Taking a different approach for the next while, looking more specifically at exact subregions and diving in deep.
First up: Chianti Classico Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. (The DOCG is the highest level of quality per the wine appellation laws in Italy. There are many fabulous wines that don’t follow the official rules and therefore aren’t allowed to make use of this quality assurance label.) The DOCG seal on a bottle of Chianti Classico is as in the photo to the right.
Chianti Classico is a subregion found in the heart of the larger Chianti region in the heart of Toscana, Italy – between the cities of Firenze and Siena. The wines from this particular area of Chianti were generally considered to be the best quality in the region, and so in 1984 it became its own DOCG subregion.
The area is hilly, on the western foothills of the Appelnnine mountains. The land is shared with olive groves and cypress trees. Many vineyards are at comparatively high altitudes, between 250 and 600 m above sea level, which helps to temper the long, hot, dry summers, and the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea brings in breezes that minimize the humidity and give more finesse to these wines.
In the Chianti Classico region, the maximum yield is 52.5 hl/ha, or 3 kg per vine. New vineyards can only begin production after founr years.
The region is susceptible to wet autums, however, and full ripening of the sugars and tannins in Sangiovese grapes can be challenging some years. Chianti Classicos must be made from a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, up to a maximum of 100%. In blending, the following grapes can be used: up to 10% Canaiolo, up to 15% other red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and up to 6% of white grapes Malvasia or Trebbiano. Use of white grapes has become less fashionable and many estates omit them completely.
The governo technique has traditionally been used in this area, coaxing added glycerine by inducement of a slight secondary fermentation through the addition of new must from semi-dried grapes. Aging can take place in large oak botti or in smaller oak barriques. Regular Chianti Classico cannot be released prior to October of the year after harvest. Chianti Classico Riservas, however, are a higher level of quality again by law, and these wines require a minimum of 24 months in oak and another three months in the bottle prior to release. Their alcohol levels must achieve a minimum of 12.5%, whereas regular Chianti Classicos only require 12%. Riservas are generaly only created in the best vintage years using grapes from only the best vineyards.
The backbone Chianti Classico grape, Sangiovese, tends to be delicate and high in acidity. Thus it benefits well from being blended with the richer and more tannic Cab Sauvignon, but care must be taken to not overwhelm the classic Sangiovese profile. The wines feature rich plum and cherry profiles, with touches of spice. The Riservas can offer more depth and refined aromas/flavours of chocolate, earth, leather, orange peel, smoke and minerals… and always, always, that slight bitter edge to the finish that will forever remind you of how the Italians understand better than anyone that life is a complex mix of sweet and bitter…