Why don’t Americans drink Chianti?

I recently attended the launch of the Slow Wine Guide as well as the Italian Wine Masters class on Tuscan wines.

One of the wines that we tasted and discussed, was Chianti.

Forget everything you know about straw basket Chianti. The main grape of Chianti, Sangiovese, with it’s high aciditiy, produces some of the most affordable, food friendly, versatile wines that I enjoy.

Also, because Chianti can be made in so many styles you are sure to find one that suits your tastes.

So why don’t we drink Chianti, more often? STRAW BASKETS!

It is probably due to Americans past negative experiences with Chianti…

1. Originally the laws for making red wine in Chianti were very restrictive:

•  Wines needed to include a white grape, Malvasia (they don’t anymore)

•  Producers had to match the “recipe” or established percentage of each grape set in the mid 19th Century (now vast improvements have been made by winemakers)

2. Quality of wine exported to the United States was not very good. Producers focused on quantity, for exports, and kept the best wines for the local market (Italians)

3. The main grape, Sangiovese, doesn’t grow well outside of Italy so we are not as familiar with it as we are with other California staples like Cabernet and Merlot.

NEW, IMPROVED Chianti… On to the wines

Since 1996 the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico is 75-100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo, and up to 20% of any other approved red grape variety. Colorino is most often used in traditional Chianti, but Chianti can also now include others like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. Since 2006, the use of white grape varieties such as Malvasia and Trebbiano, have been prohibited in Chianti Classico.

The styles of Sangiovese, something for everyone.

Lighter bodied Chianti-

Very pale orange-red in color with a large percentage of Sangiovese grapes. They are usually treated in Stainless Steel, concrete, or neutral (pre-used) oak. These are fruity wines that can be slightly chilled and enjoyed all year long, even in Summer.

 Some inexpensive Sangiovese favorites:

La Parrina Rosso– tasted at the Slow Wine event, it is very fruit forward, spends time        in only stainless steel (fermenting and ageing). This may be my new summer red- around $15.

Villa Piccini– light bodied but ripe, a fruity wine that still maintains tradition. Very inexpensive and easy to find as it is carried by Total WineUnder $10.

“Casamatta” Rosso, Bibi Graetz – 2010 (2007 pictured)– not Chianti but a 100% Sangiovese that you should try to see how clean and fresh Sangiovese can taste.        Between $10 and $15.

Tolerant Taster approved!

Modern styled-

These Chianti’s use higher percentages of non-native varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. While only 15% is permitted in the blend, the nature of those grapes can dominate the lighter Sangiovese grape.

Winemakers use more, new oak and smaller barrels (called barriques) to age the wine. This produces a richer, sweeter wine, that is more similar  to Bordeaux blends.

 HINT: Modern producer bottle labels use brighter colors and have more modern  designs and typefaces.

La Massa Panzano (pictured)- Giampaolo Motta challenges the old methods and thinking. He quit producing Chianti Classico but his wines usually meet the requirements and his vines are located in a famous Chianti region (Panzano). This is one of my favorite Italian producers. Try La Massa, or splurge and try his flagship wine, Giorgio Primo with a Porterhouse steak!!!

Tolerant Taster approved!

Antinori Chianti Classico PèppoliThe Antinori Family has been making wine for over 600 years but they do not rest on their laurels. They use modern methods to cater to American palates but they make solid wines across all of their brands, year after year.

Many other modern styled Italian wines can be found labeled as IGT or fall into the category of SuperTuscan.


These wines focus on maintaining the integrity and uniqueness of Chianti– focusing on Sangiovese (not masking it) with light or neutral oak treatment. This method produces an earthy wine with cherry, violet flavors that are light in color but have gripping “gravelly” tannins.

HINT: Traditional producers use traditional colors and old world typefaces on their labels-mostly white or off-white with only black, red, gold  or silver graphics and type.

Monteraponi Chianti Classico– (pictured above) traditionally made Chianti that preserves all of the freshness of fruit and yet maintains Chianti’s classic “gravelly” tannins. This was my favorite wine of both tastings but it is not widely distributed. Around $20

Cecchi Chianti-although it is not made in large barrels they produce classic wines (red fruit, violets with enjoyable grip in the tannin) that are very affordable. Base Chianti- under $10, on sale.

Monte Bernardi SA’ETTA (Thunderbolt)-Traditional methods including aging in Concrete the wines are fresh and complex. A member of the Slow Wine movement and an organic/biodynamic producer they are one to watch.

Read more about this newer producer

Chianti Classico Volpaia– aged in large Slovenian Oak (botti) this has earthy, cherry flavors  that are classic Chianti- under $15.




2 thoughts on “Why don’t Americans drink Chianti?

  1. I too think that one of the reasons why Chianti isn’t more popular in the US is because there are so many bad ones out there. I had stopped drinking Chianti about 10 years ago because it was just too harsh. I was in Florence for several days in March and had the chance to try several Chiantis and some Merlots also. I have completely turned around and am only drinking Chianti.. My favorites in the moderate price range are Chianti Colli Senese La Lastra–a fruity, very lightly spicy wine, Basciano Chianti Rufina 2009(my favorite at this time)–a really lovely round Chianti with a touch of spice and Castello del Trebbio Chianti Rufina Lastricato–the most expensive of the three, not quite as full bodied as the others, but delicious. I recommend all of them without hesitation.

    • Joe, thank you very much for responding and sharing some of your favorites. Chianti and / or Sangiovese is so versatile. It can be kept simple and fruity or it can be fermented with skins and oaked to provide a very full bodied wine that will stand up to the heaviest dishes (boar ragu, Tuscan t-bone). We were fortunate enough to travel to Tuscany for the annual Chianti festival (greve-in-chianti). That was what did it for me!

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