From Under The Tuscan Sun – Chianti Classico

f red wines were to be a religion in Italy then their Mecca, or the Vatican City in this case, would be Tuscany. The red wines it produces are amongst the best knows in the world. And the leader of this heard is Chianti. In the heart of Chianti are the lush breathtaking landscapes of the oldest area of the region called Chianti Classico, the battleground for fierce face-offs between Florence and Siena for dominance of the area that was destined to become the land of the world’s most famous wine. 

Tuscany is a well regarded viticulture area by many agronomists and winemakers. The proximity to the sea keep the area cool and the high-reaching mountains ensure the best sunlight exposure to the vines.  The combination of these natural influences has made Sangiovese, local red grape variety, flourish here to its optimum. The lad of the land, Sangiovese, dominates the vineyard and is the key grape variety of the area. It minds not to share the land with some indigenous varieties like Canaiolo and Colorino and also some international favourites like Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot later used in blends along with it. While the traditional winemakers stick with the indigenous varieties to produce the authentic style of Chianti Classico, some new-age producers play with the international varieties to cater to the palates of the international markets. This is a new shift in the winemaking practices in the region and indicates the preferences in the international market. None the less, everything needs a global face and Chianti Classico is no different.

But was Chianti Classico always the most expressive and impressively robust wine? Surprisingly not. They had their own shares of ups and downs. The blend earlier allowed including white grape varieties like Malvasia and Trebbiano and was not Sangiovese-based but Canaiolo-dominant. Laws didn’t exist to ensure standardisation of quality levels and the wine soon earned itself a tag of ‘bistro wine’. Also the ‘fiasco’ bottle made is worst as it was considered a bottle for bulk wines. All these are now tales of the past and no white varieties are allowed. What now is the identification of a true Chianti Classico wine is its ambassador, Gallo Nero, the Black Rooster.

The word ‘classico’, in winemaking terms, indicates that the area of viticulture from where the berries are sourced was the oldest and the most traditional wine making area of the region. Thus, it is also claimed that Chianti Classico is the real Chianti wine as this is where it was destined to flourish. It also thus was the most important business centre of the state. This was one of the prime reasons why Florence and the Siena had numerous fierce battled for its dominion status. To put an end to these battles and establish a border between the two cities a bizarre method was adopted. It was established that knights from both cities will race towards each other at the cock’s first crow on the day of Armageddon and where they’ll meet will be the designated boundaries of the region. Siena banked up on the punctuality of the local white rooster while Florence appointed a black one. The Florentines slaved their rooster in a dark cage and famished it till the final day. On the fateful day, the famished rooster crowed way before sunrise and the knight was on its way. It met the Sienese rider not far away from its starting point. It was thus that almost all of Chianti came under the Florence’s governance. Black Rooster being the wittily controversial hero of the entire play was regarded as the symbol of the Chianti Classico winemaker’s consortium and is now seen on almost all Chianti Classico bottles.

Chianti Classico wines generally appears in two styles, namely, Chianti Classico DOCG and Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG. DOCG refers to the highest certification awarded to a wine in Italy whose origin is controlled and guaranteed. Chianti Classico is a fairly easy drinking style and is made in a fashion to be enjoyed young. It is considered a daily dinner wine as it reaches its prime easily and is not too complex to demand time to open up.  Its light ruby colour and soft fruit driven aromas are its true characteristics. Chianti Classico Riserva on the other hand is a stylish robust elegant wine which can be laid down for a long time and so will it stay. Legally, it is aged for a minimum of two years and majority of it is in oak barrels. The winemakers believe that a well crafted Riserva can live for a couple of decade easily and still hold its charm. In this version it moves from fruity to more intense notes and develops notes of spices, leather, tobacco, and earth lying one under another. What makes it live longer is higher acidity and alcohol that the basic Chianti Classico and also more intense tannins. Ideally it is enjoyed after four to five years but with right food it can change the dynamics very easily.

In my latest visit to the region I tried some great wines. Some of the great wines I encountered were Spadaio Pecorto Chianti Classico, Geografico Contessa di Radda, Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico Riserva, Chianti Classico, Geografico Montegianchi Chianti Classico Riserva, Cecchi Chianti Classico Riserva ‘Riserva di Famiglia’, and San Felice Poggio Rosso Chianti Classico Riserva, and Spadaio Pecorto Chianti Classico Riserva.

Chainti Classico wines can be really dynamic when they come to the dinner table. We paired a few Chianti Classico wines with Pici (a local pasta dish), pan-seared duck breast, and even some grilled season vegetables. Riservas can push the boundary further with their complex notes and structures. Try it with Tuscan beef tenderloin, grilled venison, spicy salamis and smoked hard cheese. In Indian context a kadhai prepration or a mildly spiced curry, tandoori mutton dishes, and well roasted chicken can pair just right.

Chianti Classico wines are timeless classics. They are timeless as they need no occasion to relish and soothe every palate. Their long historic fables, the legendary Gallo Nero, tradition and cultural influence on the wine style, and the dynamic stature of its brand itself will never let it be a ‘just another wine’ but an all time must-have. 

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