For the past 600 years, winemakers in Tuscany’s Chianti Classico have been trying to figure out the best way to deal with Sangiovese, their signature grape. In its purest state, Sangiovese produces wines that are light red in color, assertively tannic and intensely acidic. At its best, Chianti Classico is lithe and elegant while also being memorably present and structured. It’s some of the greatest wine to pair with food.
But for the past 30 years, that’s not what a large portion of the drinking public—Americans especially—wanted. Bigger, richer, denser wines were in style, and in response, many winemakers transformed their Chianti Classico into something it was never meant to be. Producers started planting and blending in up to 20 percent (the legal maximum) international grape varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, to bulk up the Sangiovese, give it more color, and temper its acidity and tannins. The result: wines that were truly anonymous. As Michele Braganti of Monteraponi told me, “Sangiovese is a very delicate grape, and the wine is very delicate; Merlot and Cabernet can often cover that up.”
For producers who were loyal to Sangiovese as the true grape of Chianti Classico, this perceived dumbing-down of the wine made them question their association with the Chianti Classico region. Several producers, including Montevertine, chose to leave the regional designation off their labels altogether.