Chianti and Chianti Classico: Tuscany's Best Wines

2 comments May 26, 2023by Andrew Lowry
Chianti Classico in San Diego

Ah, il dolce far niente! Italy, we love you so much, and we couldn't be more excited to share with you one of our favorite wine regions in the world: Chianti! Actually, we'll 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. Don't worry; we'll break it all down for you!

Before we dive in, we want to thank all of you 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!

Chianti and Chianti Classico: The 2-Minute Crash Course

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, keep reading!

What Chianti and Chianti Classico Taste 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.

In higher quality Chianti and Chianti Classicos, you'll often find notes of:

  • Leather
  • Animal skin (commonly referred to as gamey)
  • Tobacco

For fruit comparisons, you'll commonly taste/smell notes of red fruits such as:

  • Red cherry
  • Plum
  • Strawberry
  • A hint of salinity 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 recognize that dirty, earthy smell in a nice bottle of Chianti Classico.

When in the Store...

  • Look for a bottle featuring a black rooster circled in red (the Gallo Negro seal)
  • Choose Chianti Classico over regular Chianti if it's within your budget
  • Opt for Chianti Classico Riserva over standard Chianti Classico when possible
  • For a special occasion or gift, consider Chianti Classico Gran Selezione
  • Remember that a producer's reputation often matters more than designations

Chianti Classico pairs well with almost any meal, especially:

  • Pasta with meat sauce (particularly game)
  • Pizza
  • Charcuterie boards
  • T-bone steak with grilled veggies
  • And our favorite, CARBONARA!

Italian Wine Regulatory System in 68 Seconds

In 1963, the Italian Parliament realized they needed to up their wine game to compete in the international market. They looked to France, who already had a solid system in place, and created their own version: the Denominazione di Origine (DO) system.

Under DO law, Italian wine is categorized in one of four ways, in ascending order of quality:

  1. Vino da Tavola (VDT)
  2. Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
  3. Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
  4. Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

There are around 120 IGT zones, 329 DOCs, and 77 DOCGs. These numbers are always changing as regions strive to move up in classification. Generally speaking, each category has increased restrictions on wine production, which theoretically ensures higher quality wine.

The Chianti DOCG

Chianti is a huge DOCG zone that takes up the majority of central Tuscany. If a winemaker wants to use the Chianti name on their wine label, they must source 100% of their grapes from this area and adhere to the following stipulations:

  • At least 70% Sangiovese
  • Maximum 10% local white grapes (uncommon nowadays)
  • Maximum 30% international and local red varieties
  • Release no earlier than March 1st after harvest

There are 7 sub-zones in Chianti, and wines from these areas often have higher quality standards:

  1. Colli Fiorentini
  2. Chianti Rùfina (considered the best of the seven)
  3. Colli Aretini
  4. Colli Senesi (runner-up, no white grapes allowed)
  5. Colline Pisane
  6. Montespertoli
  7. Montalbano

A Brief History of Chianti

Chianti's history goes way back to the 1300s. Traditionally, it was bottled in cool straw-covered bottles called fiascos. Now they're bottled in typical Bordeaux-style bottles (no fun, right?). You might still find some decent cheap Chianti wines bottled like this in the States.

After World War I, a group called the 'Consortium for the defense of Chianti wine' was founded. They decided it was a good idea to grow as many wine grapes as possible and sell astronomical amounts of cheap, poor-tasting jug wine. Eventually, consumers caught on, and Italian wine sales imploded.

But around the turn of the 21st century, smart producers realized that reducing grape yields and paying close attention to matching the right grape vine with the right climate and soil led to much tastier wine. This smart move helped Chianti 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" designates 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.

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:

  • At least 80% Sangiovese (often 100% by choice)
  • No white grapes allowed
  • Maximum 20% of other approved red varieties
  • Must display the official Chianti Classico seal of the Gallo Negro (Black Rooster)

Wines from Chianti Classico can be marketed as "Annata", "Riserva", or "Gran Selezione," each with specific aging requirements:

  • Annata: Released no sooner than October 1st of the year following harvest
  • Riserva: Aged at least 24 months, including 3 months in bottle
  • Gran Selezione: Aged at least 30 months, including 3 months in bottle

Within Chianti Classico, there are 9 historic, fairytale-esque towns that you must visit if you ever get the chance. Wines from the southern towns are said to be more earthy and fuller-bodied, while those from the northern towns near Florence are lighter and more elegant.

Harvest Wine Store's Top Picks for Chianti Classico Producers

Look for these names on the labels:

  • Antinori
  • Fèlsina
  • San Felice
  • Ricasoli 1141
  • Castellare di Castellina
  • Fontodi
  • 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!

Experience Chianti Classico with Harvest Wine Shop

Ready to explore the world of Chianti Classico? At Harvest Wine Shop, we're passionate about bringing the best of Tuscany wines in San Diego. While we don't have a physical location, we offer convenient wine shipping throughout San Diego.

Visit our online store to discover our curated selection of Chianti Classico wines, including some of the top producers mentioned in this article. Whether you're a seasoned Chianti enthusiast or just starting your Italian wine journey, we have the perfect bottle for you.

Don't miss out on our expertly selected Chianti Classicos – order online today and have these Tuscan treasures delivered right to your doorstep in San Diego. Salute!

Madi and Andy