Tuscany is well known for its vineyards and fine wines, which are among the best in the world – but what is it about one in particular, Chianti, that makes it so prized?
Italy produces as much wine as any other nation in the world, with only France matching its output of five billion litres each year. The number of wines made in the country is prodigious. Even within single regions there are hundreds of famous wines. So why is it that one rises above so many others?
Why is Chianti Italy’s most exported wine?
Why is it that Chianti is sufficiently famous to be used in a line from a Hollywood film? So famous that a film director was confident even a wider American audience would recognise exactly what Anthony Hopkins meant in Silence of the Lambs when he uttered the words “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”.
Well the simple answer is, the wine is just that good.
It’s traditionally an understated red, with frugal fruity tones of blueberry and sour cherry with a tomato and herbal edge and a lively acidity. That description, however, does the wine no justice.
To really understand its appeal one must recognise more than just the consistent quality of the wine and start to appreciate its history and the culture which surrounds the making of Chianti.
It’s been made in the valleys between the great Tuscan Renaissance cities of Siena and Florence for a thousand years where the landscape is made up of an unchanged medieval tapestry of woodlands, olive groves and cypress trees, all guarded by magnificent aristocratic villas.
Coming across a vineyard which has been owned by the same family since before the Americas were discovered is not uncommon.
The history lends the wine a reputation which it consistently lives up to, and for a full understanding and appreciation of it one has to try a glass, preferably while seated on a terrace outside our Siena accommodation and under the Tuscan evening sun.
If you plan on tasting some Chianti after reading this article, there are a few things to look out for when purchasing a bottle.
Wines labelled “classic” have been made from grapes grown in the heartland of the original vineyards on the best hillside sites. Those simply labelled “Chianti” have been made using grapes from the valley floor vineyards, where the flatter sites produce lighter and fruitier styles of wine.
Bottles bearing a “Riserva” tag contain wine which was allowed to age for longer in a barrel before being bottled – which should imply better quality. “Superiore” Chianti is more concentrated and is made from lower yields and has a higher alcohol content.
The final thing to look out for when buying is a black cockerel on the bottle’s neck. This means the vineyard which has produced the wine is a member of Chianti’s Consorzio, a voluntary group of dedicated winemakers committed to quality.
Another point to note is how Chianti is best when it’s been decanted and is served with food, as this coaxes its character out. When sipped solo it can be withdrawn and shy.