinary Chianti. The name is the first thing to clarify.
Because if we cut the defining adjective from Chianti Classico for the sake of brevity, not only are we saying something very inaccurate, but we are also offending a wine whose territory—very small—was defined exactly 300 years ago. It was the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici, who issued an edict on September 24, 1716 establishing the boundaries for the production of this drink made with at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Even then it was in great demand abroad, gaining prestige and commercial value. Just by way of comparison, other illustrious wine areas like Bordeaux and Burgundy were not established until the 1800s. But a century before that, the original Chianti (which would later be called “classico”) could be produced in only nine municipalities in the geographic area for which it is named. We are talking about 70,000 hectares—nearly 173,000 acres—in the provinces of Florence and Siena, while the wine simply called Chianti is produced all over Tuscany, with the exception of the Chianti Classico area.
Today Chianti Classico is the worldwide ambassador of fine Italian wine and its top market is the United States. A whopping 31% of the total production ends up in the US and if we add the 10% exported to Canada, this means that more than one-third gets shipped to North America. It’s easy to understand why it’s so popular. Chianti Classico is fruity and very versatile—if you want to impress people, you can tell them that this is due to its acidity—making it perfect with a variety of foods. In particular, it is the perfect foil for the fats in dishes like red meat, game and cheese. Given its popularity, however, you need to be sure you’ve bought the real thing, because there are numerous counterfeits. That’s why the Chianti Classico Consortium provides specific indications that allow you to find your way all the bottles in circulation.
1. Look for “Gallo Nero”: the black rooster.
The logo distinguishing this wine must be on the neck band or back label. It’s easy to find, so if you don’t see it, just put the bottle back. The Consortium also works to monitor possible counterfeiting of the label.
2. The production area.
As we said, it is exclusively in the provinces of Florence and Siena.
3. The indication of type. There are three: Annata, Riserva and Gran Selezione. The first is the younger production, aged for at least 12 months. The second is aged for at least 24 months, part of which in wood (barrels or barriques). The third is a Chianti Classico that is at least 30 months old, made exclusively with grapes from the estate bottling it. Here we’re at the top. So bottom’s up!