#3 CHIANTI – TUSCANY’S RED WINE

For those who set out on the Tuscan wine trail, the starting point is the land of Chianti. Chianti is probably the most famous wine and perhaps the best known region in the world. The Chianti region is located half way between the cities of Florence and Siena, in the centre of Tuscany, and that’s where Chianti Classico wine is produced. The region became really important in 1716, when the Grand Duke Cosimo, the Third of the Medici, issued a decree, for the first time, fixing the boundaries of a wine producing region in Italy; and specifically defined the production area for Chianti. The second important step in the history of this wine was the establishment in 1924 of a consortium of 33 producers with the common goal of promoting and defending Chianti Classico. The initiative was so successful that today Chianti Classico has its own distinguishing symbol and trademark, the Gallo Nero or Black Rooster. Why the Black Rooster? Because it was the symbol of the ancient military league of Chianti in medieval times. Since the end of 2003, the Chianti Classico consortium has been required by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests to carry out a monitoring and quality control programme, throughout the Chianti Classico DOCG appellation. There are 930 producers, most of whom are vine-growers; some have only small areas registered on the vineyard roll and make their product available to community cellars, whilst there are others who are able to make and bottle their own wine. All these situations are monitored by the high tech laboratory of the consortium where regular testing is carried out on over 300 bottlers to ensure that production quality is strictly maintained. Other important activities include an extensive ongoing research programme in viticulture; something which began in the 1980’s. Certainly, one of the most significant results has been to identify and select special clones of Sangiovese which now bear the name: Chianti Classico 2000. To date about 50 growers, including some major wine companies, have adopted these super Sangiovese varieties and already 300,000 vines have been planted. The Chianti Classico zone is also home to a number of excellent wineries and historic family estates, offering hospitality and the opportunity to sample their wines, often special vintages or bins not generally available on the market. Vignamaggio is one of the most important Chianti producers in this region and documents indicate that wine has been produced here since 1404. A document has been found in the Datini Archives in Prato which has on record the fact that a parcel of wine was sold by the owner of Vignamaggio in 1404. From the territory’s best grapes and the best vines Vignamaggio produce Chianti Classico Riserva. The Estate’s wines carry a label to honour Monalisa Gherardini, daughter of the original owners. In fact, it is called Castello di Monalisa. The wines of Vignamaggio have a lovely deep ruby red colour and a particular perfume which is very delicate and highly spiced. The presence of wood is subtle but adds to the wine which has been aged in large 225 litre barriques of French Oak for about 18 months. On first impression the Vignamaggio Chianti is quite intense in flavour, however, it leaves a pleasing slightly bitterish after-taste, typical of all Sangiovese wine. In actual fact, this wine is produced with ninety per cent Sangiovese grapes, and a blend of ten per cent Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to round it off. Like many producers, Vignamaggio also make small quantities of Vin Santo, which is a traditional product of Tuscany and in particular of Chianti Classico. It’s a sweet wine which is aged for four years in small one hundred litre casks called “caratelli”. It’s considered to be a very elegant wine to offer guests with cantuccini, the little almond biscuits, which sometimes are even dunked in the Vin Santo. It has a lovely amber colour and a perfume which reminds one of honey, dried fruit, walnuts, almonds …