The Consorzio of Chianti Classico 'counts on the professionalism of the press … to insure [sic] that the name of the "Chianti Classico" not be modified or shortened. Substituting "Chianti Classico" with "Chianti" means radically changing the information [sic] which we are communicating.'
At the time, I felt like the Consorzio was holding journalists accountable for the fact that they didn’t make a clear enough distinction between Chianti, a huge area that also encompasses the Chianti Classico region, and Chianti Classico. Identical to the far more superior Chianti Classico, and for reasons that can only be political, Chianti was awarded the highest designation of quality wines in Italy, the DOCG, although it needs to comply with much less stringent production rules.
For years it has been a battle, also experienced by me, to make wine lovers understand the stylistics and qualitative difference between the two. For me they are very obvious, but I admit that also I failed.
It is not as if producers turning out stunning wines under the Chianti Classico designation, have not done their fair share of the work. It is especially them we have to thank for a style of wine, which is really distinct from the other two regions that use the same grape variety, Sangiovese, as the main vehicle to transcend terroir into the glass: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino.
Although it would have been easier, as well as more profitable, to label their fine expressions simply as IGT Toscana (or Indicazione Geografica tipica, but in actual fact a mere vin de pays or land wine designation allowing only for the crudest of geographic provenance), they couldn’t but label their wines as Chianti Classico, the region of origin of these complex wines. They couldn’t forsake it because they felt the region itself gave them, and us, these special wines, which they wanted the world to know by its proper name, instead of some anonymous IGT. Great wine has provenance, it comes from a precise location, and one, which gives it its unique character. This uniqueness is exactly what gets wine lovers excited.
But to let the world know of this special and unique place, and to share deeper knowledge of its intricate terroir, Chianti Classico is hindered time and again by the fact that these classic hills are seen as identical to the generic Chianti, causing for confusion and low expectations from the side of the wine lover, especially regarding quality and complexity in the wines. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
The Consorzio, in its long history, has always courageously carried the Chianti Classico banner throughout the world, promoting untiringly the black rooster symbol as a distinct point of difference, and something wine lovers should look out for. But the approach has failed, evidenced by almost every producer of fine Chianti Classico, who reports time and again, that in his or her encounter with wine lovers they endlessly had to repeat the explanation: that Chianti Classico is different from Chianti proper. But the explanation just doesn’t stick.
The solution is not yet another marketing strategy, which continues on the same road, but to create a truly recognizable point of difference, based on the unique and different styles between the villages within the Chianti Classico region, and label the wine accordingly. This approach, while logical in itself, has always received lukewarm response from within the region, with the argument that soil compositions are too complex an diverse and that the hills offer too many different expositions and altitude, which have a crucial impact on the final wines, to neatly corral them in such simplistic system. But it is exactly this kind of complexity, which gets wine lovers in awe about how many different expressions of the same indigenous grape exist in a single region. So why not try and cut it down into logical portions?
Chianti Classico can get its cue from Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, which would provide the perfect structure to make the necessary, complex terroir research manageable: by dividing Chianti Classico into subzones based on the main villages (and something that unofficially has been the conventional way of talking about the region), and allowing their names to be printed prominently on the label.
Insisting that it is impossible, is ignoring the fact that each producer has detailed knowledge of his or her terroirs. It also ignores that wine professionals and wine lovers are already referring to Chianti Classico as “Gaiole”, Panzano, or “Lamole” to indicate location and style of a certain wine. Lots of research, notably collected by the Consorzio of Chianti Classico itself since the 1980s in a project called Chianti Classico 2000, is available too. And Italy’s expert by far on mapping regions based on soil composition, altitude and grape varieties, Alessandro Masnaghetti, has already made big inroads with maps of Panzano, Gaiole-in-Chianti, Castellina-in-Chianti and Radda-in-Chianti. We need more detail, not less, to explain the uniqueness of the Chianti Classico wines - based on provenance. Any other approach has proved to be ineffective.
We want this work, because that’s what it is and we wouldn’t want to hide that fact, to be shared with as many people as possible. The first port-of-call are the producers themselves, who possess a wealth of information on the specifics of their vineyards with regard to soil composition, varieties planted, exposure and altitude, and which we hope they are willing to share with anyone who is interested. This website aims at making this knowledge available in order to come to a finer distinction between subzones. And in doing so giving us proper tools to explain what Chianti Classico is about and, crucially, what makes it special. It is origin that makes any great wine unique. There is no arguing about it, so why downplay it?