There’s little doubt that Chianti is one of the world’s most well-known wine regions. Though connoisseurs may prefer to collect Barolo or Brunello, to casual drinkers it is surely the most recognizable name in Italian wine, and aside from some famous Frenchies, perhaps all of Europe. That said, after a recent conversation about the differences between the two official Chianti regions (Chianti DOCG and Chianti Classico DOCG) I realized that even I — an Italian wine fanatic — didn’t fully understand why there are two separate official wine regions named Chianti (not to mention all the subzones). I’ve heard the most basic, superficial explanation, of course— that the so-called original region broke away from a bastardized area that had become far too large and removed from its origins. There had to be, I figured, more to it than that.
In Soave, for example, there’s also a classico zone, but it is not a completely different denomination. As I set out to better understand this anomaly — even in the ever-confusing world of Italian wine regulation — I committed to going beyond PR materials and Wikipedia entries, to understanding the answers to this question with a depth that would allow me to challenge common market conceptions, even from established industry experts. As a lover of wine history, then, it was obvious where to start: at the beginning.
The following delves further into the history of a complex and fascinating area than was perhaps needed to answer to my question, but in the same sense it only scratches the surface of the complexities that centuries of war, politics and commerce can bring to an area like Chianti.
Origins of a World-Famous Name
The word “Chianti” has been used to describe places in the hills between Florence and Siena for centuries — generally within the townships of Castellina, Radda, and Gaiole — but this label’s evolution over time has led to more confusion than clarity (at least when it comes to wine).
Although several etymological theories abound — mostly positing Etruscan origins — that of renowned linguist and Etruscan expert Massimo Pittau seems most likely. “We can safely say,” he writes, “that the Tuscan word derives from an ancient Etruscan noble family called Ciante, who owned a certain property in the area that was probably cultivated with vines.”¹
The modern term has been found in documents as far back as the year 790, but — more importantly for our purposes — appears to have been first used to describe local wine around 1400.²
In the middle of the 12th century, while the city-states of Florence and Siena regularly battled over territory, the Florentines assembled a number of military leagues to protect their countryside from marauding Sienese. As part of this effort, the Lega del Chianti — which united the three towns of Castellina, Radda and Gaiole, as well as many surrounding villages — was established. It’s little surprise that the idea of Chianti wine was soon to follow.
In a decision that still resonates today — or perhaps perplexes many a modern wine lover browsing the Italian wine aisle — the Lega del Chianti chose a gallo nero, or black rooster, as its emblem. (This will be important later.)
This now-iconic symbol was selected, according to local legend, via a rather odd competition: at the rooster’s crow on the selected day, the story goes, one knight each from Florence and Siena would ride from their respective home cities, and the border would be drawn at the point where they met.
The Sienese chose a white rooster and treated him to every possible comfort as the race approached. The Florentines, on the other hand, supposedly chose a black rooster that they put in an uncomfortable cage and starved for several days.
On the day of the race, the desperately famished Florentine black rooster began crowing angrily before dawn, while the relaxed Sienese rooster slept in. The Florentine representative thus got a major head start, leading the knights to meet just a few kilometers outside of Siena, where the border between the two republics was drawn³.
After being told a version of this story in the Chianti Classico episode of the online show Sip Trip, host Jeff Porter’s first comment was: “so how much of that is bullshit?” All of it Jeff… all of it. But it sure is fun, isn’t it?
The black rooster was actually chosen because it symbolized vigilance.
Earliest Attempts at Wine Regulation
Though the Lega del Chianti was by no means a wine organization, in 1444 a provision was added to its bylaws that prevented grapes from being legally harvested before September 29, with an eye on quality.⁴ This early focus on wine branding is perhaps why some ardent traditionalists cling to the idea that only grapes grown within the lega borders can make true Chianti. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — this story is only just getting started.)
