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Chianti vs. Chianti Classico? Learn the difference.

The region of Tuscany in Italy is home to four of Italy’s most famous red wines: Chianti,  Chianti Classico, brunello di Montalcino and vino mobile di Montepulciano.  Sangiovese is the primary grape in these wines so how can they all taste so different?

 Chianti Classico

The vineyard site is critical; Tuscany is covered in gently sloping hillsides and low mountains creating microclimates resulting in different wine profiles.  There are also hundreds of clones and mutations of Sangiovese making it even more interesting!  Each of these clones has adapted to its sight producing wines with terroir perhaps not found in other areas of Tuscany.  In fact, in 1987 a study was started called the Chianti Classico 2000 Project to research the clones over a 16 year period.  At the completion of the study 239 clones of Sangiovese were identified and reviewed and then 7 of those clones were registered as “Chianti Classico 2000” clones due to their high quality.
And now you might be asking yourself, right, I see Chianti Classico on some labels and not on others.  What does that mean?  Well, Chianti Classico is the original region in Chianti, and it produced the richest and fullest bodied wines with a unique character to the area.  In 1984 the region gained its DOCG status.  By law, the wines must be 80%-100% Sangiovese and up to 20% Cabernet, Merlot, Canaiolo, or Colorino.  Chianti Classico with “Reserva” on the label legally must age for at least two years in barrel and three months in bottle.  Most are aged longer than that and only in the best years.


Different from Chianti Classico, the region of Chianti has its DOCG status and set of rules.  Therefore, you can’t make a Chianti in Chianti Classico, and you can’t make a Chianti Classico in Chianti. There are eight sub-zones within Chianti, and two we see a lot of in our area are Ruffina and Colli Senesi.  Don’t be fooled thinking Chianti Classico is better than Chianti.  That simply isn’t true.

brunello di Montalcino

So now we have the Chianti’s down but what the heck is brunello di Montalcino or more commonly referred to as Brunello?  Brunello means “nice dark one” so can you take a guess how the wine might taste?  Yup, they are usually fuller-bodied and big red wines made from Sangiovese. So how can they be so different than Chianti?
Brunello’s comes from Montalcino, a walled-in medieval village up on a rocky hilltop about an hour south of Chianti.  It’s warmer here which results in fuller-bodied wines with layered aromas and complexity with juicy fruit flavors of blackberry and dark cherry, chocolate, tobacco, and leather.  Mama Mia! The Sangiovese clone used in these wines is Brunello, different than in Chianti.  Brunello’s also have laws on aging; wines must age for five years, two of which must be in oak and four months must be in the bottle.  Riserva wines age for six years in which two must be in oak and 6months must be in the bottle.   These babies need to lay down in your cellar too.  They can go on and on for 100 years or more.  That’s what I call wine!

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

I feel like this wine is the red-headed stepchild when it comes to Tuscan wines.  I mean to have to live up to the reputation of your brothers and sisters who draw in tourists, wine lovers, wine awards, and all the stuff and then, well, there’s you.  Oh, and let’s not forget you are regularly confused with the Montepulciano grape which is not even made in Montepulciano to the point you will probably have to change your name in the future.  Regardless of all of this nonsense, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano can be a good table wine.  The wines here have some spiciness to them and are leaner in style with high acid and red fruit flavors.

Get Lushy with Tuscan Wine

If you have ever visited Tuscany, you understand how easy it can take hold of your heart.  Every time I pop a cork of Tuscan wine, I think about one of my trips there drinking wine and eating cheese that apparently had been blessed by the Pope over 1,000 years ago.  We heard that several places so either the Pope was busy drinking and blessing, or it’s a pretty good marketing scheme.  Either way, it worked on me.
I’d love to taste some of these wines with you!  See what all the fuss is about at my Italian Wine Sale on March 9th at the Happy Lush Studio in Felida.

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