Two is Better than One: Chianti and Chianti Classico DOCGs

2 comments May 26, 2023by Andrew Lowry

by Andrew Lowry

Ahhh, il dolce far niente. Italy — we love you so much and couldn't be more excited to share with you all one of our favorite wine regions in the world, Chianti! 

Actually, we will be focusing this post on Chianti Classico, which is technically a separate wine region within the borders of Chianti, which is within the region of Tuscany, but we will get into all this in great detail below!

Before we begin, we want to take a moment to thank all who have been following along on our quest for more wine knowledge. We can't get enough of your love and support. So from the bottom of our super full wine glass (filled with Chianti Classico Riserva), THANK YOU. 

Now without further ado...

Chianti and Chianti Classico in under 2 minutes

First off, although very similar, Chianti and Chianti Classico are two different wines from two different wine producing regions in Tuscany. If you're interested to learn more, read the whole blog.

What Chianti and Chianti Classico tastes like:

The main grape in Chianti and Chianti Classico is Sangiovese. You should expect a medium to full bodied wine with ripe red fruit flavors, high acidity, and high tannins. 

Commonly, in higher quality Chianti and Chianti Classicos, notes of leather, animal skin (commonly referred to as gamey), and tobacco, will grace your nostrils, but don't worry if you don't get this on the first wiff. 

For fruit comparisons, as said before, you'll commonly taste/smell notes of red fruits such as red cherry, plum, stawberry, and something a little saline at the end. 

Finally, call us crazy, but if you have ever swept a super dusty floor in a space with little ventilation, you might be able to remember the dirty, earthy smell of that, and you will commonly find this smell somewhere in a nice bottle of Chianti Classico. 

Okay we'll leave it at that!

When in the store...

...and in a pinch, look for a bottle dawning a black rooster circled in red, and get out of there.

...and picking between a bottle that says Chianti and one that says Chianti Classico, go for the latter if it is within your budget.

...and picking between a Chianti Classico and a Chianti Classico Riserva, opt for the Riserva if it is within your budget.

...and you want to have a nice bottle, or gift a nice bottle, or have a bottle that'll age nicely, go for the Chianti Classico Gran Riserva.

...and looking for a bottle that pairs well with almost any meal? Chianti Classico from a top producer will do the trick. Chianti Classico will go nicely with any pasta and meat sauce (especially game), pizza, a charcuterie board, a monstrous T-bone steak and grilled veggies, and our favorite, CARBONARA!

...remember that a producer's reputation for making fine wine is worth much more than a designation of Riserva or Gran Selezione. It pays to do some research and look up the most reputable wineries (OR read the rest of this blog).

Okay we read this in 1 minute and 45 seconds, can anyone beat that?

Italian Wine Regulatory System in 68 seconds

Starting in 1963, the Italian Parliament took a beat and said, "Hey, the wine we are sending out to America sucks. They are starting to buy elsewhere, we might need to pivot here." So they looked to France, who already knew a thing or two about producing quality wine. 

France had this regulatory system, now called appellation d'origine protegee, or, in English, protected naming of origin, that better ensured the production of quality wine within France. The Italians knew not to reinvent the wheel, so they adopted the French system and called it a day.

And so the Denominazione di Origine (DO - denomination of origin) system was birthed, and is how Italy guarantees the origin and, to a lesser extent, quality, of wines produced within Italy.

Under DO law, Italian wine is to be categorized in one of four ways and in ascending order of quality: Vino da Tavola (VDT), Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), and, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). 

There are around 120 IGT zones, 329 DOCs, and 77 DOCGs. These numbers are always changing as the goal, usually, is for a DOC to eventually move into the prestigious DOCG class. Generally speaking, each category has increased restrictions on how one can produce wine within each zone or region, and this, generally speaking, ensures higher quality wine. 

Okay we timed ourselves and this took us 47.80 seconds to read. Under promise and over deliver — always. Now on to Chianti, which is a top tiered DOCG zone!

The Chianti DOCG

Chianti is a huge DOCG zone that takes up the majority of central Tuscany. Here's a map made by us:

If a wine maker wants to use the Chianti name on their wine label, they must source 100% of their grapes from the area crudely outlined in yellow above, and adhere to the following stipulations:

- the wine must be made with at least 70% Sangiovese

- a maximum of 10% of local white grapes like Malvasia and Trebbiano CAN be used (but is not very common anymore)

- a maximum of 30% of international and local red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Canaiolo and/or Colorino can be used

- must wait until March 1st after harvest (usually in September) to release wines (aka, not very long, boo)

There are 7 sub-zones in Chianti and if you see one of these names on a wine label, it'll probably be better than a wine labeled just as "Chianti" (all sub-zones increase the minimum Sangiovese content to 75%):

7 Sub-zones (can and will be placed on a label):

Colli Fiorentini
Chianti Rùfina (the best of the seven)
Colli Aretini
Colli Senesi (runner up, no white grapes allowed)
Colline Pisane

Montalbano (for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to remove the awkward spacing here. Apologies!)

A Brief History of Chianti

Chianti, traditionally, was bottled in cool bottles like the ones below, called fiascos! Now they are bottled in typical Bordeaux-style bottles (no fun.) You'll still find some decent cheap Chianti wines bottled like this in the states.

