Chianti history 101

A brief summary of the history of Chianti

As usual, the Etruscans got here first, and the name “Chianti”—the region came before the wine—is thought to be derived from the Etruscan Clantes clan. Legions of conquering Romans, Lombards, and Goths passed through the hilly region until it stabilized under the alternating control of Florence and Siena, beginning in the 1200s.

Florence and Siena fought for dominance of the Chianti area from the 13th through the 15th centuries, each of the city-states building castles in the area to protect its interests. Under Florentine organization, the military “Lega del Chianti” (Chianti League) was formed in 1255 by the cities of Radda, Castellina, and Gaiole.

They chose the “Gallo Nero” as their symbol, the same black rooster silhouette which serves as the symbol of Chianti Classico wine today.

By 1404 the red wine long produced here was being called chianti as well, and in 1716 a grand-ducal decree defined the boundaries of the Chianti and laid down general rules for its wine production, making it the world’s first officially designated wine-producing area.

In the 1830s, Bettino Ricasoli, “The Iron Baron,” brought professional processing techniques to wineries on his estates. He experimented with varietals using the Sangiovese grape as his base. Working off centuries of refinement, he eventually came up with the perfect balance of grapes that became the unofficial standard for all Chianti wine.

Soon the title “chianti” was being taken in vain by hundreds of poor-quality, vino-producing hacks, both within the region and from areas far flung, and the international reputation of the wine was besmirched.

To fight against this, Greve and Castelnuovo Berardenga joined the original Lega cities and formed the Consorzio del Gallo Nero in 1924, reviving the old black rooster as their seal. The consorzio (still active—their members produce about 80% of the Chianti Classico bottled) pressed for laws regulating the quality of chianti wines and restricting the Chianti Classico name to their production zone.

When Italy devised its DOC and DOCG laws in the 1960s, chianti was one of the first to be defined as DOCG, guaranteeing its quality as one of the top wines in the country, and the Iron Baron's old recipe served as the official, highly regulated formula for Chianti up until new national regulations loosened things up at the turn of the 21st century.

Today, nearly 104 sq. km (40 sq. miles) of Chianti are covered with over 6,800 hectares (17,000 acres) of grapevines producing some 90 million liters of wine per year that are bottled as Chianti Classico and carry the seal of the black rooster.

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