Wines from Italy’s Tuscany Region: Chianti
Chianti is a large wine zone extending through much of Italy’s Tuscany region. The zone — all of it DOCG status — has eight districts. Chianti wines may use the name of the district where their grapes grow or the simpler appellation, Chianti, if their production does not qualify for a district name (if grapes from two districts are blended, for example).
The district known as Chianti Classico is the heartland of the zone, the best area, and the one district whose wines are widely available. The only other Chianti district that comes close to rivaling Chianti Classico in quality is Chianti Rufina, whose wines are fairly available.
Besides varying according to their district of production, Chianti wines also vary in these ways:
Aging: Riserva wines must age for two years or more at the winery, and some of this aging is often in French oak; the best riservas have potential for long life.
Grape blend: Many top Chiantis are made almost entirely from the Sangiovese grape, while others use up to 25 percent of other varieties, including “international” varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.
Chianti is a very dry red wine that, like most Italian wines, tastes best with food. It ranges from light-bodied to almost full-bodied, according to the district, producer, vintage, and aging regime. It often has an aroma of cherries and sometimes violets, and has a flavor reminiscent of tart cherries. The best Chianti wines have concentrated fruit character and usually taste best five to eight years after the vintage — although in good vintages they have no problem aging for ten or more years.
Although Chianti is not a huge wine, today’s Chianti wines, especially Chianti Classico, are richer and more concentrated than ever before. Recent warm vintages in Europe, such as 1997, 2000, and 2003, have fed a trend toward ripeness, fleshiness of texture, and higher alcohol. The addition of international varieties and the use of barriques for aging — especially for riservas — has also affected the wines. More than ever, you must choose your Chianti producers with care.
The two exceptional vintages to look for in Chianti wines are 1999 and 2001 — two of the better Tuscan vintages of modern times. From simple $10 to $15 Chianti to the more substantial Chianti Classico (generally between $15 and $25), Chianti remains one of the wine world’s great values. Chianti Classico Riservas are a bit more costly, ranging from $28 to $45 per bottle.