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‘A profound desire to find the truth’ about Chianti Classico

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Ellen Bhang

If you think of Chianti as Italian table wine in a straw-covered flask, two scholars want to update that notion with their new book.

Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino are coauthors of "Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany's Noblest Wine." The book, published this month by University of California Press, offers a deep dive into the history, viticulture, and enology of Chianti Classico, the wine region and appellation situated snugly between Florence and Siena, distinct from the surrounding production zone simply called Chianti. The book's release coincides with the 300th anniversary of a decree, set forth in 1716 by Medici ruler Cosimo III, defining the boundaries of the Chianti Classico region. That historic decree underscores the argument that these place-based wines are set apart from those made in what the authors call "external Chianti."


Nesto and Di Savino, who describe themselves as "partners in life and on the wine road," both have ties to Tuscany that reach back more than 20 years. Nesto, one of about 350 Masters of Wine worldwide and senior lecturer at Boston University, says that Chianti was the first Italian region he visited while preparing for the MW exam. Di Savino, an attorney with a background in medieval and Renaissance studies, lived with one of the region's oldest winegrowing families while attending the University of Florence.

The duo spent the last few years revisiting the region and conducting archival research that culminated in the scholarly work. "It is not driven by fashion," says Nesto of their research, "but by a profound desire to find the truth."

Uncovering the truth begins with correcting outdated perceptions. "Chianti has the image of the straw-covered flask," acknowledges Nesto, talking about the fiasco bottles popular through the 1970s. That image of cheap wine persists, even as winemaking and wine law in the region have evolved dramatically. That evolution has been driven by conflict, as Chianti Classico producers tussled with commercial interests in external Chianti for the right to own the Chianti name.


The book devotes a chapter to dozens of the region's producers who make their living by growing, vinifying, and bottling wine. That chapter provides a jumping-off point toward discovering bottles available here on shop shelves.

The black rooster insignia on every bottle of Chianti Classico guarantees authenticity of origin, and signals that it has met more stringent production criteria than bottles simply called Chianti. Chianti Classico must be crafted from at least 80 percent sangiovese grapes, and there is stylistic diversity among these pours, as producers make decisions about alcohol-by-volume levels, and whether to blend in other permitted varietals.

When you pick up the book, and select one of these food-friendly bottles for your fall table, you are supporting what these wine scholars like to do best.

"We're teaching people what Chianti Classico is," says Nesto.

Castello di Ama "Ama" Chianti Classico 2013 Aromas in this pour — mostly sangiovese with a splash of merlot — suggest berries, cherries, leafiness, and a whiff of dried blue floral. Fully dry and lithe in weight, with fine-grained tannins. 12.5 percent ABV. Around $26. At Martignetti Liquors, Brighton, 617-782-3700; Liquor Junction, Woburn, 781-773-4000.

Monte Bernardi "Retromarcia" Chianti Classico 2013 This fully dry pour, 100 percent sangiovese, offers scents of red fruits, crushed violets, and anise, with ferrous soil beneath. Ripe plum and tart cherry flavors are anchored by appetizing bitterness, fine tannins, and a savory, rare meat note. 13 percent ABV. Around $25. Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, 617-354-4750; Andover Classic Wines, Andover, 978-470-0500.


Poggio al Sole Chianti Classico 2011 Mostly sangiovese with merlot and canaiolo, this pour communicates dried plum and potpourri on the nose. Tannins are up front, and a subtle seam of sweetness emphasizes ripe fruit. 14 percent ABV. Around $20. At Inman Square Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-945-2902; Needham Center Fine Wines, Needham, 781-400-1769.

Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico 2011 Ripe and exuberantly scented, this blend (mainly sangiovese with canaiolo, malvasia nera, and colorino) offers prominent oak, texture, and noticeable residual sugar as part of its concentrated, youthful-tasting profile. 14.5 percent ABV. Around $22. At The Wild Duck Wine & Spirits, North End, 617-248-8893; Colonial Spirits, Acton, 978-263-7775.

Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com.