situated in Tuscany in central Italy, is home to probably the best-known and most iconic of all Italian wines. Although a wine of ancient origin, Chianti has been recognized by its geographical area only since the Middle Ages.. The Chianti DOC title was created in 1967, and in 1984 was promoted to the highest level of Italian wine classification: DOCG.
Its success as a DOC wine fell in the 1970s, as many producers reacted against its mass production and created their wines outside this classification’s broad rules; wines were produced under the looser conditions of the Vino da Tavola classification, to enable the winemaker to use pure Sangiovese, or to add a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. This affected the whole classification system, and in order for the system to overcome this disarray, a new designation was introduced under the guise of IGT, to make way for a new ‘trend’ of wine which allowed the different blends or varietals not within the rules of the DOC. Even the DOC regulations were eventually adapted, and Chianti was promoted to the higher classification of in 1984.
Sangiovese grapes used to make Chianti wine
Today, Chianti is a source of world-class wines. It has begun to move away from its long-associated image offiaschi (the squat, straw-covered bottles), and most producers now use the traditional Bordeaux-style bottles that tend to indicate higher-quality wines. Local laws also require wines to have a minimum of 70% Sangiovese (and 80% for the more prestigious Chianti Classico DOCG). The native varieties Canaiolo and Colorino are also permitted, as are the classics Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to a limited degree. In 2006, the use of white grapes Trebbiano and Malvasia was prohibited (except in Chianti Colli Senesi until the 2015 vintage).
Chianti’s winemaking zone stretches into the provinces of Prato, Florence, Arezzo, Pistoia, Pisa and Siena. The area’s most highly regarded wines come from the Chianti Classico zone, which was awarded a separate DOCG status in 1996, and Chianti Rufina. Rufina and the other six Chianti sub-zones (Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Montalbano and Chianti Montespertoli) come under the Chianti DOCG, and any wine made in these zones is permitted to use either the name of the sub-zone or simply Chianti.
Chianti is characterized by its red and black cherry character, intermingled with notes of wild herbs, mint and spice, supported by a racy acidity and mellow tannins. It must be aged for a minimum of four months, and for the added designation of superiore, it has to age for an additional three months before release. The label riserva indicates that the wine has been aged for at least 38 months. Another label that can be seen on the market is Chianti Putto, from growers in the Chianti DOCG: the wine’s distinctive label features a pink cherub known as Putto.
Rosso di Montalcino
is found in the same defined area as its bigger brother, the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.
Both are situated in the heart of Tuscany, in central Italy. This DOC was created in 1984 in order to make the most of the fruit from younger vines of new plantings. The idea was to create a fresher style of wine that needed considerably less ageing time (one year with only six months in oak) than its sibling. A similar enterprise was undertaken in Montepulciano, with the Rosso di Montepulciano DOC helping out producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG.
Today this wine is revered for its great distinction, depth of black cherry and wild-berry fruit, and careful use of oak revealed in a hint of spice and vanilla. Like its Montalcino sibling, it is a full-bodied wine crafted from pure Sangiovese (in this case, the local ‘Grosso’ form). However it is considered a more vivacious style of wine, combining freshness with structure, and can be approached at a much earlier age.
Brunello di Montalcino
one Italy’s most famous and prestigious wines. In Tuscany, its homeland, it shares the top spot with only the highly-prized Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and of course the ubiquitous Chianti. All Brunello di Montalcino wine is made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes grown on the slopes around Montalcino – a classic Tuscan hilltop village 20 miles (30km) south of Siena. The word Brunello translates roughly as ‘little dark one’, and is the local vernacular name for Sangiovese Grosso, the large-berried form of Sangiovese which grows in the area.
Montalcino, the hilltop home of Brunello
The first recordings of red wines from Montalcino date back to the early 14th century, but the all-Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino style we know today did not emerge until the 1870s, just after Il Risorgimento (the unification of the Italian regions into a single state). Its evolution was due in no small part to the efforts of Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, whose name lives on in one of Montalcino’s finest Brunello-producing estates. A soldier in Garibaldi’s army, Biondi-Santi returned home from the Garibaldi campaigns to manage the Fattoria del Greppo estate belonging to his grandfather Clemente Santi. It was here that he developed some novel winemaking techniques which would revolutionize wine styles not only in Montalcino but in much of Tuscany. Biondi-Santi’s unique approach to enology took Brunello from Montalcino to another level, as he vinified his Sangiovese grapes separately from the other varieties. In Tuscany at that time it was common practice to co-ferment all the grapes together – not just different clones and varieties, but red and white grapes too. Thus Biondi-Santi’s pure, high-quality Sangiovese was something of a novelty. His wines were also noticed to be livelier and fruitier than most other wines, something he achieved by forgoing the second fermentation (as distinct from the secondary fermentation used inméthode traditionelle wines) which was also standard procedure among his contemporaries. What makes the freshness of these wines all the more remarkable was that these wines were aged in wooden barrels, sometimes for more than a decade; that was the third key change this maverick Tuscan winemaker implemented. The distinction between Brunello and other Tuscan Sangiovese wines was reinforced by the local synonyms given to Sangiovese. In the Montalcino terroir Sangiovese vines grow particularly large berries, which led it to be dubbed Sangiovese Grosso (‘fat Sangiovese’), and later Brunello (hence the official name of the modern-day wine).
