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Where Everything Old is New Again


If we search our souls, at least those of us of a certain age, the first European wines we tasted were probably Italian, red, and most likely Chianti.  Often they were inexpensive, not always wonderful and in a fiasco, the straw wrapped flask that perhaps we brought home and put a candle in to remind us of a festive meal in a local Italian joint. I’d bet that Billy Joel’s “bottle of red” was Chianti.


Based on the Sangiovese grape, these everyday Tuscan wines were presumed by many to be the hallmark of all Italian wine, and in terms of production and influence that may have been true. But in the last decades, changes in the world of wine have happened: new vineyard areas, new areas of popularity, increased awareness of other premium regions in Italy and varieties of grape, with everyone looking to grow market share in a competitive and shrinking world. Wine drinkers have been demanding higher quality than the inexpensive Chianti of the early sixties.


The growers and lawmakers of Chianti responded by changing what can be classified as Chianti in the last several decades. The Chianti Wine Consortium was established in 1927, updated regulations in 1967 and was granted Guaranteed Registered Designation of Origin (DOCG) status in 1984.  Further updates took place in 2009 and again on September 3, 2012.  The Consortium is responsible for consumer information, protection, and promotion of D.O.C.G. Chianti.  Extensive information is available at  


The Consortium delineates each of the Chianti DOCG zones, which includes Chianti Rufina, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Montespertoli and Chianti Colline Pisane. It should be noted that DOCG Chianti Classico is a smaller, separate entity (with its own set of similar regulations) located in the center of the much larger Chianti DOCG.


Without getting too detailed over the history of grape varieties allowed, formerly only Italian varieties were legal, and even had required that a proportion of white grapes (Malvasia and/or Trebbiano) be used in these red wines. Now, flexibility and a wider range of possible blends are allowed.  Anywhere between 70-100% Sangiovese, with the remainder made up of up to 10% white grapes and up to 15% non native Cabernets (Sauvignon and/or Franc), along with other grape varieties suited to cultivation within the Tuscany region can be used, depending on sub-zone.


Consequently, out of old traditions, new approaches have evolved to increase quality and broaden variety in DOCG Chianti. The acceptance and even premium pricing of “Super Tuscans,” which contain either not enough or no Sangiovese to qualify for a DOCG designation, further shows what is going on across the Tuscan landscape. What may appear to be a simple IGT labeled bottle might contain a vastly superior product than you might expect. Much depends on the producer and it is up to them to decide which muse to follow. Current laws allow that to happen.


Consorzio Vino Chianti came to New York City with samples from 46 different wineries on Monday, April 28, 2014 at the Biergarten space of the Standard High Line Hotel. The day-long event started with a guided tasting and presentation of the Chianti Riserva 2010. Generally, Riservas require a minimum of 2 years in wood, plus three months in bottle before release.  Six seminar wines were poured that demonstrate acceptable variations, both in components and aging, but each qualifying as DOCG Riserva for the subzone where they were produced.


For a look at some of the specific wines poured, see



Bernard Kenner



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