Wine and Culture: Chianti Region


As we discussed in our previous posts, Italy is one of the most significant and ancient wine producing nations worldwide. But, besides the wine, Italy is also one of the most significant countries in terms of culture.

Italy is divided into 20 regions and each has his own culture, dialect and cuisine. One of the most ancient and culturally most thrilling of them all, and the one that gave the language to the Peninsula, is Tuscany.

Tuscany is home to some of the world’s most significant wines, such as Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

The Chianti region is located in the centre of Tuscany between Florence and Siena, and has 8 sub-zones (Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Classico, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Montespertoli, Chianti Montalbano). The Chianti winemaking zones include the provinces of Prato, Florence, Arezzo, Pistoia, Pisa and Siena.

The area was inhabited from the 2nd millennium BC, but the Etruscans created the first major civilisation there from 800 BC. They created outstanding art, established the transport infrastructure and introduced developments in agriculture, including viticulture.

Later, Etruria was conquered by Rome around the 3rd century BC.

After absorbing Etruria, Rome established the cities of Pisa, Siena and Florence. The Romans conquered the territories of the Etruscans and introduced new techniques and skills. The Roman Empire flourished and so did viticulture.

From the collapse of the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, the monasteries were the only wine makers in the region.

When the merchant and aristocratic classes strengthened, winemaking and trading began to develop. The first mention of Florentine wine retailers dates back to 1079, and the first wine guild was established around 1280.

The earliest references to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti wines were in the late 14th century.

In the following centuries, a new cultural and philosophical movement that became known as the Renaissance spread across the known world, with the Chianti region and Florence at its centre.

During the Renaissance, wine reassumed its rightful place in life and also became prominent in art. Renaissance art represented the contemporary wine culture, using themes from everyday life, the Bible and classical mythology.

In 1716, Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, legislated the first official boundaries of the Chianti region, which existed until 1932 when the Italian government extended the Chianti zone. The following expansions in 1967 brought the Chianti zone to the size that it is today.

By the 18th century, Chianti wine was red wine, but the composition of the grape varieties was unknown. The first recipe of the ‘modern’ Sangiovese-based Chianti was developed by Baron Bettino Ricasoli in the 19th century, which consisted of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia or Trebbiano.

From the late 19th century, the Chianti regions also suffered from many difficulties. First the oidium, then the Phylloxera epidemic ruined the vineyards of Chianti. Furthermore, following the Risorgimento – the movement for the unification of the states in the Italian peninsula under the Kingdom of Italy – many Italian vineyard workers and winemakers immigrated to escape poverty.

After World War II, in line with the general worldwide trend, the focus of Chianti was more on quantity than quality.

In 1967, the DOC (Denominazione di Origine- Designation of Origin) regulation was introduced, which established the ‘Ricasoli formula’ of a minimum 70% of Sangiovese composition with 10-30% Malvasia and Trebbiano grape varieties. And in 1984, it was promoted to the highest level of Italian wine classification, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – Controlled and Guaranteed designation of origin), which requires wines to have a minimum of 80% of Sangiovese.

Italian Legislation also regulates the use of the qualifying term for Chianti Classico wine solely for the wines produced in the oldest and most genuine area of the Chianti region, and they must have a minimum alcohol level of 12% and have been aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 7 months. Chianti Classico is easily recognisable by its pink label with the Black Rooster seal. The qualifying term of Chianti Classico Riserva may only be used for wines that have been aged for at least 24 months, and the minimum alcohol level must be 12.5%.

In the late 20th century, some ambitious producer started to produce wine outside the regulation of DOC in an attempt to create an even higher quality style of Chianti. Those wines became known as ‘Super Tuscans’.

For so many years, Chianti wine was associated with the basic Chianti sold in round straw-wrapped bottles, in fiaschi, which become iconic of the Italian wine industry. Today, however, it is more common to find Chianti bottled in standard shaped tall Bordeaux-style bottles.


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