Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino are two of Italy's most famous and prestigious wines.
All Brunello di Montalcino wine is made exclusively from Sangiovese Grosso grape (a clone of Sangiovese) grown on the slopes around Montalcino – a village 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Siena. DOCG regulations require Brunello vineyards to be planted on hills with good sun exposure, at altitudes not surpassing 600 meters (1968ft). This limit is intended to ensure the grapes reach optimal ripeness and flavor before being harvested. Any higher than 600m and the mesoclimate becomes cooler to the point of unreliability. Fortunately the climate in Montalcino is one of the warmest and driest in Tuscany. Achieving full ripeness is consequently a rarely encountered problem for Brunello's vignerons. In good years the Sangiovese Grosso grapes ripen up to a week earlier than those in nearby Chianti and Montepulciano.
According to the disciplinare di produzione (the legal document laying out the wine's production laws) for Brunello di Montalcino, Brunello must be made from 100 percent Sangiovese and aged for at least four years (five for riserva wines). Two of these years must be spent in oak, and the wine must be bottled at least four months prior to commercial release.
The wine is typically garnet in color with aromas of red and black fruit with underlying vanilla and spice, and perhaps a hint of earthiness. The wines are usually full bodied with alcohol levels around 14 or 15 percent abv. Good tannic structure and bright acidity provides balance.
Sangiovese is Chianti’s heart and hero as well. Its calling card is mouthwatering acidity, a transparent ruby hue and flavors of black and red cherry. Further accents of violets, herbs, spice and earth are common in this dry red. Moderate tannins increase with quality, as does structure and body, which progresses from light to medium. Chianti rarely achieves the body and density of its Sangiovese-based cousin Brunello further south in Montalcino. Like all Italian wines, Chianti comes with rules. And like all Italian rules, they are frequently confusing. There are several categories of “Chianti.” There’s Chianti, which is the catchall appellation at the bottom of the quality pyramid; Chianti Classico, which has its own appellation; and Chianti Rufina and Chianti Colli Senesi, subzones of Chianti known for their high-quality bottlings.
Since 1996, the rules of Chianti’s broadest appellation require a minimum of 70% Sangiovese and a maximum of 10% being the white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano. Native red grapes like Canaiolo Nero and Colorino, as well as the international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are also allowed. These add fruit, tannin or softness to the final blend. Grapes from across the region (but excluding the Chianti Classico zone) can be blended into the wine. Chianti is meant to be consumed while young, bright and fresh. Chianti DOCG has two higher-quality categories: Superiore, for wines made from lower yields than straight Chianti, and Riserva, for wines aged at least two years before release.