There has long been discussion about strengthening the perception of Chianti Classico’s connection with its terroirs by reference to sub-areas within the DOCG. Giovanni Manetti, president of the Consorzio Chianti Classico and a long-time promoter of zoning in Chianti Classico is in no doubt about the importance of stressing the sense of place.
‘Unlike a grape variety or a winemaking style, the thing that cannot be reproduced elsewhere is a terroir, which makes it the only possible element of added value […to a denomination],’ he declares.
Historically, adding that value with sub-area labels was hampered by a lack of consensus among producers, and for many years the idea of zoning Chianti Classico lay dormant. Interest in the issue was revived by a seminal mapping project which began around 2010, and it gained impetus with the launch of the super-premium Gran Selezione in 2014.
The Gran Selezione was an important step forward for Chianti Classico in its own right, but it also figured in longer-term plans to create the equivalent of Chianti Classico ’cru’.
A framework for this was provided by the EU wine laws of 2013, which regulated the Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive, UGA for short. Literally translated as ‘additional geographic units’, a UGA is a place of origin within a DOC/G which can be added to the name of a wine.
The Chianti Classico Consorzio embraced the formula and after lengthy consultation, in June 2021 a proposal to adopt UGAs was presented to its members, and approved with an overwhelming majority.
The origins of the name Chianti are uncertain, but a hilly area in the heart of Tuscany, between the cities of Florence and Siena, with natural boundaries very similar to those recognised today, has been known as Chianti since at least the mid-13th century.
The use of the geographical name for wines probably became established with the growth of trade in the Middle Ages, the earliest surviving reference to which is a bill of sale for a Chianti wine in 1398.
The expansion of trade also led to the generic use of the name Chianti, however, and prompted Europe’s first example of a denomination of origin, Cosimo III’s edict of 1716, which sought to regulate wine production (for tax purposes it has to be said) on a geographical basis.
The area it decreed for the production of Chianti began north of the town of Greve, and stretched through the villages of Panzano, Radda, Gaiole and Castellina to the Grand Duchy’s southern confines with Siena.
Almost identical boundaries were established by the Italian wine law of 1932, which first introduced the denomination Chianti Classico for wines from the historic growing area. The suffix Classico has been used in legislation ever since to recognise the indissoluble link between the wine and its place of origin.
What is a UGA ?
A UGA may be defined as an administrative area, for example a village, or an area with specific geographical features. Manetti explains that, because of the extreme complexity of the geology of the Chianti Classico hills, the consorzio discarded an approach to zoning based on soils and topography. Instead, they followed a more humanistic route, identifying traditional areas of production with a strong terroir connection and sense of identity.
A UGA may comprise an entire administrative area (in Italian a ‘comune’) a part of one, or a smaller locality (a ’frazione’) within the commune. There are 11 ‘unità in all. Eight will come into effect immediately, another three in three years’ time.
Initially the UGAs will only apply to Gran Selezione wines, but Manetti stresses that the project is work in progress and the door is open for the future inclusion of Riserva and annata wines, and also for the addition of other sub-areas.
A Tour of the UGAs
Chianti Classico is about hill-top villages, ridges and valleys, vineyards, olive groves and dense woodlands. On a tour of the UGAs its infinitely varied landscape changes constantly, as do the wines.
Greve in Chianti
First stop, Greve, Chianti Classico’s largest commune. It has a UGA of its own and also includes three smaller unità within its boundaries.
The tiny hill-top village of Montefioralle gives its name to the first of these, which stretches along the western slopes of the valley to the north of Greve, in the direction of Florence. Ripe fruit, round tannins and often dark blossom aromas are the keynotes for the wines.
Leaving Greve’s busy market square in the opposite direction, a steep climb takes you to Lamole; population 88, one church, one theatre, one panoramic restaurant (excellent) and small steep, terraced vineyards. Lamole has always been recognised as an unofficial cru. It has the highest vines in the DOCG, homogeneous soils and wines with a distinctive character – typically a little pale, terse on the palate and delicately floral on the nose.
