The past: history of Chianti wine
To trace the history of the grapevine and its precious nectar we must go back to the Etruscan era. In fact, the grapevine arrived in Italy and specifically in the Chianti region of Tuscany thanks to them, as evidenced by some Attic pots from the 6th century BC found in Castellina in Chianti.
We do not know exactly which wines were produced at that time, but we know that most of Tuscany was cultivated with grapevines.
The wine culture then continued generously during the Roman Empire and survived even after the barbarian devastation, thanks to the commitment of the Benedictine and Vallombrosian monks.
These religious orders pursued, together with the care of the spirit also that of the countryside cultivated with grapevines and olive trees, pushing the populations to take care of the fields and taking care of the production of oil and wine: to them the merit of having spread the culture of the grapevine starting from the abbeys like Coltibuono and Passignano.
Starting in the year 1000, the specialized grapevine culture, which was raised in low rows, spread everywhere, both in the lands of the monks as well as in those ones of the secular clergy and of the lay lords.
To protect them from thieves and cattle were often placed vegetable gardens and closures and sometimes even the town walls. So great was the concern with the vineyard that no stranger was allowed to enter and the damage eventually caused was severely punished, even with torture if the grapevine was destroyed.
At that time the wine produced was affected by heavy taxation and the quality had to be paid based on the assessments of the land registry.
From wine of the rich to wine of the people
The word “Chianti” appears for the first time in a parchment from 790, while the first parchments referring to the vinification in Chianti date back to 913 and were found in the church of Santa Cristina in Lucignano.
We will have to wait until 1023 to get news of the concession of working and vineyard lands to a settler who undertakes to improve them in Grignano, near Florence.
It was in the Middle Ages, in fact, that the Chianti wine vocation, in the wake of the teachings of the monks, became manifest: as early as the 12th century, families whose names would have remained famous for a long time, such as the Ricasoli (producers of wine since 1141) and the Antinori (wine producers from 1385) started their wine production.
The road leading to the birth of the Municipalities is closely related to the continuous growth of wine production: the wine trade constitutes an important source of wealth, which strengthens power and control over the territory.
Witness, for example, the foundation in Florence towards the second half of the Two-Hundred, of the Art of Vinattieri, the most important of the Minor Arts, accompanied by the opening of taverns and wine cellars.
The habit of drinking wine, at that time, spread quickly and from a luxury product, the prerogative of noble tables, wine soon became a popular drink: it was present in all houses, from those of the rich to those of the peasants.
It was considered a real food and historical sources document that it was even used as a medicine to treat the sick.
We know from medieval documents that Chianti was known since then for its freshness and verve, characteristics derived from the ancient and particular vinification which required the addition of raisins to remove impurities and egg whites, almonds and salt to clear it, and finally pepper and rose petals to give it a nice color.
A wine to protect
Since the 1400s, when the excellence of Chianti wine was already evident, the need to protect it was imposed, protecting its name and quality. One of the first provisions in this sense was the prohibition by the Chianti League in 1444 to harvest before September 29th, the festivity of Saint Michael.
Subsequently penalties were established for those who counterfeited the original product or altered the seal.
A turning point came in 1716 when Grand Duke Cosimo III issued provisions, rules and controls to regulate production, sale and name; the boundaries of the various areas and the penalties for illegal trading and counterfeiting were also established.
But we have to wait until the second half of the eighteenth century so that the Georgofili Accademy (founded in Florence on June 4, 1753) began to experiment with the mixing of different types of grapes, identifying their characteristics before proceeding to vinification.
A further push to control processing and blends is due to the so-called Iron Baron, a historical figure in the Chianti area. In fact, Bettino Ricasoli demanded the separation of the grape stalks from the marc, the fermentation in closed pots and a rapid wine racking followed by the Government of Tuscan Use.
Only in 1874 did it come to define the Chianti blend to which it was inspired the current specification issued in 1984, over a century later.
At that time, Chianti was composed of the following grapes: Sangiovese for 70%, Canaiolo for 15%, Trebbiano and Malvasia for 10%, and the remaining 5% for Mammolo and Colorino. Composition that earned Chianti the first gold medal at the international exhibition in Paris.
On May 14, 1924, 33 producers in the Chianti area founded a consortium, then called Black Rooster, with the aim of protecting Chianti wine and its brand. Its symbol was the Black Rooster in a gold field (already symbol of the ancient Chianti League), whose origin is linked to an ancient and famous legend.
The wine of artists and poets
After the Medici peace, the Florentines began to look at the countryside as a source of investment and profit. Even Michelangelo bought houses and farms in Chianti region and personally took care of wine production.
Machiavelli in 1512 sought refuge in the estates he owned in Chianti area after being accused of conspiring against the Medici, in
particular in Sant’Andrea in Percussina, in whose rooms The Prince would have written.
On his farm in Castellina in Chianti, Galieo Galilei (1464-1642) also took refuge to forget the conflicts with the scientific world of that time and the accusations of heresy.
Later also Verdi (1813-1901) will appreciate the wine of these lands, if the wife Giuseppina Strepponi wrote to a friend “Verdi is fine, eat, run for the garden, sleep and drink Chianti”.
We conclude this tale on the history of this very celebrated and prestigious wine with the words of the great American wine expert and winemaker Burton Anderson: “Chianti stands out by far as the greatest of wines and holds the most famous wine in the world, even more of Champagne and Bordeaux ”.
Today Chianti is the most widespread and famous Italian wine in the world, both in Italy and abroad, where it is very well known and appreciated everywhere, both in the large traditional international markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, as well as in Asia and especially in China.
Written y: Diego Vita Sommelier
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