The name Chianti says 'wine'. This area is composed of a mere 300 square km (115 square mi), in the center of Tuscany. It is between Siena and Florence, and overlooks the Elsa Valley. The terrain is hilly and varies from lush green forests to stony meadowland. The rows of wine grapes share the land with olive groves and an occasional oak tree.

Winemaking was introduced to the area by the Phoenicians and it became known as 'Oenotria', or 'land of wine'. Greeks, Etruscans and Romans were attracted to the area by sun and mountains and in their turns introduced new vine species and growing techniques. Italy in the decades after the turn of the millennium was known not only for having the largest harvest but also the finest vintages in the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately in the 18th century, the perceived quality of Chianti wines dipped to a low and in the 1880s, phylloxera, an insect that feeds on the roots and leaves of vines, destroyed many of Europe's vineyards. The vintners of Italy struggled heroically to recover from this loss of indigenous varieties.

Land in Chianti was very cheap during 1968 helping the situation to reverse. Visionaries took advantage of low land values and rebuilt the vineyards and the wine into a product that competes among the best in the world.

The climate in Chianti is wonderful fro grape production because of its stable, consistent, moderate weather. The area has stony, dry soil that is infused with limestone rock and provides ample light and warmth to the vines. Irrigation is used only in emergencies, therefore the vines naturally grow deep roots to acquire water and nutrients.

There are eight sub-regions, Chianti, Classico, Colli Arentini, Colli Fiorentine, Colli Senesi, Colli Pisane, Montalbano, Rufina and Montispertoli, that all have their own distinctive techniques and products. Like France's AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controllee) designation, Italy has its own classification methods to ensure quality product: DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) which specifies requirements for growing and winemaking.

Italy now grows more than 100 official varieties of vitis vinifera, the vine species that produces 99% of the world's wines. The noble reds of Chianti have become known throughout Europe as fine wines, of which there is no better expression than the Classico.

Two-thirds of 10,000 hectares (24,000 acres), are registered for the production DOCG Chianti Classico, produced by using at least 80 percent of Sangiovese.

Other varieties of the region include Sangiovese blended with Canaiolo (up to 20%) and Colorino. Whites include, a Trebbiano or Malvasia. To ensure the best quality yields are limited by law to nine tons per hectare.

Even though there are no legal requirements dictating aging in oak, many vintners prefer it for their Riserva wines with 12% alcohol by volume.

The Chianti red is a deep ruby color that tends to pomegranate when aged. Its flavor is dry and slightly tannic and it holds and intense aroma that sometimes hints of violets.

As Italian vintners continue to work around restrictive regulations, the Chianti's world reputation increases.

Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.

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