Down one hill and up another to the village of Panzano which sits at the end of a high ridge south of Greve. The warm, densely planted slopes which face west from the ridge are another area long considered an unofficial cru, the renowned Conca d’Oro. If Lamole represents agility and finesse, Panzano is all about depth and structure and a certain phenolic earthiness.
The eastern flank
From Panzano a bumpy country road follows the line of hills that in a south-easterly direction lead to the village of Radda, where the early morning air feels noticeably fresher. Late summer temperature excursions and a generally cooler climate mean that Radda producers are often the last to pick in the whole of the DOCG. The climate is reflected too in the typically nervy intensity of the wines.
Continuing south-east you arrive at Gaiole, with its thickly wooded hillsides and imposing castles. (It was at the castle of Brolio that Baron Bettino Ricasoli devised what would become the blend of modern Chianti.)
Gaiole is the UGA with the biggest surface area, where the discriminating element for the character of the wines is altitude. Wines from the high slopes with sandstone soils approach those of Radda in style, while those from the mid-elevation sites with marl or limestone have a richer, dark fruit character.
It is only a short hop from Brolio to Castelnuovo Berardenga, but you are immediately aware of the change in the landscape. Here, in the most southerly of the UGAs, the climate is warmer and the vegetation is stumpier and more Mediterranean. From the Medieval walled village of San Gusmé wide vistas open towards the round hills of the Crete Senese.
The wines are among the most powerful of the DOCG, with a depth of tannins and maquis character on the nose which you also often find when you drive west, across the valley of the Arbia into the neighbouring Vagliagli.
Here the scenery changes again. Long rolling hills with gentle gradients dominate the landscape of this UGA, which has the largest average estate size of the whole of Chianti Classico.
Continuing cross-country in an anti-clockwise direction, you come to the town of Castellina in Chianti, strategically positioned high up on the ancient road between Florence and Siena.
Castellina is the UGA with the biggest area of vineyards, the majority of which descend in wide swathes on the western slopes facing the Elsa valley, below the town. Elevation has a subtle influence on the character of the wines, but in general they are known for their dark fruit aromas and tangy mineral streak.
Chianti Classico Soils
Alberese Stony, eocene limestone rich in calcium carbonate, common on higher slopes in the centre ofthe region. Associatedwith firm, dry wines with lots of intensity.
Alluvial deposits Deep, stony alluvial soils are found mainly at San Casciano and some areas on the western edge of the DOCG. The wines tend to be soft and round with attractive red fruit.
Galestro The local name for a grey,flaky shale consisting of calcareous clay. Typical of mid-elevation slopes where it often overlaps with alberese. One of the most characteristic soils of the DOCG, it is associated with structured, long-lived wines.
Macigno The base rock of the Monti del Chianti, a hard non-calcareous sandstone with an important presence at Lamole and other higher areas where it tends to give lighter, agile wines with delicate aromas.
Pietraforte A sandstone, like Macigno, but in this case calcareous. Found mainly in the north-centre and an important component of the soils of Panzano.Wines of elegance and finesse.
Sillano formation A clayey marl which often overlaps with alberese in the west of the DOCG. Associated with wines with body and richness of fruit and possibly lower acidity.
The western flank
Our route now takes us along the western flank of the DOCG to San Donato in Poggio, which incorporates the vineyards of Barberino Tavernelle and those of the small area of the commune of Poggibonsi which falls inside the DOCG.
The woody, sparsely planted northern part of the UGA contrasts with the more intensively exploited area of vines and olives in the centre and the south-west, on the border with Castellina. San Donato in Poggio wines have something of the dark fruit of Castellina and, in a minor key, the tannic structure of its other neighbour, Panzano.
Back on the road, the last stop, in the northwest corner of the DOCG, is San Casciano. Here the landscape is softer and more domesticated, and olive groves vie with the vineyards for space on the low hills. San Casciano is a large but substantially homogeneous UGA, which gives the wines a recognisable unity of style, with their red fruit, soft tannins and Florentine charm.