Chianti history goes wayyyy back. Like to the 1300s way back. Not a whole lot is known about how wine was made back then, but there is some stipulation that Sangiovese took a back seat to Canaiolo in the blend. 

At a certain point after World War 1 and before World War 2, some dummies with a cool name, but who never went to business school, called the 'Consortium for the defense of Chianti wine' was founded and decided it was a good idea to just grow as many wine grapes as humanly possible and sell astronomical amounts of cheap, poor tasting jug wine to other dummies who would buy it. Eventually though, the dummies who bought the disgusting wine were told by their smart friends with good palates that life is too short to drink that and to drink nice hand crafted cocktails instead. And so they did, and Italian wine imploded. 

BUT THEN! Around the turn of the 21st century, some smarty pants realized that wine got much much tastier if you reduced the amount of grapes that each vine could produce (this is called reducing yield) and if one paid close attention to matching the right grape vine with the right climate and soil. And so they did this smart thing, and boom! Chianti started to make a comeback on the international market. In 1996, the Chianti Classico DOCG was formed and the rest is delicious wine history. 

Chianti Classico DOCG

Chianti Classico is its own DOCG zone INSIDE the larger Chianti DOCG zone. Classico is a term used throughout most Italian wine regions to designate the true heartland of a specific region where, in theory, one can find the ideal soil and climate responsible for producing the very best expression of the wine the region is known for. And it is also where the very first wine of the region was made.

Based on tradition, Chianti Classico is the hilly land of the Chianti region between Florence and Sienna, where the highest quality, fullest bodied, and most delicious wines of Chianti are found. Most of the very best vineyards are found on south and southwest facing slopes at a couple thousand feet above sea level So essentially, Chianti Classico is the DOCG of a DOCG (confused yet?)

Here's a map of Chianti Classico:

Chianti Classico DOCG imposes stricter laws on wine production than its Chianti DOCG counterpart. All wine labeled as Chianti Classico DOCG must follow these rules (plus many more technical ones that we don't need to get into):

- must be made with at least 80% Sangiovese (often 100% Sangiovese by choice)
- no white grapes allowed
- made with a maximum of 20% of international and local red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Canaiolo and/or Colorino can be used (49 different grape varieties are allowed).
- must have on the bottle the official Chianti Classico seal of the Gallo Negro (i.e. the Black Rooster - see below)

Furthermore, wines from Chianti Classico can be marketed as "Annata", "Riserva", or "Gran Selezione." Typically, riservas will be made from the best grapes of a single vintage, and gran seleziones will only be made during the best of the best years and all grapes will be estate grown. Each also has specific aging requirements outlined below:

Annata: will usually just say “Chianti Classico” and this wine can be released for consumption no sooner than October 1st of the year following the harvest.

Riserva: can be released for consumption only after it has been subjected to at least 24 months of aging, of which at least 3 months must be in bottle.

Gran Selezione: can be released for consumption only after it has been subjected to at least 30 months of aging, of which at least 3 months must be in bottle. 

For both "Riserva" and "Grand Selezione," the period of aging starts January 1st of the year following the harvest. So with it being 2023, the most recent vintage of "Riserva" you will see on the shelves is 2021.

Although not required by law, it is standard practice for the top producers in Chianti Classico to age their wines in oak for some of the required aging period.

When we travelled to Chianti Classico, every winery we visited aged their wines in this way:

"Annata": 3-6 months in oak, 6-9 months in bottle

"Riserva": 6-12 months in oak, 12-18 months in bottle

"Gran Selezione": 12-24 months in oak, 6-18 months in bottle

Within Chianti Classico, there are 9 historic, literally fairytale-esque towns, that you must go to if you ever get the chance...

9 Towns of Chianti Classico (you wont see these on wine labels yet, but there is a movement to allow them in the future because the wine tastes different from town to town; remember terroir?):

Castelnuovo Berardegna
Barberino Val d'Elsa
Tavarnelle Val di Pesa
San Casciano Val di Pesa

Wines from the southern towns are said to be more earthy and fuller bodied, while the towns to the north near Florence are lighter and more elegant. We sadly just learned this, and wish we knew when we were in Chianti to prove it for ourselves!

Lowry Wine Co.'s top picks for producers of Chianti Classico:

Look for these names on the labels!

San Felice
Ricasoli 1141
Castellare di Castellina
Castello di Volpaia
Lamole di Lamole
Castello di Verrazzano 
Castello di Radda

We've personally tasted wine at every one of these locations. They are all so beautiful (especially San Felice), and their wine is out of this world!

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below. Please share your new wine knowledge with a friend!

Madi and Andy


  • Ben Alcantara August 31, 2023 at 6:03 am

    I had been drinking wine not knowing what is behind wine making industry. Great information and will truly enjoy more when sipping a glass of wine. My taste buds will be more sensitive and selective knowing the aging process placed on each bottled of wine did made a difference.
    I had been to Florence, Italy and my next visit will include wineries tour in the area. Thanks for the info.

  • Anonymous May 26, 2023 at 9:59 am

    Thanks for reading! Drop comments here if you have any!

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