If you have tried any of our wonderful Il Palagio wines then you will have experienced the magic of Chianti Classico, one of the most well-recognised and refined wines of Italy.
Those familiar with it will probably instantly recognise the DOCG necktie, the gallo nero seal, the taste of the Sangiovese as you take that first sip. But - what exactly is Chianti Classico?
How did it become what it is today?
How does a wine become a Chianti Classico?
How can you recognise the taste, mouthfeel, colour and aroma of this prestigious wine?
All of these questions will be answered in due course. But first we must begin with the Chianti area itself.
While Chianti may not be a familiar place to you, its encompassing Italian region will conjure up images of rolling hills, expansive vineyards and grand ancient cities in the minds of many...
Tuscany – the home of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and his David, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and some of the most interesting wines to be produced by Italians. And within Tuscany, lies Chianti.
The Chianti area stretches between the expanse of land separating Florence and Siena, occupying the entire territories of Greve, Castellina, Gaiole and Radda in Chianti, as well as part of the territories of Barberino and San Casciano in Van D’Elsa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Castelnuovo Berardenga and Poggibonsi. It is here that the Chianti Classico is produced.
Chianti Classico has been produced for over two thousand years – since the Etruscans ruled Tuscany. It is classified as a DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Contrallata e Garantita), the highest classification an Italian wine can have, with controlled production methods and guaranteed wine quality.
But making a wine a Chianti Classico isn’t as simple as your location in Tuscany. Every Chianti Classico must abide by a strict set of vinification rules.
First, grapes must be grown in the Chianti Classico zone and a set of rules clearly states the exact area ("It then follows a mule trail, descending to 257 meters, where it meets a cart track on to the road to Castelnuovo Berardenga")
Second, it must be composed of at least eighty percent Sangiovese grape. The other twenty percent can be whatever grape you please, whether it be another native Tuscan variety, or even an international grape (all grapes must be grown in the Chianti Classico zone, however). But every Chianti Classico wine producer must have that eighty percent taken up by Sangiovese.
Other rules include vine density (only 4500 per hectare), yield (max 2kg per vine), alcohol (min 11.50%), bottle shape, and it must only have a cork closure. Riserva wines must be matured for 24 months before release. And of course all wines must be vinified in the region - you can't grow Chianti Classico grapes, nor can you make Chianti Classico, in a winery outside of the production zone.
Once the wine has been officially classified as an eighty-percent Sangiovese Chianti Classico masterpiece, it is awarded with the prestigious Chianti Classico seal: the seal of the black rooster, or gallo nero.
Legend has it that the Gallo Nero came about in the 13th century after a horse race between the Florentines and the Sienese. Both wanted to end their fight for ownership of the Chianti territory in the most mature, diplomatic way possible - by hopping on a horse and running like the wind, of course.
Here were the rules of the race: one knight from each city would race the other to the border of their territories to decide which city earned the privilege of redefining the borders. But, they could only depart after their rooster sung at dawn. (Seriously...clocks weren't used until the following century)
The Sienese chose a white rooster, while the Florentines chose a black one. They kept their gallo nero in a pen sealed off from light and kept it hungry.
When the day of the race came, the black rooster of Florence sang almost the second it was released from its pen – far before dawn. The Florentine knight was, by the rules, allowed to set off on his ride, while the Sienese horseman was still getting his beauty sleep.
By the time Siena’s candidate had risen and begun his ride at the belated call of his white rooster, the Florentine had already completed much of the race. He had such a head start that the Sienese knight had only made it twelve kilometres out of his town before meeting his opponent.
Thus, Florence was crowned the victor, and almost all of the Chianti region became part of its territory. The gallo nero became the symbol of the League of Chianti, and then the symbol of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, an organisation dedicating to protecting and promoting the integrity and genuineness of the Chianti Classico wine. Its insignia (a black rooster in a golden field) is slapped onto every bottle of Chianti Classico, so buyers know it is the real deal.
This means by now you probably will be able to recognise a Chianti Classico on sight. The rooster, the DOCG, the claim to 80% Sangiovese. Be very wary of Tuscan wines labelled simply "Chianti" with no gallo nero or DOCG necktie on the bottle. They may contain some Sangiovese but are not by any measure Chianti Classico or governed strictly by site and vinification rules.
Aside from this, there are still more ways to be clued into whether or not you are drinking a real Chianti Classico.
Chianti Classico boasts a beautiful ruby red colouring. It has a floral aroma, earthy, rich and fruity; a dry, but clean and bright flavour, some tannin action, but with a smooth and weightless mouthfeel.
Pair it with a rich, meaty plate of pasta, something with a duck or cinghiale (wild boar) ragú, if you happen to be brave enough to try the beloved Tuscan dish. It can be just as perfect, however, with a rare barbecued steak.
If your tastebuds are already tingling, fear not. We have sourced one of the best Chianti Classico's, in our opinion, that Tuscany produces. From a vineyard that was certified biologico in 2013, take your pick between Il Palagio’s 2012 (Classico) or 2010 (Riserva) vintages, family-made in Panzano in Chianti by Franco Guarducci and Monia Piccini, available here and here, or together in mixed cases if you want to try both!
Enough talk....steak and Chianti Classico call!