Wine and Culture: Bettino Ricasoli, the ‘father’ of Chianti Classico

Bettino Ricasoli

Those familiar with Italian history will know that Italy is quite a young country. Before the Risorgimento (1815-1871) – the unification of the states of the peninsula into one state, the Kingdom of Italy – the peninsula consisted of divided regions, city-states and various states throughout history. The Risorgimento movement included many prominent figures such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini and Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, who later become the first Prime Minister of Italy. Count of Cavour died after only three months in office, so he did not live to see Venice or Rome being added to the fledgling nation.

Fewer people, however, know about the 2nd Prime Minister of Italy. He was Bettino Ricasoli, 1st Baron Ricasoli, 1st Count of Brolio, who also had a huge role in the history of wine.

Bettino Ricasoli was born into a noble family in Florence on 29 March 1809. Unfortunately, he was orphaned by 18 and left with a heavily encumbered estate. Through his ability and talent, he managed to save the family possessions and support his younger brothers.

He finished his studies as an agronomist but also had a passion for politics. He was a real patriot who had a huge role in Italian unification.

Baron Ricasoli was a stern, tough character who governed with a strong hand, which earned him the nickname Iron Baron.

In 1847, he founded the journal La Patria (The Mother Country).

In 1859, he became Minister of the Interior of Tuscany and later Prime Minister. He promoted the union of Tuscany with Piedmont, which took place on 12 March 1860. Ricasoli became Italian deputy in 1861 and succeeded Count Cavour as Prime Minister of the united Italy, the Kingdom of Italy. He stayed in office until the following year, mostly because of the fragile relationship with King Vittorio Emanuele II, but he returned as Prime Minister in 1866 during a very sensitive period and remained in office only until April 1867. During his times in office, he tried to solve the question of Rome and the Vatican, which he didn’t succeed in achieving despite his great efforts. It was some time later, in 1871, that Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

Despite the failure of his efforts regarding Rome, he is still one of the most significant figures of the Italian Risorgimento.

Bettino Ricasoli was a remarkable statesman, but he had also an outstanding role in the history of wine – he created the modern recipe of Chianti wine.

The Baron had many estates and vineyards in Tuscany, but the ancient family estate at Brolio Castle was the centre of his decades-long search to find the perfect wine to compete with the French wines, which dominated the international scene at that time.

Castello di Brolio

By 1872 Bettino Ricasoli had developed the first recipe of the ‘modern’ Sangiovese grape based Chianti, which later become Chianti Classico. The original Ricasoli formula was: 70% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo and 10% Malvasia or Trebbiano.

Today, Chianti Classico contains a minimum of 80% Sangiovese and 20% of other grapes.

Brolio Castle, where the Iron Baron invented the Chianti formula, is the largest and oldest winery in the Chianti Classico area, and it is where the Ricasoli family still produces excellent wine on 235 hectares of vineyards.

Baron Bettino Ricasoli is in the history books as the 2nd Prime Minister of the ‘modern’ Italy, the Kingdom of Italy, but he has become immortal through having created one of the best red wines in the world.



Bettino Ricasoli

Brolio Castle

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