The first documented reference of Chianti wine was found in the 1398 account book of Prato merchant Marco Datini, and referred to a purchase — arranged by regional icon Ser Lapo Mazzei — of “vino biancho di Chianti,” or, interestingly, white wine of Chianti. Correspondence of both Datini and Mazzei over the next several years, however, also discusses quality reds of Chianti.⁵
In 1427, Florence developed a tariff system for the wines of the surrounding countryside, charging higher prices for those zones that had better reputations for quality. Though the intent was, plainly, to gather more taxes, one could consider this to be the very first attempt to classify Tuscan wine. Among specific areas highlighted — including Galatrona, Panzano, Valdirubbiana and Mercatale a Greve — one given high value was “Chianti et tucta la provincia” (Chianti and its entire province),⁶ though the latter part of that statement was not specifically defined. And while we can probably assume that it generally agreed with the area controlled by the lega, this lack of specificity foreshadowed what was to come in terms of defining the wine region.
Over the next several centuries, mezzadria (sharecropping) arrangements continued to produce copious amounts of Chianti wine. The Renaissance largely skirted the peasant countryside, though its primary architects were known to have been admirers. Vasari, for example, painted a black rooster on a golden background on the ceiling of the Salone del Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence,⁷ and Michelangelo once wrote that he’d “rather have two flagons of Trebbiano than eight shirts,”⁸ (obviously not understanding the superiority of Malvasia Bianca Lunga).
In the mid-1500s, the Medicis, with some help from Spain, conquered Siena, uniting the two warring cities under the Grand Duchy of Tuscany banner and paving the way for Chianti wine to present itself as a distinctly Tuscan brand.
The historical record of the late 1600s offers many references to the export of Chianti — principally to England — with some going so far as to call this the “Chianti Century,” due to notable increases in brand awareness and reputation.⁹ Unfortunately, this growth also exposed quality and consistency problems. A question existed, for example, about the wine’s ability to survive the trip to England, in contrast to the often-preferred Bordeaux or Burgundy. Several poor vintages encouraged widespread fraud, with inferior wines labelled Chianti eroding consumer confidence in the product. (This isn’t the last time that would happen.)
Attempting to combat this fraud, in 1716 the Grand Duke of Tuscany defined a set of regulations and production areas for Tuscan wine. Arguably the very first legal appellations to be created for wine anywhere in the world, these decrees also featured an attempt to delineate the boundaries of Chianti as a wine region, which were specified as: “from Spedaluzzo, up to Greve, from there to Panzano, with all of the municipalities of Radda, which contains three divisions, namely Radda, Gaiole and Castellina, and leading up to the border of the state of Siena.”¹⁰ (Note the inclusion of Greve, which was not within the original Lega del Chianti boundaries.) Despite this positive step by the Grand Duke, there is insufficient evidence these new rules were ever strictly enforced.¹¹
The Era of Commercialization
By the mid-1800s — around the same time that Baron Ricasoli and Brolio were establishing a worldwide reputation for quality, the large merchants in Florence — such as Melini, Ruffino and Antinori — were advancing winemaking industrialization. Crucially to the evolution of the brand, most of this wine, regardless of origin, would come to be labelled Chianti.
By this point, the fiasco toscano — the classic, rounded flask covered in sala (a grassy swamp weed) — was widely used, but still hand-made. Around 1860, the Melini family adopted a new, tempered-glass version produced with a mold.¹² This allowed the bottles to be mass-produced as well as corked by an assembly line machine without excess breakage, greatly streamlining the entire process. Ambitious worldwide marketing followed, establishing the fiasco as the international symbol for Chianti.
The problem here — or not, depending on one’s interests — was that Melini did not grow grapes in the traditional Chianti area. They were located in Pontassieve, northeast of Florence, in Rufina. This doesn’t mean they couldn’t make good wine, of course, but this fact would nonetheless help change the meaning of the term “Chianti” forever.
In their excellent book Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine, Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino write the following about the rise of both Melini and Pontassieve neighbor Ruffino:
The explosion of [their] exports in the international marketplace made Chianti’s transition from a place wine linked to the actual territory to a wine made in the territory’s style irreversible from both a commercial and a political point of view. Other Tuscan and Italian wine merchants (virtually all on major railways or other transport routes) followed suit and adopted the fiasco as their Chianti calling card… By the end of the nineteenth century, California wine producers were making Californian “Chianti.” Italian emigrants and foreign customers did not need to read the labels on these flasks to understand that this was “Chianti” wine.¹³
Expansion in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries may seem trivial to the authenticity of Tuscan Chianti, but is actually an important aspect of how the wine would come to be branded. (Or, at the very least, a microcosm of this issue.)
