Wine: Why you ‘chiant’ turn up your nose at Chianti now

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Colin Burbidge, of Lancashire Wine School, writes about the merits of Chianti.

This much forgotten Italian classic is probably not top of many people’s wine purchase list.

The wines of the 70s and 80s did little to enhance the reputation of this old classic. The image of the old straw basket covered bottles called, perhaps aptly, a fiasco, is in many of our memories where the contents are.Although containing wine from the noble grape Sangiovese grape, these were watered down with other less noble grapes, many of them of white grape varieties leading to rather thin unimpressive wines.

Since the 1980s, however, the regulations surrounding the production of Chianti have been tightened up, improving wine quality considerably with 80% Sangiovese set as a minimum and 100% Sangiovese wines being permitted for the first time.

Most of the best Chianti wines are now produced from 100% Sangiovese or with a small proportion of wine from the other permitted Canaiolo black grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah.

The Chianti region lies in Tuscany. A beautiful land of rolling hillsides adorned not just with vines but olives and other agricultural products. All Chianti is now labelled as DOCG, the highest category of designation of origin in Italy.

There are different nuances of style of Chianti with specific labelling terms to show under which regime the wine has been produced. Basic Chianti can be somewhat astringent, needing a good food pairing to soften up those tannins, nevertheless many people enjoy the strength and structure these wines provide. Pair with meaty pizzas for good effect.

Chianti Classico must come from the historic heart of the Chianti region and is the only wine that carries the famous black rooster (gallo nero) on the label. In Classico wines the use of any white grapes in the blend is prohibited. Riserva wines denote oak aging of at least 24 months.

The new category of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione has more stringent rules around sourcing of grapes (often from a single vineyard) and at least 30 months oak aging. These are still quite rare and consequently a rich and classic treat.

The dominance of Sangiovese in the blend gives all Chianti wines high acidity and high tannins with red cherry and plum.

The classico wines are generally richer and fuller while the minimum 12 month oak aging requirement means the high tannins are tamed, feeling softer on the palate.

Classic wines often display earthy and spicy notes and pair well with steak and other heartier dishes.

For an example of Chianti Riserva try Sainsbury’s Edizione Del Fondatore di Mondelli for around £7. This is made from 100% Sangiovese aged for 24 months in oak. Red fruits with a hint of aged browning in the colour. Tart cherries and liquorice on the nose. Soft red fruits on the palate, an easy drinking Chianti.

Majestic’s Definition Chianti Classico offers a great example of this genre at £12.99. This rich wine is a typical Classico with cherries, earthy, a touch of leather and sweet spice.