Since 2020, National Chianti Day has given wine lovers an excuse to enjoy a bottle of Chianti or Chianti Classico. The idea came from importers Santa Margherita USA, which represents Chianti Classico estates Santa Margherita and Lamole di Lamole.
The famed red wines of Chianti, located in Tuscany, vary widely in price and quality, however – from quaffable Chianti to ageable Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. Here, we focus on wines to drink now at a reasonable budget.
Chianti & Chianti Classico: What’s the difference?
There are two Chianti denominations: Chianti DOCG and Chianti Classico DOCG. While the former constitutes a vast 13,800 hectares of vines (2019), the latter is concentrated on the original pre-expansion zone between Florence and Siena, totalling 5,269ha of vineyard (2019).
Chianti Classico was a subzone of Chianti from its inception in 1967 until 1996, when it was granted its own separate DOCG. The vineyards here are typically at higher altitudes than those of Chianti DOCG.
While Chianti DOCG wines must be a minimum of 70% Sangiovese, Chianti Classico DOCG wines demand a minimum of 80%. Both DOCGs permit the use of local and international varieties: Canaiolo Nero, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Foglia Tonda, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, Pugnitello, and also major international varieties, such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Chianti DOCG permits a maximum of 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc, and a maximum of 10% of white varieties Malvasia and Trebbiano. Chianti Classico DOCG is no longer permitted to include white varieties in the blend.
Chianti DOCG wines can be sold from 1 March in the year after vintage, meaning that many examples are consumed in their youth as simple, fresh reds.
Chianti Classico DOCG wines increase minimum ageing to around 12 months, being sold from 1 October in the year after vintage. This can give the wines greater complexity, cohesion, and helps to round off the raw edges of youth.
Chianti DOCG has three classifications: Chianti, Chianti Superiore and Chianti Riserva. It also has seven subzones (such as Rùfina) which each have their own, stricter requirements including lower yields, longer ageing and higher alcohol.
Chianti Classico DOCG also has three classifications: Chianti Classico (known as ‘annata’), Chianti Classico Riserva and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.
Recent changes to the Gran Selezione regulations include increasing the minimum required Sangiovese content from 80% to 90%, and introducing 11 subzones.