Chianti producers not in the Classico area can have a tough time selling their wines. Many have even given up on making Chianti all together. But, says ROSEMARY GEORGE MW, that doesn’t mean they’re not making interesting, individual, top-notch wines…

Chianti in its various guises covers most of the vineyards of central Tuscany. While the most famous, Chianti Classico, comes from the hills between Florence and Siena, several other surrounding Chiantis are each attempting to create their own individual reputation.

Chianti Colli Fiorentini forms a large pincer around the northern edges of Chianti Classico; further south around the city of Arezzo are the hills of the Colli Aretini, again bordering Classico. Chianti Colli Senesi covers a large area, which includes the more prestigious wines of Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di San Gimignano. Chianti Colline Pisane comes from hills southeast of Pisa; Chianti Montalbano covers the vineyards on the southern side of the Monte Albano, adjoining Carmignano. Chianti Montespertoli is a recent addition, from vineyards around the village, while Chianti Rufina covers the vineyards of the valley of Sieve from Pontasieve to Dicomano, centred on the town of Rufina. There are other villages that do not fit into any of these sub-zones and are simply entitled to the denomination of Chianti.

Chianti Rufina is the most individual of these. Its distinct advantage over the other zones of Chianti is that Rufina is based in a small part of the Sieve valley. The atmosphere is quite different, almost alpine. The vineyards lie at 320–480m, and when the grapes are ripening in September there is always cold air blowing off the Apennines at night, so the harvest is at least a week later than in Chianti Classico. This gives the wines of Rufina a structure and acidity that you do not find elsewhere in Chianti.

Rufina stands apart from the other Chiantis, with slightly stricter DOCG rules, a yield of 3kg per vine (as opposed to 5kg) and it aspires to a separate DOCG of its own, to emulate Chianti Classico.

The other sub-zones of Chianti suffer from a lack of true identity. The Colli Senesi stand in the shadow of the region’s other DOCGs; the Colli Aretini lack cohesion, with little common identity between the producers, and the Colli Fiorentini are scattered throughout the hills south of Florence, and again lack focus. The wines of Montalbano provide attractive fresh easy drinking, in contrast to the stature of Carmignano.

The Colline Pisane form another relatively compact area, centred on hills to the southeast of Pisa, but they have lacked any real leader to give them a distinct identity. And so the key players are now seeking a new DOC, Terre di Pisa, which will embrace all the super-Tuscans and IGTs with which the producers of the area have established their reputations.

And there lies the crux of the problem.The peripheral zones of Chianti suffer the same problems as Chianti Classico 20 years ago. The wines are all based on Sangiovese, but the disciplinari permit an even higher percentage of white grapes than for Chianti Classico. Currently this is 5% – high in a red wine whose principal grape variety, Sangiovese, is not over-endowed with colour. As in Chianti Classico, growers have looked at ways of improving their wines and have planted international varieties, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, with success in many instances.

Simple Chianti, at its best, is cheerful and fruity, and although it is an international name, it lacks prestige, but then so did Chianti Classico 20 years ago. It is not a wine on which reputations are built, and it does not command high prices. The use of the name of a sub-zone on a label does not seem to add any extra value, so that the wines are more often than not called plain Chianti rather than Colli Aretini or Colline Pisane. It was Ginevra Venerosi Pesciolini from Tenuta di Ghizzano who summed up the problem in a nutshell: ‘I can no longer afford to produce Chianti. The production costs for my top wine, Veneroso, are similar to those of my Chianti, but at 7 a bottle my Chianti was one of the most expensive on the market, whereas I can ask 23 for Veneroso.’ She is not alone. All over the region there are producers building reputations upon their super-Tuscans.