Not all the wine produced in Chianti is Chianti Classico the place of origin is not enough and producers have to follow all the rules imposed by the production code.
Not all the wine produced in Chianti is Chianti Classico, because to be entitled to a registered designation, the place of origin is not enough and producers have to follow all the rules imposed by the production code.
The first version of the DOCG production code for Chianti and Chianti Classico dates back to 1984, when Chianti Classico was still considered a sub-denomination of the omni-comprehensive Chianti DOCG, although the different regulations whose production rules were stricter than those imposed for the other Chiantis. It was only in 1996 that the Chianti Classico finally obtained a recognition for its pre-eminence: with the issuance of the Ministerial Decree of August 5, Chianti Classico was recognised as an independent appellation. In this way its diversity and independence from the other Chianti wines was definitively established.
With the latest modification of the production code, dating back to 2002, new rules were adopted to benefit the quality of the product and its appellation. An important change is the one concerning the ampelographical base (that is to say the types of grapes that can be used in the production of a given wine). The new production code imposes an increase from 75% to 80% of the minimum percentage of Sangiovese, the typical red variety of the area. Obviously producers are free to use a higher percentage (up to 100%). Together with Sangiovese, producers can use other native red wine varieties, such as Canaiolo and Colorino, or “international” varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, without exceeding the maximum ratio of 20%. By 2006, producers will not be allowed to use the Trebbiano and Malvasia varieties of white. The minimum alcohol grade is 12° for the regular wine and 12,5° for the Riserva. Before a wine can be called Chianti Classico, other extremely important production requirements must be met. For instance, a new vineyard can be used for the production only after four years from planting, the yield per hectare must not exceed 75 quintals (equivalent to 52,5 hectolitres of wine, that is to say 559 U.S. gallons) and the maximum production per vine is three kilos (6,6 pounds). In order to ensure that all the various components of Chianti are harmoniously balanced, its sale is authorised only after October 1 of the year following the harvest. For the Riserva wines, a minimum maturation of 24 months is required, of which three have to be of bottle ageing. In addition to the aspects listed above, Chianti Classico must meet the following characteristics:
- Colour: ruby red tending to garnet with maturation;
- Aroma: vinous, with a scent of violets and a pronounced finesse that develops in the maturation phase;
- Flavour: balanced, dry, sapid and slightly tannic, tending with time to a velvety softness;
- Sugar: maximum 4 grams of reducing sugars per litre;
- Minimum net dry extract: 23%;
- Minimum total acidity: 4,5 ppt.;
Another fundamental aspect of the production code imposes that, after vinification, also the operations involving the bottling, preservation and fining of wine have to be carried out in the production area.
As we have already explained, the most important grape variety used in the production of Chianti Classico, with percentages from 80% to 100%, is Sangiovese. At present, this variety is used in all the main DOC and DOCG red wines produced in central Italy. It is extremely sensitive to external factors, such as soil and climate, and its ripening is neither precocious nor uniform. It is rare to find another variety that can so faithfully interpret the characteristics of the soil in which it grows and that modifies its aromas depending on it. Sandstone is responsible for the flowery bouquets, while calcareous soils produce scents of wild berries and tufa or volcanic soils convey fresh aromas of tobacco. The scent of violets, which the production code identifies as a characteristic and specific element of Chianti Classico, is always present, no matter the soil in which the Sangiovese vines grow. Producers can combine Sangiovese with typical local grapes, such as Cannaiolo Nero, Colorino and others, as well as international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and others. Since Sangiovese is the most important grape, the real soul of Chianti Classico, the production code has authorised, since 1996, its use alone in producing this wine
How is Chianti Classico produced?
The process begins with the pruning, that is possible once the vine has entered a dormant state, which lasts from late November to late February. The traditional pruning systems are the Guyot and a derivation known as the Tuscan arched cane. At present, the spurred cordon system is widely used in Chianti, especially in new vineyards. It is a system that offers good prospects for mechanization and is capable of generating premium products. If the traditional cultivation system is used, the soil is ploughed many times each year. The practice of planting grass among the vines is currently gaining ground, especially in vineyards on steep slopes. This ensures a better drainage of rainwater and therefore limits erosion.
Towards mid-April, the vine reawakens and begins to vegetate once more. Buds, from which canes and flowers will sprout, appear on the vines, although flowering will not occur before the first decade of June. The vine produces small, white and extremely odorous blossoms that resemble snowflakes seen through a microscope. The setting, when the flowers change into fruits, occurs at the end of the month. In the beginning, the small Sangiovese berry is green, but in the heat of July and early August it will progressively ripen: the process is known as veraison. At this point, ripening has begun and the grapes will develop the substances, among which sugars and polyphenols, that are essential to the production of a great wine. At the same time, the level of acidity declines to excellent levels. September is probably the most important and delicate period, since it is then that ripening occurs. The temperature variation between sunny days and cool nights is essential to the completion of this lengthy process. The harvesting is carried out in October and always around the same dates, that vary depending on the type of grape and the degree of ripeness.
In the lower areas (San Casciano, the lowest slopes of the hills around Greve, Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardenga), picking may begin at the end of September. The grapes in Radda, Gaiole, Panzano, and the upper part of Castellina, take longer to ripen compared to others. Once they have reached the winery, the grapes are removed from the stalks and pressed. The must is transferred into various types of containers where it begins to ferment. In a first phase, alcoholic fermentation is intense and can generate temperatures up to 30 degrees C (86° F). The duration of the skin maceration varies in accordance with the vintage and with the characteristics of the grapes. Generally it lasts for an average of two weeks.
During this period, the grapes skins form a compact mass that is known as the cap. This happens because they are forced upward by the gas produced in the must during the transformation of sugars into alcohol. To obtain the best results from the raw material, the fermenting wine is pumped over the cap, which is also punched down and broken up. This process permits to extract polyphenols from the skins. Polyphenols give the wine its colour and ensure its longevity, in addition to providing the aromatic substances that determine the complexity of the bouquet.
After the wine is devatted, that is to say separated from the skins, it is drawn off into tanks where a second fermentation will occur before the arrival of spring. During this fermentation, called malolactic, aggressive malic acid is transformed into softer lactic acid. For a perfectly limpid beverage, the wine is racked several times in March and April. According to tradition, the final racking occurs when the flowering of vines announces the arrival of the summer heat.
Then, the wine that will be soon put on sale remains in the tank or is placed in casks for a short time, while the Chianti Classico that will become a Riserva undergoes a prolonged stay in wood.