Chianti Classico DOCG is the heartland of the Chianti wine region – its traditional and longest-established viticultural area. The typical Chianti Classico wine is a ruby-red, Sangiovese-based wine with aromas of violets and cherries and a hint of earthy spice.
As of 2018, there were 4083 hectares (10,085 acres) of vineyards recorded for the DOCG. Around 2.8 million cases were produced that year.
The other demarcated Chianti zones are Colli Aretini, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. The latter is the only one generally considered to rival the quality of Classico vineyards. The term classico is used in this way in several Italian wine regions (Orvieto and Valpolicella, for example), although Chianti is the most famous example.
The area's fame is due not just to the high quality of the wines, but also to the Classico zone's gastronomy and the iconic Tuscan landscape. The rural buildings and farmhouses are coveted by tourists and foreign residents. Agritourism and wine tasting tours are an important part of the region's wine economy and international profile.
Chianti Classico grape varieties
Chianti Classico wines must contain a minimum of 80 percent of the Sangiovese variety. The remainder can be made from native grapes such as Canaiolo or Colorino, plus international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Chianti Classico quality levels
The Chianti Classico hierarchy has three tiers:
- Annata: the "standard" wines - the term is rarely used on labels
- Riserva: must be aged for 24 months before commercial release
- Gran Selezione: must be made from a single estate and have been aged for a full 30 months.
Since the latter category was introduced in 2013, it has also caused plenty of controversy. Some producers see it as unnecessary bureaucratic tinkering, pointing to a confusion between emphasis on terroir on one hand and the implication of human agency of the term selezione.
Because the wines must be single-estate products – not necessarily single-vineyard wines – some very high production wines qualify. For example, 500,000 bottles of Ruffino's Ducale d'Oro are made each year. On the other hand it is unlikely that the hundreds of Chianti Classico producers would be able to agree on classifying their vineyards in the manner of Chablis or the C?te d'Or.
Chianti Classico UGA subzones
Chianti Classico producers have for some time looked to highlight on labels the stylistic differences between the various parts of the Classico zone. It is a fairly large region with considerable diversity of altitudes, microclimates, soils, aspects and solar exposure.
In 2021, a number of new regulations to this end were approved by the appellation's Consorzio.The most important of these is the introduction of 11 Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive (Additional Geographical Units). Producers will be able to display these on front labels. Previously they could only appear as part of the winery address on the back label or in the small print.
In alphabetical order these UGAs are:
- Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio, Vagliagi
Several of these – such as Greve, Radda and Gaiole – are communes well known to wine tourists and Tuscan wine devotees. Others are frazione (neighborhoods) of communes – e.g. Panzano, Lamole and Montefioralle all lie within Greve.
To begin with, the change will be restricted to wines at Gran Selezione level – only 6 percent of output. This is to test the reception among higher end consumers, the trade and media.
For more information, see this 2021 Tom Hyland article. Once a reasonable number of wines labeled with the subzones begin to appear on the market, additional region pages may be added to our website.
History and the black cockerel motif
The very first classico area here was marked out in 1716 by Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici. This was enlarged significantly in 1932, a change criticized as being over-generous and potentially damaging to the Chianti Classico name, and certainly varied in terms of terroir.
Nevertheless, this larger area became legally recognized in 1966 when Italy began formalizing its wine laws and DOC system. In 1984, Chianti Classico was promoted from DOC to DOCG status.
Since the 1920s, bottles of Chianti Classico wine have been marked by the DOCG's black cockerel (Gallo Nero) logo. However bottles sold in the US are not adorned with the bird, after a long running legal dispute begun by E&J Gallo Winery in 1991 was concluded in favor of the American company.
The symbol has a romanticized and much-told legend. In the 13th Century, the warring Tuscan provinces of Florence and Siena looked for a way to solve their ongoing border disputes. They agreed to a unique horse race.
When the first cockerel crowed at dawn, each city would send out its fastest rider bound for the rival city. The point where the two riders met would mark the new provincial boundary.
The Florentines gained a head start by starving their (black) cockerel to make him sing earlier than the well-fed counterpart from Siena. Consequently the two riders met only around 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Siena.