Chianti, Italy's famous wine region
For many people Chianti is synonymous with Italian wine and certainly with Tuscan wine. It may be made only with certain mixes of grapes, in determinate proportions - and of course only in a certain area.
Where is Chianti, Italy? What is Chianti?
Chianti is an area of Central Tuscany, west of Florence, known for its eponymous red wine.
History of Chianti wine
The original Chianti wine area was around Gaiole, Castellina and Radda, known even in the 14th century as the "Lega del Chianti" - a sort of alliance of the wine-making towns. Curiously, the first records show Chianti as a white wine.
We don't really know what these early Chianti wines were like, and which grapes were used, though they undoubtedly included Canaiolo, as well as Sangiovese, Mammolo and Marzemino.
The 'recipe' such as it is was first created by Baron Bettino Ricasoli in the 19th century, and determined that Chianti must use only certain grape varieties and only in the following proportions: 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia Bianca.
It's no accident that the excellent Chianti winemakers of Lornano named their 3 apartments (They've add a fourth now, Trebbiano, but I'll ignore it!) Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia!
The area known as Chianti expanded gradually and in 1932 was substantially re-drawn. Most towns included in the expansion added "in Chianti" to their names, like Greve, that became "Greve in Chianti".
The wine used to be sold in "fiaschi", glass bottle encased in straw to protect them when travelling - the carts would be piled high and then wrapped further to protect the precious cargo.
I remember all wine being like this when I was growing up in Tuscany as a child, and wine was generally described, like grapes, as either black or white - red was never mentioned. Which always puts me in mind of Homer's "wine dark sea" quote and the cultural differences carried with language and culture.
Like all rules, those governing the making of Chianti were eventually felt to be restricting innovation and experimentation. A group of winemakers made new wines, produced within the territorial confines of Chianti but with different rules and proportions of grape varieties.
The wines of the New World undoubtedly played a part in this revolution - I certainly know of a couple of wine-making families who went to Australia to advise the growing wine industry and returned with new ideas for Tuscany too.
The results were delicious: many of the "Super Tuscans", as these new wine varieties were called, now surpass Chianti in ratings and value. In general, the revolution brought a welcome innovation and energy to the area and Chianti's wine making industry is as alive and energetic now as it has ever been.
What's Chianti like? The region, not the wine!
As a region, Chianti is hilly and surprisingly forested. There are dark woods of Quercus Ilex, or evergreen oak, insterspersed with cleared hillsides covered in vineyards.
Can I help pick the grapes?
As technology has evolved, the vineyards have changed but the hilly nature of the landscape and the natural conservativism of wine-makers mean that a lot of manual labour is still involved. The "Vendemmia" is a classic for seasonal workers and for teenagers looking to make some extra money before going back to school.
It normally happens around the second half of September and it is possible to join in - if you know who to ask. This website: 'movimentoturismovino.it' has a list of wineries who are willing to let you take part in the grape collection (Vendemmia has latin roots, from "vinum" (wine) and "demia" (to take - from 'demere').
Or you can ask us and we're happy to find out where might be closest to you, if you're staying in one of our Chianti Villas. Or even not in Chianti - the vendemmia goes on all over Italy and France!
Ask us if you'd like us to organise wine tasting tours too - we can arrange a driver so you don't have to worry about getting back to the Villa!
See all our Chianti Villas here.
I'll leave you with a drawing I made in 1983 of the oxen and cart with whom we'd occasionally catch a lift coming back from school - I sometimes feel I grew up 2 centuries ago when I remember my Tuscan childhood!