This wine gained a reputation as one of Italy’s finest by the end of World War II. Was during the 60’s that Brunello really began to make a name for itself, and was formalized as Italy’s first DOCG in July 1980, alongside Piedmont’s Barolo. Today there are almost 200 winemakers producing this high-quality red, most of whom are small farmers and family estates.
Traditional Brunello di Montalcino winemaking methods involve aging the wine for a long time in large oak vats, which results in particularly complex wines, although some consider this style too tannic and dry. Modernists set the ball rolling for a ‘fruitier’ style in the 1980s, when they began to shorten the barrel-maturation time and use smaller barriques (59 gallon/225L French oak barrels).
In keeping with the regulations of Brunello’s DOCG classification, the vineyards must be planted on hills with good exposures at altitudes not surpassing 600m above sea level. This limit is intended to ensure the grapes reach optimal ripeness and flavor before being harvested; any higher than 600m and the mesoclimate becomes cooler to the point of unreliability. Fortunately the climate in Montalcino is one of the warmest and driest in Tuscany, so achieving ripeness is rarely a problem for Brunello’s vignerons. In good years the Sangiovese Grosso grapes ripen up to a week earlier than those in nearby Chianti and Montepulciano.
Naturally, microclimates vary between the different vineyard sites depending on their exposure. Grapes grown on the northern slopes tend to ripen more slowly, resulting in racier styles of wine. On the southern and western slopes, however, the grapes are exposed to more intense sunlight and cool maritime breezes, resulting in more complex and powerful wine styles. Top Brunello producers tend to own vineyards on all the finest terroirs. This allows them to create base wines of both styles, and to use those to create a blend in their desired style.
According to the disciplinare di produzione (the legal document laying out the wine’s production laws) for Brunello di Montalcino, Brunello must be made from 100% Sangiovese and aged for at least four years (five for riserva wines). Two of these years must be spent in oak, and the wine must be bottled at least four months prior to commercial release. The elegant, age-worthy wine which results from these strict laws is known for its brilliant garnet hue and its bouquet of berries with underlying vanilla and spice. A hint of earthiness brings balance to the finest examples.
Nobile di Montepulciano
It comes from the vineyards which surround Montepulciano, a picturesque hill town 40km southeast of Siena, southeastern Tuscany. Viticulture here dates back many centuries to Etruscan times. During the 15th century, the local wine was a favorite among the local Sienese aristocracy. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was written about in the poem “Bacco in Toscana” (Bacchus in Tuscany) by Francesco Redi, who described it as “the king of all wines”, and the wine was also mentioned by renowned French writer Voltaire in his book Candide.
For a short while in the 19th century, the Montepulciano’s red wines went through a period of somnolence, and were often labeled as Chianti. Fortunately, with the arrival of the DOC regulation in the 1960s, it regained its stature as a fine and noble wine, and received further dues in 1980 when it was awarded the DOCG classification.
According to DOCG rules, to be labeled as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a wine must come from vineyards on the hills which surround Montepulciano. This area is made up of slopes reaching 250–600m in altitude, located between two rivers – the Ocria and the Chiana rivers.
The key grape variety grown here Sangiovese (known locally as Prugnolo Gentile), the same variety used to make another of Tuscany’s other great red wines, Brunello di Montalcino.
Sangiovese grapes must make up at least 60–80% of the final wine, and may be complemented by Canaiolo (10–20%) and other local varieties permitted in the province of Siena, including the rare, violet-scented Mammolo (Sciacarello).
The aging period for any Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a minimum of 24 months (36 months for the riserva wines) of which at least 12 months must be spent in oak barrels. Local winemakers long used large Italian botti, rather than the smaller French barriques, as barriques would bring an undesirable level of toasty, vanilla oak flavors to the wine. The larger botti have a lower surface area relative to the volume of wine they contain, meaning less oak flavor in the finished wine. Oak barrels are used here not so much for their flavor as for the slow, controlled maturation they provide. This tradition has now become enshrined in the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOC laws.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is usually maroon-red in color and takes on a subtle brick-orange tint over time. It is characterized by its dark cherry and rich plum aromas, ripe strawberry and cherry fruit flavors, and a gently tannic ‘tea-leaf’ finish. It is also known for its medium body, firm tannins, and for the acidity which makes it a particularly age-worthy wine (well-made examples improve gracefully over one or two decades). Some have described the wine as having the perfume of Chianti Classico’s with the richness of Brunello di Montalcino’s richness.