Discovering Chianti: a spotlight on the most iconic Tuscan wine

Away from Chianti Classico, the broader Chianti production area offers an intricate patchwork of different wine terroirs sharing the dominance of Sangiovese as the main common point.

The name Chianti itself has become a synonym of Tuscan wine, and the reason is by no means difficult to understand: production is north of 100 million bottles – although specific figures are hard to find. Chianti DOCG is virtually omnipresent in convenience stores across the Western world, enjoying a favorable reputation as a simple and easygoing wine – perfect to pop in any informal occasion and delivering good to excellent value for the affordable price.

While exciting is the right adjective to define Chianti Classico, comfort is the key word that defines a Chianti DOCG. But things get a little bit different if we delve into specific subzones. 

No matter whether it’s Colli Senesi Montespertoli or Rufina: when you grab a bottle with a link to specific area within this large and fragmented appellation, it is likely to contain something slightly more interesting than just a fruity and food-friendly Sangiovese-based wine meant for short-term consumption.

Here you find an overview on the subzones of the Chianti DOCG

Colli Fiorentini

Colli Fiorentini is a large area flanking the city of Florence on its southern border and Chianti Classico on its northern end. Spanning 18 townships, it covers 11% of the Chianti DOCG surface but only accounts for 2.6% of total plantings with its 610 hectares under vine (source: AIS Lombardia). 

The wines sporting this subzone are consistent in offering a light and uncomplicated take on Sangiovese: they are usually softer and fruitier than Chianti Classico but also a tad more refined than most Chianti DOCG. 

Colli Senesi

Chianti Colli Senesi originates from an area in the province of Siena stretching between Montalcino, Montepulciano, Monteriggioni,and San Gimignano. Covering 3458 hectares, this gigantic area overlaps with a few renowned DOCGs – including Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile di Montepulciano. Some of the wines from this subzone are entry-level offerings in the portfolio of producers also making the above-mentioned wines. In the town of San Gimignano, instead, Chianti Colli Senesi is the red counterpart to Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Making general statements about the wines from such a large subzone is quite trivial. In general, however, Chianti Colli Senesi tends to be smoother and richer than Chianti Colli Fiorentini.

Rufina

One of the four wine districts established by Cosimo de Medici in 1716, Rufina is more than just a subzone of Chianti – it is often considered a wine-growing area in its own right. Lying on the foothills of the appennine, steep ridges and higher elevations than in most other areas shape cool-climate examples of Sangiovese that often rank among the age-worthiest wines in Tuscany. Considering how climate change is affecting the hierarchy of wine-growing districts of Tuscany, it is not unlikely that Chianti Rufina will be the next big thing in the region.

Solid average quality makes Chianti Rufina the main competitor to Chianti Classico, and the recent introduction of a new system of top-shelf wines called Terraelectae shows that the area is following a similar trajectory to the Gallo Nero (black rooster) appellation. Chianti Rufina Terraelectae differs from Chianti Classico Gran Selezione in that it has to be a single-varietal Sangiovese and must originate from a single vineyard. 30 months is the minimum aging period, including 18 months in oak. However, the idea behind it is very similar, and the first results are quite impressive: producers did a great job in eschewing glossy oak or heavy extraction, crafting pure and streamlined expressions of Sangiovese that will age gracefully.

Montespertoli

Montespertoli is at the antipodes of Rufina: this township in the province of Florence, which has always had its own dedicated subzone because of the large number of vineyards it houses, boasts a quintessentially Tuscan landscape with gently sloping hills benefiting from intense solar radiation.

 The wines are open-knit and approachable, at times a bit rustic, with clenching tannins and mild acidity keeping the rich fruit in check. Qualitatively they are still a far cry from Rufina but the potential for substantial improvement is there: a new generation of producers is slowly entering the scene. Some of them also joined the recently established Viticoltori di Montespertoli association, aimed at fostering collective promotional efforts.

Montalbano

This is an ancient wine-growing district that takes its name from the Monte Albano mountain chain. It stretches between the provinces of Pisa, Pistoia and Firenze, covering ten towns in a pre-appenine area.

This subzone partially coincides with the Carmignano DOCG so Chianti Montalbano is often the entry-level wine in the portfolio of wineries also producing Carmignano. Expect a dark-fruited and earthy style with lively acidity and slightly rustic tannins, working best with hearty meat dishes.

Colli Aretini

Lying south of Florence and west of Arezzo, this is the second smallest subzone of Chianti, with about 140 hectares under vine and no more than a dozen producers. 

Chianti Colli Aretini is relatively hard to find, so outlining an archetypal profile isn’t easy. Mannucci Droandi produces the most interesting example – dark and structured, somewhere in between a classically-styled Chianti and the savorier wines of Valdarno.

Colline Pisane

Last but not least, the Colline Pisane covers six townships between Florence and the coastal town of Pisa. Partially overlapping with the Terre di Pisa DOC, many producers prefer to stick to the latter appellation to emphasize the distinctive identity of Sangiovese from an area that lies closer to the sea and benefits from stronger maritime influence. Hence, the production of Chianti Colline Pisane is fairly limited. 

On the other hand, the province of Pisa also produces some of the finest Chianti and Chianti Riserva – often made with local clones of Sangiovese and displaying a compelling savory quality that energizes the palate.

Are white grapes still employed in Chianti DOCG?

While banned from the production of Chianti Classico, traditional white grapes like Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia del Chianti are still allowed in Chianti DOCG. However, the maximum percentage has been trimmed down to 10%.

Adding white grapes has been long considered a way to mask flaws in poor quality red wines: farmers used them to tame aggressive tannins resulting from unripe grapes and poor winemaking. On the other hand, these varieties often caused the wine to start gravitating towards a bad-looking tawny red color very early on and the aromas to oxidize prematurely.

However, white grapes have been reassessed in recent times – an increasing quantity of producers has started to realize that adding a small proportion of them allows to increase the acidity and enliven the aromatics with an extra kick of fruity and floral aromas. So finding a good quality Chianti DOCG containing a dollop of Trebbiano or Malvasia is by no means unusual. 

The tasting at Chianti Lovers

The annual Chianti Lovers tasting is an unusual anteprima event in that wineries often present unfinished samples of the 2023 vintage. While the urge to present the wine as early as possible is understandable, doing so doesn’t seem very helpful for critics and consumers.

Focusing on previous vintages already on the market  seemed much more appropriate for us: the 2022 Chianti and Chianti Riserva are showing very well right now, with the latter category offering a kick of extra richness and complexity. Older vintages like 2021 and 2020 were poured, instead, by only a few producers making out-of-the-box wines in specific subzones. Rufina leads the scene in this segment with the Terraelectae wines, which were poured at a different event during the Anteprime Toscana (L’ Altra Toscana). In the following tasting report, you will find the best Terraelectae we have tasted so far.

Discover the best Chianti DOCG to try

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