In the 1890s, the Italian Swiss Colony — a California wine cooperative of Italian immigrants — began marketing their “Tipo Chianti” (literally, Chianti-type), bottled in imported fiaschi and wrapped in the traditional straw. Though the addition of “Tipo” was perhaps a partial effort to differentiate from the original, there’s little doubt the company intended to piggyback on the Italian wine’s growing popularity and iconic imagery. “There was an apparent lack of certainty about what was in the wine, how it was produced, and where it was from,” writes Harvard professor Zachary Nowak in his fascinating discussion of Chianti and authenticity. “Rather than assemble a product by answering these questions, the vintners at the ISC relied mainly on a somewhat-recognizable name and a particular container.”
“Current notions of authenticity, based as they are on the unique geographies of taste, would never recognize Tipo Chianti as ‘real’ Chianti,” continues Nowak. But that was not the case around 1900. “This Californian Chianti was not a product that Americans were fooled into buying, ignorant of the real thing,” he writes. “They bought Chianti made in both California and in Italy, and saw both as equally authentic.”¹⁴
Meanwhile in Italy, the concept that Chianti wine came from a specific place continued to erode. Railroads expanded the national and international trade networks, but didn’t stop in Lega del Chianti territory, allowing merchants outside the area to corner the market on Chianti wine. (The fact that many farmers within the original region still sold their grapes or juice to these same merchants didn’t help.) By the turn of the century, it’s been suggested that more than half of all Italian wine was labelled Chianti, despite most of it coming from elsewhere.¹⁵
The Rejection of Place in Italy
Beginning with the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Intellectual Property, and then the 1891 Madrid Agreement for the Repression of False or Deceptive Indications of Source on Goods, France led a movement towards place name protection that the Italians were initially hesitant to join. Over the next several decades, debate raged between those from the Chianti townships — who, not surprisingly, desired this protection — and the producers and merchants from larger Tuscany, who argued for promoting Chianti as a style of wine rather than a specific place (and, in the meantime, without regulation, continued to utilize the Chianti name and fiasco bottle to improve perception of their own non-Chianti wines).
Even those who believed in historic Chianti could not agree on what that actually meant. In the early 20th century, a number of distinct theories emerged to better classify the region. A few examples:
- Chianti Storico (Historical Chianti)
The strictest definition, this came from Antonio Casabianca in 1905, and only included the original Lega del Chianti zone, or Radda, Gaiole and Castellina.
- Chianti Vinicolo (Enological Chianti)
In response to a competition by the renowned Georgofili Academy to delineate the borders of Chianti, engineer Torquato Guarducci created this guideline, built upon previous work by Emanuele Repetti — known as Chianti Geographico — that included geographic, climatic and soil-based factors. This plan included Castelnuovo Berardenga, Greve and parts of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Poggibonsi.
- Chianti Geologico
Sienese Professor Vittorio Racah proposed a geological way to draft borders, mainly suggesting that Chianti soil need derive from the Eocene epoch. His region included Greve, Gaiole, Radda, most of Castellina, parts of San Casciano and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, and small parts of parts of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Poggibonsi.
Despite all the work put into these border debates, broader Tuscany continued to push Chianti as a wine style— in other words, for Chianti Commerciale. According to Nesto and Di Savino, the Tuscans embraced this concept “because of the influence of their strong mercantile traditions and lack of esteem for agriculture.”¹⁶
Just after the turn of the century, the Chiantigiani began to explore the idea of creating an organization to protect their place name. In 1903, they founded the Sindacato Enologico Cooperativo del Chianti Senese (Cooperative Wine Union of Chianti Senese), patterned on the first organization of its type — the Sindacato Vinicolo Piemontese — which had formed the prior year. A second organization with similar goals— Commissione per la Tutela del Chianti (Commission for the Protection of Chianti)—formed in 1909. Neither organization would last.
