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Chianti Classico wineries approve new subzones

Chianti Classico's council said the move was intended to allow village names on bottle labels, and winemakers have also backed plans to tighten rules for top-tier Gran Selezione wines. Michaela Morris reports on the changes and speaks to producers...

New Chianti Classico subzones, or ‘UGAs’

As tenacious as the black rooster in the legend of its Gallo Nero logo, Chianti Classico is on the brink of a new milestone. A relentless campaign to hone the region’s unique identity has led to a proposed subdivision into 11 villages.

Now formally designated as Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive (UGA), or ‘Additional Geographical Units’, the following will soon be officially permitted on labels: Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio and Vagliagli.

The assembly of 500 Chianti Classico producers voted 90% in favour of the proposal earlier this week.

‘There was a great spirit of cohesion and collaboration,’ said Giovanni Manetti, president of the Chianti Classico consortium.

From the outset of his tenure in 2018, Manetti made the UGA project a priority, determined to see it through within his three-year term.

Nevertheless, the seed of a subdivision was planted decades ago. In a series of seminars in the late 1980s, journalist Burton Anderson described Chianti Classico’s wines by their commune.

‘It was so controversial,’ recalled Roberto Stucchi at Badia a Coltibuono, who was one of the early advocates. ‘The big powers back then didn’t want to talk about this.’

Serious discussion resurfaced about a decade ago. ‘We started very far apart but with each meeting we came closer together,’ Manetti said.

Determining the UGA was a challenge. The goal was to carve up the denomination into smaller, more homogenous areas while keeping the list contained and retaining names already recognised by Chianti Classico aficionados.

Rather than being rooted in a scientific study, they are based on a combination of physical and human factors. A natural division is exemplified by the butterfly shaped commune of Castelnuovo Berardenga which has been split into two.

The western wing takes the name of Vagliagli, and the eastern wing keeps that of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Conversely, San Donato in Poggio brings together Barberino Tavarnelle with Poggibonsi, logically encompassing two sides of the same hill.

The consortium’s board also took into consideration the culture of the territory. ‘In each of these UGAs there is an existing winery association,’ said Manetti.

In particular, this has helped the remote village of Lamole forge a recognisable identity, despite a limited number of estates. The UGA list may increase as other zones follow suit.

Istine’s Angela Fronti believes the UGAs are positive for the entire denomination. ‘It will finally help explain the diversity of our region,’ she said, referring to differences in expression rather than in quality.

However, when launched, the UGAs will apply exclusively to Gran Selezione wines.

‘This only accounts for 6% of the region’s production,’ said Stucchi. According to Manetti, the objective is to gradually extend the UGA to the Riserva and annata categories as well.

Of any sticking points, Isole e Olena’s Paolo de Marchi said, ‘The imperfections are just minor details. Most importantly, we now have the subzones.’

Gran Selezione rule changes: A local focus

Concurrent with the UGA, Chianti Classico’s members have voted to accept changes to grape variety regulations within the Gran Selezione category.

The minimum requirement for Sangiovese has been increased to 90%, from 80%.

Plus, the remaining 10% is limited to grapes that are native to the Chianti Classico area, namely Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, Pugnitello and Sanforte.

International grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot will no longer be permitted. These new specifications apply strictly to Gran Selezione and will not be extended to Riserva or annata wines.

‘The most important wine of the denomination should be made with a higher percent of Sangiovese,’ said Manetti, justifying the move.

In the same breath, he defended the tradition of including other indigenous varieties. ‘These grapes were always used like salt and pepper in the Chianti blend,’ he said.

While the majority of Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione wines already conform to these new regulations, there are some significant outliers.

‘It is unfortunate that Chianti Classico’s most expensive wines will no longer be accepted as Gran Selezione,’ said de Marchi at Isole e Olena. He points specifically to Castello di Ama’s single-vineyard wines. Likewise, Isole e Olena’s Gran Selezione typically includes a small percentage of international varieties.

Others were hoping to see Sangiovese exclusively. ‘It would have been perfect to have a label requiring 100% Sangiovese that could speak to the cultivation of Sangiovese in all of its facets throughout the territory of Chianti Classico,’ said Michele Braganti at Monteraponi.

Fronti was also rooting for 100% Sangiovese initially but understands the decision. Beyond the link to the past, she looks to Chianti Classico’s future: ‘We don’t know where climate change will lead us and having the possibility to add other varieties seems like a wise choice.’

In a region with estates of vastly different dimensions and varying philosophies, ‘getting everyone to agree was far from easy,’ said Manetti.

The final step is earning approval by the Minister of Agriculture in Rome, which could take up to a year. The hardest part, however, has now been done.

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