Get to know: Chianti
If you were asked to name an Italian wine, one of the first names that might spring to mind is Chianti. While that may be in part down to the infamous line spoken by Hannibal Lector in the hit movie 'Silence of the Lambs,' it is also because Chianti is one of the most prestigious wine areas in the world. Much has been written about the famous wines of this region, and it has forever been a staple of Italian restaurants.
Set in the heart of Tuscany between the luscious, rolling chain of hills that straddle the countryside of Florence and Siena, this is a exactly the place you'd want to retire to and make wine. The continental climate means summers are blistering hot and winters are cold. Combined with the stoney clay soil that is ideal for growing vines (and olives) along with the elevation of the hills, it adds up to an excellent combination for producing high quality grapes.
Like all Italian wines, Chianti comes with rules, which can be a little confusing. For instance, there are several categories of “Chianti.” First up, Chianti is the name of any wines made in the appellation, but generally refer to the most basic wines produced here. Chianti Classico (along with the smaller Chianti Rufina and Chianti Colli Senesi) has its own appellation within the broader area and are where you'll find the highest quality wines.
Sangiovese must make up 70% of the blend to be labelled Chianti. Other permitted grape varaieties include native red grapes like Canaiolo Nero and Colorino, as well as the international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. These add fruit, tannin or softness to the final blend.
The emblem of Chianti Classico is the black rooster, or gallo nero. It relates to a legend told about the use of roosters to settle a border dispute between the warring provinces of Sienna and Florence. The black cockerel was the symbol of Florence, while the white cockerel represented Sienna.
The wines are characteristically savoury, earthy and rustic and aged for a minimum of 4 months in large oak barrels that don't add much flavour. This rises to 10 months for Chianti Superiore and 2 years for Chianti Riserva. These are some of the most quintessentially Italian wines with flavours of tomato and herbs joining the fruit. They have lots of juicy acidity and are very food friendly with tomato based sauces or grilled meats.
To help you explore the wines of Chianti, let's take a look at two of the producers we love.
Producer focus: Fattoria di Calappiano
With a fascinating historty dating back to Medici Florence in the 1500s, the Fattoria di Calappiano as we know it today is made up of 200 hectares of vines planted along side olive groves and woodlands that make up this beautiful natural heritage site. Owned by the Sensi Family, the Calappiano estate and its team proudly respect the history and tradition of its past, while also embracing the modern innovations that have helped bring its wine onto the international market.
The wines we have from Calappiano offer fantastic value and are a wonderful entry point for anyone looking to discover the wines of this region.
Wines to try:
This is a really enjoyable Chianti Riserva with soft red cherries and plums on the nose with a savoury spiciness from a year spent in barrels. The palate is well structured with more of that fruit and spice and a bright lick of acidity and fine tannins on the finish.
A food friendly wine that is nice with a bit of mature cheese.
"The Calappiano winery dates back to the 1500s so they’ve got loads of experience making great wine. It shows in this Riserva Chianti which will satisfy those who want a classic style. A good dinner party wine."
Producer focus: Riecine
Riecine has always followed a pioneering path, defining a new style and approach in this classic region. Founded by Englishman John Dunkley, and today run by the Frank family, the estate is committed to a natural approach in winemaking. Certified organic and following biodynamic processes, the land is gently nurtured with plants, flowers, and grasses encouraged to flourish. This is to promote vineyard diversity and the health of the land. Closely monitored pickers select only the best, ripest and cleanest bunches from the vines; everything else remains in the fields to return to the earth.
With winemaking in the skilled hands of Alessandro Campatelli, low sulphur additions, natural yeasts and long fermentation are the norm here, as wines are gently coaxed into the world. Adhering strictly to the belief in Sangiovese as the only variety that should be used, these incredible wines are honest examples of that overused phrase 'a true sense of place'.
Riecine's wines are stunning examples of what is capable in Chianti and are a serious treat for wine lovers looking to explore a little deeper.
Riecine's Chianti Classico is, much like all their wines, a wine of precision and style. If you want to get to know Sangiovese these wines are ideal to study. This has an exciting nose of red and black cherry with subtle hints of Mediterranean herbs. The palate is succulent, with the red fruit carrying through with juicy acidity and fine, powerful tannins. Fans of Pinot Noir would also find a lot to enjoy in this.
An ideal match for tomato based pasta sauces like bolognese.
Kate Says: This is the kind of wine that seems simple at first, and then evolves into something special. Pure, honest fruit and some real Tuscan flair. It's well structured and best served with food. Open it up and decant before you start cooking and it will reward you at the dinner table.
Riecine's Riserva Chianti Classico is bolder than than the younger wine. This is already very enjoyable with racy acidity supporting a softening palate. There are flavours and aromas of dark cherry, raspberry fruits mingling with savoury notes of balsamic, leather, mushroom, led pencil and vanilla. The texture is wonderfully silky and it finishes with more intensity and length than the standard Classico. A very fine example of this style, made with typical precision. This will continue to develop for another 5-10 years.
An ideal match for beef meatballs.
Riecine La Gioia £59
Riecine's oldest and best vineyards near Gaoiole in Chianti produce the grapes for this fine wine. The nose is alive with notes of blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. It's more powerful and concentrated than their standard wines, but aromatic too with violet and peony floral hints. The palate is velvety with more lush fruit, subtle spice and rounded tannins. It moves gracefully to a finish that is long with more flowers and more savoury notes of cocoa and tobacco adding complexity.
A great wine to have with herb crusted lamb or a Tuscan stew.
Riecine’s exceptional first ever Gran Selezione - the top level of Chianti classification. They've produced a wine with restrained power and great finesse. The aroma is immediately enticing with notes of rose, plump red berries and woody herbs. It continues to evolve as it opens up an breathes and is easy to get lost in. Take a sip and you'll find an elegant and silky structure with fine tannins and that juicy acidity that makes its so food friendly. There's ripe raspberry fruit and mellow spice bring lift, light and complexity to the finish.
Try this with a dry-aged high quality steak.