Around the same time, broader political forces in Italy began to swing towards this idea of vino tipico (literally, typical wine, or wine of a certain style), something the Tuscan merchant-producers and politicians used to their advantage in continually expanding the borders of Chianti. After WWI put a brief hold on this movement, in 1924 the Italian Parliament passed Law 497, or “Disposizioni per la difesa dei vini tipici” (provisions for the defense of typical wines). Though this new decree did establish a framework for the formation of regional wine consortiums, it failed to define wine typicity beyond “genuine wines that have special characteristics.”¹⁷ As such, it had no effect on the merchant-producers’ ability to brand their wines Chianti, or to continually expand said brand’s boundaries. (Also, since Italy had yet to sign the 1891 Madrid Agreement, California producers continued to leverage the Chianti name.)
Nesto and Di Savino were particularly critical of Italy’s insipid stance on protecting geographic origin:
By failing to recognize place as the primary determinant of a wine’s identity, Italy’s Fascist government (and its many loyal supporters) disfigured the legal framework for protecting place of origin names such as Chianti and sacrificed the interests of grower-bottlers in some of Italy’s most storied wine regions. Italian wine would pay the price.¹⁸
Return of the Rooster
Almost immediately after the 1924 wine law was made public, traditional Chianti producers took the first step in what would become a decades-long fight for protection of place. On May 14, 1924, Italo De Lucchi — an influential grape farmer and politician from Greve — organized a meeting of local growers in the historic Radda town hall. They took on the name Consorzio per la Difesa del Vino Tipico del Chianti and della Sua Marca di Origine, or Consortium for the defense of the typical wine of Chianti and its mark of origin. (Clearly there were no copywriters involved… or perhaps several.)
Among speakers at that very first meeting was Alberto Oliva, a professor of agronomy and representative of the Ricasoli family. His remarks included the following:
There is no doubt that Chianti must stake its reputation above all on viticulture, but that will happen only if all together we wage, without illusions, a difficult, long and expensive fight, the only one that in this moment can guarantee to the Chiantigiani a real hope of survival. . . . It is essential to strictly link the fame of the products of Chianti to that of their celebrated territory of production, and in the end we must fight all together, with great energy and resolve, to obtain from our government, as soon as possible, the famous laws that other wine-producing countries already have had in place for some time, in order to enable us to compete fiercely in foreign markets. . . . For this reason, it is imperative now for us to join the battle together and without haste, dedicating all of our force to finally obtain a just law, which governs denominations, forever linking them to the name of their territory of origin.¹⁹
Thirty-three growers became charter members that first night, all resident within the classico area. (An additional 156 would join in the first 6 months.) This does appear to be the first time the word classico was used to describe the historic region within the now broader Chianti, though it would not be officially attached to the area until 1932.
According to the constitution ratified that evening, the region included Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve, Radda in Chianti, as well as San Gusmè and Vagliagi within Castelnuovo Gerardegna. That said, the document also allowed for neighboring locations to be added if it was determined that they had suitable terroir, and evidence suggests that there was plenty of internal conflict over who was in and who was not, especially during those first years.
In October 1926, the Antinori family negotiated for the inclusion of San Casciano into the consortium, provided their vines grew on soil “composed predominantly of galestro and round alberese stones, but not of sandstone,”²⁰ following somewhat the original constitution’s descriptions of traditional Chainti soils.
Shortly after forming, the consortium chose their emblem — a black rooster on a field of gold. For many years known — colloquially at least — as the Consorzio del Gallo, or Rooster Consortium, today that same organization is called the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, and still proudly marks each bottle with the Lega del Chianti’s famous rooster.
While the evidence certainly does point to a fair amount of political finagling over borders — thus making it difficult to indisputably claim any particular region as true Chianti — this consortium certainly seems to have the most valid claim of any to the name. In the 1920s, however, their fight was only beginning….
