Seminar Notes: Chianti Classico
2016 André Simon Book Award
We are delighted and honored to inform you that our new book, Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine (UC Press), has just been selected for the shortlist of the 2016 André Simon Book Award. André Simon was the most respected 20th century author writing in the field of gastronomy. Each year the André Simon Memorial Fund gives an award for the best book on food and one on beverages. The winning book in each category will be announced in London in late January. In 2014, our first book, The World of Sicilian Wine (UC Press) won the award for 2013.
The Wine Lover's Library
A collection of new wine books on the personal, the scientific and everything in between Thomas Matthews, Bruce Sanderson, Harvey Steiman, James Laube
Issue: December 31, 2016
The Search for Tuscany's Noblest Wine
By Bill Nesto, MW, and Frances Di Savino (University of California Press, 339 pages, $40)
In this book, Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino embrace the story, landscape and culture of Chianti Classico. Along the way, they explain why the region is the source of great wine and clarify the sometimes-confusing regional distinctions. Despite its 300-year history as one of the first legally defined appellations, Chianti Classico has been linked with the external Chianti region throughout. As a result, most wine lovers today do not know the difference between Chianti Classico and Chianti, a large area with several sub-zones that surround Chianti Classico.
Much of that confusion arises from the conflicts between Chianti Classico and external Chianti as Italy's modern wine laws were written. Chapters Two, Three and Four detail the history of the two Chiantis and the struggle for recognition of the Classico zone. The authors explain why external Chianti and Chianti Classico share Italy's highest denomination, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), despite the former's less stringent regulations and more commercial wines.
The ensuing chapters describe Chianti Classico, from its geography to its viticulture and production. Along the way, we learn that Sangiovese was seen as Chianti Classico's most important grape as early as 1552, only to fall out of favor in agricultural literature until 1871, when Bettino Ricasoli cited it as the majority grape variety for his recommended blend for Chianti.
Perhaps the most important element in the history of Chianti Classico and its wines is the mezzadria, the sharecropping system introduced by the Florentines in the 15th century to manage agricultural holdings. Contracts between landowners and tenant farmers essentially prevented innovation in viticulture and winemaking techniques.
While these arrangements, finally abolished in the 1960s, preserved the natural landscape of the Chianti Classico hills, they resulted in low-quality wine that has only improved in the past 40 years with the advent of better farming and winemaking. The impact of this system is well-chronicled throughout the book.
The section profiling winegrowers by sub-zone is far from exhaustive, given the detail and painstaking research of the remainder of the book. There are many excellent and historic estates listed, as well as some newcomers. There are also several smaller, less well-known producers, with limited distribution in the United States. Nonetheless, it's a good starting point for anyone visiting the region for the first time.
The authors leave us with the mystery of Cosimo III de' Medici's decree of 1716 delimiting the area of Chianti. This document, which may have confirmed the argument for a separate Chianti Classico region, went missing until the 1970s.
Ultimately, this is the story of a region in search of identity and reputation, a compelling read for anyone who enjoys the wines of Chianti Classico or Tuscany.