Hillside vineyards with altitudes of 150 to 500 meters supply the vast majority of the better-quality wines. The Sangiovese vine, which is the backbone of the regional production, requires the concentration of sunlight that slopes can provide to ripen well in these latitudes. Growers value the significant temperature fluctuation between day and night as an important factor in developing its aromatic qualities.
The Arno River marks the northern border for cultivation of Sangiovese in Tuscany. The zone of Carmignano, which virtually touches the river’s bank, is predominantly planted with Sangiovese but has earned its status as a DOCG zone, based on the Cabernet Sauvignon that has been grown here since the 1700s. Southward through the Chianti Classico appellation are the zones of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Wines from this region become richer, fuller, more intense and higher in alcohol. Montalcino is the only viticultural area of Tuscany where Sangiovese has always been fermented on its own; in the past, both Chianti and Vino Nobile were blended with Canaiolo, Malvasia and Trebbiano to soften the Sangiovese’s youthful austerity.
Winemaking standards and traditions in this area date back over a thousand years. The earliest reference to wine retailers in the city dates from 1079. In 1282, wine sellers formed a guild, the Arte dei Vinattieri, designed to regulate the trade and uphold its reputation. Giovanni di Pietro Antinori joined in 1385, a member of a noble family who continues to make and sell wine in Tuscany today.
In an area best known as the Italian center for art, language and history, one other significant contribution hails from Tuscany to the appreciation of the rest of the world—Chianti.
Chianti towers over the region as the predominant wine. With close to 24 million gallons produced in an abundant vintage, Chianti is Italy’s largest single group of DOC wines, supplying 80 percent of the region’s DOC-classified wines and almost a third of the total wine produced in Tuscany.
Chianti has seven distinct subzones: Chianti Classico, Chianti Aretini, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Montalbano and Chianti Rufina. A wine made in any of these subzones may be labeled by the subzone name or simply as Chianti. Wines from Chianti Classico are considered to be of better quality and can usually be identified by a black rooster, or gallo nero, on the label.
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