After the formation of the Gallo Consortium, other Tuscan wine producers began mobilizing to protect their own interests. San Casciano, for example, formed a consortium in 1925, before the aforementioned agreement to join Gallo. Interestingly, as part of their original charter, they argued for different Chianti zones throughout the region, such as Chianti Rufina, Chianti Montepulicano, etc. (This isn’t the last we’d hear of this idea, and is yet another example of considering Chianti a synonym for Tuscan.)
In early 1927, another group of merchants and growers — mainly from the areas of Rufina, Montalbano and the Florentine hills — joined together to create the Consorzio del Vino Chianti, which would become the Gallo consortium’s chief adversary for years to come. They chose as their logo a cherub (putto in Italian) named Little Bacchus (Bacchino) and thus became known colloquially as Consorzio del Putto (or, sometimes, del Bacchino), in contrast to the already established Consorzio del Gallo.
Not surprisingly, the key tenet of Putto’s consortium was the idea that Chianti was a particular style of wine, not a wine from one specific place. Early on, they wrote that “Chianti is not the name of a wine of a certain zone, namely historic Chianti, but rather the generic name of a certain type of wine… Therefore this denomination must be extended to the wines produced in the zones of San Casciano, Carmignano, Montalbano, Colli Fiorentini, Pomino, Rufina, etc., because they are wines of exquisite finesse and particular organoleptic and commercial characteristics and because they have been marked since time immemorial both locally and abroad with the name Chianti.”²¹
Amazingly, Antinori in San Casciano — just four months after agreeing to join Gallo — left to become a founding member of the Putto consortium. The Guerra del Chianti was on.
Later in 1927, the Ministry of the National Economy saw to get involved, believing, of course, that an agreement between the two Chianti consortiums was beneficial to Italy in general. Minister Giuseppe Belluzzo — who had previously helped negotiate the agreement between the Gallo Consortium and Antinori — announced a plan to create a single Tuscan consortium with defined zones of production.
On March 9, 1928, Belluzzo sent letters to both the Sienese and Florentine agrarian federations, directing them to create this consortium by March 25, with six sub-zones: Chianti, Montalbano, Rufina, Montepulciano and Montalcino. The key aspect of these letters was the requirement that each zone be protected geographically. In other words, it seemed to be a big win for Gallo.
The ministry’s delimitations for Chianti mostly aligned with Gallo’s existing geographic-geologic borders, though San Casciano was again included — bringing the politically influential Antinori family back to the Gallo side. (I am also confused.)
Though the Sienese federation complied with the March 9 letter, the Florentines — including those powerful wine merchants — simply ignored it. By July 1928, Belluzzo was no longer in his position, and his declarations merely faded away. Gallo’s win was short-lived, trumped by Florentine political savvy.
The Fornaciari Commission’s Devastating Ruling
Gallo’s hope returned in July 1930, when a new law clarified vino tipico, essentially including place of origin as part of the definition, as well as stating that each could only have one consortium. But again this win would be short lived.
Typical wines were defined further as “genuine fine wines, which, having certified origin by place of production, by land, by grape varieties and by systems of preparation… have constant organoleptic characteristics which give them particular finesse and goodness.”²² Later that same year, typical wines were further broken into 3 categories: special, or fortified and sparkling wine; superior, those that “have special characteristics, are typical and constant, and which have acquired particular value following natural aging”; and fine, or those that do not have “the value of superior wines, but have such constant characteristics to make them worthy of protection.”²³ (This second example illustrates well how, throughout this period, the language improved slightly while ultimately remaining vague.)
In January of 1931, the Italian government appointed a commission — led by Parliament deputy Julo Fornaciari, and thus colloquially named after him — to make yet another recommendation for the Tuscan vini tipici, including of course Chianti. The commission’s charter was strengthened with the inclusion of noted academic Giovanni Dalmasso, director of the Research Center for Viticulture and Enology at Conegliano.
The Fornaciari Commission took perhaps the most comprehensive look at Chianti wine to date, including reviews of history, soils, varieties, and climate, as well as analyses of wine styles, quality and consistency. In addition, they considered impacts that any decision would have on the local and national economies.
In the summer of 1932, the commission announced their long-awaited decision: a Tuscany-wide Chianti appellation. It was a crushing blow against the Gallo Consortium.
