What is the difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico? Is Chianti Classico better than the “normal” Chianti? Which is the Chianti with the black rooster on the label? These are only some of the questions that I get asked when tasting Chiantis. Lets start answering them.
Chianti and Chianti Classico are both part of the Chianti DOCG family that includes 8 appellations, 7 Chiantis and one Chianti Classico with its characteristic trademark, the Black rooster, the historic symbol of the Chianti Military League. The “normal” or non “classico” Chiantis are: Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Rùfina and Chianti Montespertoli each one referring to a well defined geographic area. The appellation depend on the provenance of the grapes.
Whilst all “normal” Chiantis have the same “disclipinare”, regulation, that each winery has to follow to be able to have Chianti on the label and are represented and belong to the same Consortium, the chianti Classico has its own regulation and Consortium. There are minor differences between the two wines, Sangiovese
is the main grape in both cases, Chianti requires a minimum of 75%, Chianti Classico slightly higher, 80%, the remaining can be any grape from a list of allowed grapes including whites for the Chianti, only red grape variety for the Classico.
A couple of decades ago, there was the tendency to keep Sangiovese to the minimum, to make the Chianti easier to drink, more round and suited to the average palate, the Sangiovese grape produces wines high in tannins and acidity. Producers using 100% Sangiovese were rare, the trend was wines easy to drink with characteristics wine drinkers were accustomed to, the trend was called “international taste” with plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Fortunately, this trend is gone and more and more producers are now producing 100% Sangiovese Chiantis.
And despite many Chianti and Chianti Classico now being made with 100% sangiovese, even within the same appellation, the wines can be very different and there isn’t a formula, simple or complex, to guess the wine in the bottle and whether one is better than the other, there is simply no answer to the question which one is better and this is due to the producer, each producer makes Chianti according to its own interpretation of the wine, approach that confuses consumers, often to a point that consumers move away all together from the wine because of one bad experience.
Chianti is not the only Italian wine that has “classico” on the label, Orvieto and Valpolicella are other examples and the considerations above apply to all wines, “classico” indicates the provenance of the grapes, and sometime additional requirements, eg alcohol content 12% instead of 11.5%, but nowadays, except from the provenance, each winemaker fulfil all.