Chianti, situated in Tuscany in central Italy, is home to probably the best-known and most iconic of all Italian wines. Although a wine of ancient origin, Chianti has been recognized by its geographical area only since the Middle Ages.
The official Chianti wine zone was officially demarcated by Cosimo Medici III in the early 18th Century, and the wine’s defining character came about under the craftsmanship of Barone Ricasoli in the late 19th century. Back then, it was made using a wide range of local varieties, including white-wine grapes. The Chianti DOC title was created in 1967, and in 1984 was promoted to the highest level of Italian wine classification: DOCG.
Its success as a DOC wine fell in the 1970s, as many producers reacted against its mass production and created their wines outside this classification's broad rules; wines were produced under the looser conditions of the Vino da Tavola classification, to enable the winemaker to use pure Sangiovese, or to add a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. This affected the whole classification system, and in order for the system to overcome this disarray, a new designation was introduced under the guise of IGT, to make way for a new 'trend' of wine which allowed the different blends or varietals not within the rules of the DOC. Even the DOC regulations were eventually adapted, and Chianti was promoted to the higher classification of in 1984.
Today, Chianti is a source of world-class wines. It has begun to move away from its long-associated image of fiaschi (the squat, straw-covered bottles), and most producers now use the traditional Bordeaux-style bottles that tend to indicate higher-quality wines. Local laws also require wines to have a minimum of 70% Sangiovese (and 80% for the more prestigious Chianti Classico DOCG). The native varieties Canaiolo and Colorino are also permitted, as are the classics Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to a limited degree. In 2006, the use of white grapes Trebbiano and Malvasia was prohibited (except in Chianti Colli Senesi until the 2015 vintage).
Chianti's winemaking zone stretches into the provinces of Prato, Florence, Arezzo, Pistoia, Pisa and Siena. Its vineyards yield more than any other Italian DOC, equating to more than 26 million gallons (750,000hL) a year. The area’s most highly regarded wines come from the Chianti Classico zone, which was awarded a separate DOCG status in 1996, and Chianti Rufina. Rufina and the other six Chianti sub-zones (Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Montalbano and Chianti Montespertoli) come under the Chianti DOCG, and any wine made in these zones is permitted to use either the name of the sub-zone or simply Chianti.
Chianti is characterized by its red and black cherry character, intermingled with notes of wild herbs, mint and spice, supported by a racy acidity and mellow tannins. It must be aged for a minimum of four months, and for the added designation of superiore, it has to age for an additional three months before release. The label riserva indicates that the wine has been aged for at least 38 months. Another label that can be seen on the market is Chianti Putto, from growers in the Chianti DOCG: the wine's distinctive label features a pink cherub known as Putto.
For many years, Chianti was bottled in fiaschi, round straw-wrapped bottles that became iconic of the Italian wine industry and bistro tables across the world. The fashion has declined in the 21st Century, however, as winemakers have sought to shed the association of Italian wine with the cheap-and-cheerful image of days gone by. It is now overwhelmingly more common to find Chianti wines in tall Bordeaux-style bottles.