The ruling came down to two major factors that, when considered together, failed to make a compelling argument for a distinct geographic Chianti region:
- The plethora of well-considered but unique interpretations on what the supposed historic Chianti area actually was, as well as the malleability of the same region’s borders over time.
- The variance of style and quality of wine within this supposed historic region, and the similarity of this style in the nearby zones.
“If the Chianti was a superior table wine, its name should be exclusively related to the above-mentioned area,” the commission wrote. “Conversely… the market commercial needs have justified the proliferation and constant research of similar wines — outside its original area — that in time were acknowledged as Chianti.”²⁴
There was, perhaps, a silver lining for Gallo, despite not seeming so at the time. The same decree that delivered such a seemingly decisive ruling also established the Chianti Classico subzone — along with six others: Montalbano, Rufina, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colli Arentini and Colline Pisane — that would become the foundation for today’s Chianti Classico. (But we’re not quite there yet.)
Though the Guerra del Chianti certainly continued over the next several decades, priorities like fighting phylloxera and World War II prevented any major developments from drastically changing the landscape.
Modern Denominations Finally Come to Italy
After WWII, complex cultural and political developments — such as the establishment of the European Economic Community (or EEC, a precursor to the EU) and the end of mezzadria — would have widespread impact on Italian society. Put incredibly simply, this climate led to the decline in both price and quality of Chianti Classico wine, thus quality-focused producers struggled during the period. It was another win for the powerful merchant-bottlers, who led a shifted focus on quantity-over-quality viticulture as well as the importation of bulk wine from Sicily and the south to meet demand.
The Ricasoli family — in a gesture of defeat — sold out, in 1958, to drinks conglomerate Seagram's. Both the titan of Chianti Classico and the broader Chianti brand itself would continue to erode for decades to come. Summing up the situation, famed wine writer Alexis Lichine commented, in the 1960’s, that “Chianti is one of the most abused names in the world of wine. Almost every wine-growing country has taken the name and applied it to almost any red wine as long as it is sold in straw-covered flasks.”²⁵
In 1963, inspired perhaps by the newfound EEC and modeled after the French system of 1935, Italy finally established their own denomination system, creating the DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) and the more stringent DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) — generally the same appellation controls that exist today. More importantly to the Gallo consortium, this new law specifically called out a delimited Chianti Classico within the broader Chianti area, thus establishing the precedent of historic subzones within larger appellations with the label classico, later used, for example, by Soave and Valpolicella.
Otherwise, this new combined Chianti DOC forced the different sub-regions to cooperate, in order to create regulations the Ministry of Agriculture would approve. In fact, the reason why arguably the most important wine region in all of Italy was not officially established until 1967 (four years after the law passed) was because it took that long for all the different parties to agree on terms. Along with this cooperation, of course, the Gallo/Classico consortium officially agreed for the first time — if tacitly — that the name Chianti was not theirs and theirs alone. This would resonate to other future classico regions, with producers from these historical areas losing forever exclusive rights to their place name.
At first, the Chianti DOC required 50–80% Sangiovese, 10–30% Canaiolo, 10–30% Trebbiano Toscano or Malvasia del Chianti, and 5 percent unspecified complimentary grapes. Amazingly, these specifications referred to not the amount of each grape in the final wine, but in the vineyard.²⁶ Which, because of its penchant for overgrowth, meant many probably contained more than just 30% Trebbiano Toscano.
Determined to maintain focus on quality over quantity —especially during yet another period of broader Chianti overproduction — Chianti Classico was able to require lower maximum yields and a higher minimum alcohol content when compared to the other subzones (which were the same as in the 1932 decree). They also continued to employ their own inspectors to test and evaluate wines and winemaking practices of member producers. In the 1960s, they began a campaign internally against the fiasco, moving towards Bordeaux bottles to illustrate their higher quality.
After Brunello di Montalcino became Italy’s first DOCG in 1980, and was quickly followed by titans Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Barolo and Barbaresco, interest increased in the Chianti consortiums to make the same move. Despite initial pushback from the larger merchants (since this would include stricter regulations), the area gained DOCG status in 1984.
