Chianti – what’s in a name?
Over the last twenty years, this vast area of central Tuscany has begun to emerge from a vinous confusion, partly of its own making. There are cultural as well as wine factors at play. The Chianti region – basically the hilly area between Florence and Siena – has an enormous cultural draw. It is close enough to borrow the artistic and architectural glow of the two magnificent cities, their art and their place in the history of European culture. The gently hilly landscape is very beautiful and of humane scale – densely wooded areas give on to vineyards and fields and are dotted with castles, abbeys and hill towns. The climate is mild if with cold spells in winter, which led the English and other north Europeans to buy derelict properties after the second world war and turn them into idyllic residences. The result of all this is that the simple name ‘Chianti’ appeared to confer a high value on any product with which it was related, above all wine. Unfortunately, the wine often did not live up to the name.
As with Burgundy, the solution to all this complexity lies in the names of the producers. As in the whole of Italy, the general quality of winemaking has risen markedly in the past thirty years as science and comparison with wines from other regions and countries have replaced (and in places complemented) tradition and instinct. The market has changed from quantity to quality. There is still a great deal of very average wine sold in supermarkets under the Chianti name which, in comparison with wines from around the world, is not very good. To buy Chianti with some character you need to be prepared to spend a bit more – £9 minimum in the UK (eg Sainsburys Taste the Difference Chianti Classico £9 without any discounts in August 2017), with the real quality typically beginning around the high teens mark. And then the only reliable way to distinguish the good and the excellent from the ordinary is by the names of producers/companies. The names Fonterutoli and Vecchie Terre di Montifili might not trip easily off the tongue of the average English speaker, but the pleasure of drinking these wines – and many others – will make it all worth it!
Chianti Classico riserva 1999 – 80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo, showing some signs of orange/brown but the redder of the two, red berry notes, balsam and leather, medium intensity palate, good acidity, medium length; an interesting example rather than a completely compelling one
Sangioveto 1999 – a wine of riserva quality but made from 100% Sangiovese; distinctly browning (see picture), quite a powerful nose of old wood, figgy, like Vin Santo but without the sweetness said Janet, almost treacly, some fruit in there, remaining acidity. An interesting wine rather than an immediately attractive one. This pair showed the contribution of Canaiolo to the traditional Chianti blend.
It is worth adding that the estate has since gone organic and is on an upward quality curve – but was fascinating to taste the traditional wines too.
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