Chianti Classico Adopts Subareas and a New Blend

By Italian Wine Central Staff
June 6, 2023
Posted June 6, 2023; updated July 5, 2023

Three centuries after being identified as the source of one of Italy’s and the world’s top wines, Chianti Classico is going through a makeover intended to shine a spotlight on the specific characteristics of its communes by further subdividing and reorganizing them. According to Giovanni Manetti, owner of Fontodi estate and president of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, the goal is to bring attention to specific areas as consumers look to know more about where their wines are coming from. Ultimately, the idea is to make these communally designated wines more competitive in today’s global markets.

Although Manetti made proposals along these lines nearly 30 years ago, the plan was not warmly received. However, as the complexion of the consorzio membership has changed and international demand for wines from better-defined areas has grown, the plan now has traction.

The establishment a decade ago of a quality level above Riserva called Gran Selezione was the precursor. Now in this next phase, the consortium of producers is introducing a number of changes to the rules that will allow wines at the Gran Selezione level to distinguish themselves in two dimensions:

  • externally from wines of other places by using only traditional Tuscan grape varieties, and
  • internally by defining subdivisions within the overall Chianti Classico DOCG that they hope will show off the nuances of the large denomination’s terroir.

This is a big story for Chianti Classico and one that is evolving. As the consorzio’s educational materials explain, “This is a project destined to grow and improve in the years to come designed as a legacy for future generations.” In this article, we’ll refresh readers on the origin of the Gran Selezione designation, the current rules for production, and the primary changes to those rules, along with the timing of their implementation.

Creation of Gran Selezione

Chianti Classico made a splash in 2014 when it introduced Gran Selezione as a unique quality level above Riserva. The new designation’s purpose was to distinguish some of the highest quality, most serious wines from the denomination and claim a secure spot in the luxury wine tier. The strategy was an earnest one and has had moderate success in elevating Chianti Classico’s reputation. The consorzio reports that 154 wineries now make at least one Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, and the designation represents 5% of the denomination’s total production—but 13% of revenue.

Gran Selezione was controversial from the start, however, because many saw it as only a half measure at best. As written, GS was really just a Riserva with a little extra aging (2½ years rather than 2 years minimum). The main innovation of the concept was to require the grapes used for GS to be entirely from vineyards controlled by the winery. This sounds like a mandate for locally specific, terroir-driven wines in the mold of Bordeaux estates—and in many cases it was. However, a large winery that owns or leases vineyards sprinkled all over Chianti Classico could still make a relatively unremarkable blend that meets GS requirements. Furthermore, there were no defined areas inside Chianti Classico that were technically allowed to be identified on the wine label. But this was a first step, and as Manetti explained, with such an ambitious project, “You have to start somewhere. Or you will never start.”

Current Rules

For several years, Chianti Classico has had its three levels: basic rosso (or annata), Riserva, and Gran Selezione. The rules specify different minimum alcohol levels (12% for Rosso, 12.5% for Riserva, and 13% for GS) and minimum aging times (a year for Rosso, 2 years for Riserva, and 2½ years for GS). The blending requirements are identical: 80% to 100% Sangiovese, with a long list of native and international red grape varieties that can make up any remainder. For Gran Selezione, however, there was the proviso that the grapes had to be harvested only from the winery’s own vineyards.

Moving Forward

With the approval of the new disciplinare, changes are being introduced that have the potential to put some real separation between the Riserva and Gran Selezione levels and fulfill more of the latter’s initial promise. Some of these changes will have immediate effect, but others will come into effect over the next few vintages (see below). There are two key aspects to the new regime: identification of smaller geographical subdivisions within the denomination and a stronger focus on Sangiovese and native grape varieties.

Introduction of UGAs

At long last, the consorzio has come to an agreement on a first order of non-overlapping districts that will allow producers to highlight and promote local variations within the 30-mile-long Chianti Classico denomination. These are officially known as UGAs (unità geografiche aggiuntive, “additional geographical units”), and at least for now they will be available only to Gran Selezione wines. There is no requirement for a GS wine to be from a single UGA, but those that are will be able to carry the UGA name on the label. These UGAs are retroactive, meaning that GS wines from the 2022 and earlier vintages that are still aging at the wineries will be able to feature them on the labels as they are released.

Chianti Classico DOCG includes all or part of eight communes, and the new UGAs follow commune boundaries to a large extent (see accompanying map). The communes of Castellina, Gaiole, and Radda, along with the portions of San Casciano in Val di Pesa and Castelnuovo Berardenga that are within the denomination boundaries, form individual UGAs. Meanwhile, the two partial communes of Barberino Tavarnelle and Poggibonsi have been combined as San Donato in Poggio UGA. The commune of Greve, on the other hand, has been broken apart, initially becoming two UGAs: the highly regarded frazione (hamlet or village) of Panzano by itself, with the rest of the commune forming the Greve UGA.

Further Partition for 2027

Three additional UGAs will appear as of January 2027. Greve will spin off two more frazioni: Montefioralle (the village pictured at top) and Lamole. At the same time, the two “wings” of the southern commune of Castelnuovo Berardenga will become separate UGAs. The one on the east will retain the name Castelnuovo Berardenga, and the western part will be called Vagliagli—destined to be added to the list of most mispronounced wine locations (vahl-YAHL-yee). Producers in these areas will have the one-time-only choice of taking the new name or continuing to use the previous UGA (i.e., Greve or Castelnuovo Berardenga) on the label.

A New Recipe for Gran Selezione Wines in 2027

Breaking from the longtime minimum of 80% Sangiovese for all Chianti Classico wines, Gran Selezione wines will be required to have at least 90% Sangiovese starting with the 2027 vintage. The new higher standard will strengthen the connection with that variety (and push the wines a little closer to those of Brunello di Montalcino, which require 100%). In addition, the remaining 0–10% of the wine will be restricted to a small set of native Italian grape varieties (e.g., Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, and Colorino, among others). International varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which even in small quantities can move the flavor profile out of the traditional Chianti spectrum, will not be permitted in Gran Selezione bottlings.

While these are significant changes to the Chianti Classico formula that go into effect with the 2027 vintage (released in 2030), it should be noted that many producers already use higher percentages of Sangiovese or will adopt the new standard before it becomes mandatory, so this will not be an abrupt change.

Featured photo of Montefioralle by Matej Drha on Unsplash

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