With this updated certification, Gallo was able to further distance their wine from broader Chianti. In particular, the percentage of white varieties allowed (Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia del Chianti) was lowered to 2–5%, compared to 5–10% in the rest of the zone. Also Sangiovese was upped to 75–90%, compared to 70% in broader Chianti, and other grapes were maxed at 10%, versus 15%. (Note that these comparisons are to the general Chianti DOCG — some subzones, such as Rufina, also had their own unique guidelines.) The alcohol levels and maximum yields were further adjusted.
At this point, the Chianti traditionalists within the classico zone turned their focus to the next step in the Guerra del Chianti: succession.
1992 saw the introduction of Italian Law 164, best known for introducing the IGT classification between vino da tavola (basic table wine) and DOC levels, or the Italian government’s response to the rise of Super Tuscans. Article 5 of said law, however, in addition to legally defining the terms riserva and novello, indicated that autonomous regulation could also be attributed to classico zones within the same larger DOC/G. In other words, Chianti Classico could now legally separate itself from broader Chianti.²⁷
Thus, on August 5, 1996 — 72 years, 2 months and 26 days after the formation of the original consortium — Chianti Classico officially became its very own, independent wine region based on geographic origin. Though this was a long-fought and hard-won victory, finally giving Gallo full control over regulation, marketing, etc., it’s also worth noting the sadder aspect of all this. Members of the Chianti Classico Consortium — which represents, for the most part, the original, historical makers of Chianti wine — had now given up any rights to use the term Chianti on their label (without the Classico descriptor). Yet the originators of the Consorzio del Putto still proudly mark their own bottles with the name.
What Did We Learn?
There is, in the end, no flawless argument to declare any specific area the one and only true Chianti. Even focusing solely on the original Lega del Chianti area can be challenged, for example, if one examines the soil types and geological factors that extend to nearby terroirs.
With a turn of phrase too clever to ignore, academic researchers Bettaglia, Certomà and Frey identify the modern Chianti Classico region as the “common imaginary Chianti area,”²⁸ a descriptor that seems all too appropriate when considering the many historical, cultural, oenological, ecological and economic reasons for the region’s borders to exist as they do.
That said, if considering mainly the geographic typicity on which most other European wine regions are currently based, it does seem obvious that Chianti Classico has the most relevant claim to the historical Chianti name, and that in a perfect world the other Chianti sub-regions might drop it entirely. Alas, it would be impossible to take back all that has happened, and thus we remain with the confusing mess of labelling we have today.
A name on a wine label, of course, does not make it automatically good or bad. Every region with Chianti in its name is bound to offer interesting, well-made and fantastic wines alongside uninspired, insipid ones. As Chianti DOCG still houses many of the industrial producers that started this process in the first place, Chianti Classico may — with all other things being equal — offer higher quality with more consistency. But, in the end, the final consumer decision comes down to producer quality, particular bottlings and personal preference.
Next up: Read part 2 of my Chianti series, The Myth of the Famous Ricasoli Recipe.
 Massimo Pittau, “Chianti.” Accessed February 4, 2021. http://www.pittau.it/Etrusco/Studi/chianti.html.
 Raymond Flower, Chianti: The Land, the People and the Wine. United States: Garrett County Press, 2012, Google Books.
 Fernando Sieni, “The Legend of the Black Rooster, the Symbol of the Chianti Classico.” Posted June 4 2019. Accessed December 14, 2020. https://www.montefioralle.wine/en/blog/dettaglio/6-the-legend-of-the-black-rooster-the-symbol-of-the-chianti-classico.
 Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino, Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine. United States: University of California Press, 2016, Scribd.
 “The History of Chianti,” Chianti Travel Guide. Accessed December 14, 2020. https://www.chianti.info/chianti/the-history-of-chianti/.
 Flower, Chianti: The Land, the People and the Wine.
 “The History of Radda in Chianti,” Radda in Chianti. Accessed February 4, 2021. https://www.radda-in-chianti.com/history_of_radda.htm.
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