What is Chianti? Jim's Perspective.
Chianti is first a region in Italy roughly between Florence and Sienna going back for at least 700 years, perhaps much more. The Chianti league played an important part in the evolution of the states and city-states that now comprise Italy.
Virtually all farming was feudal, with peasants farming small portions of the rugged, Chianti countryside. They paid substantial chunks of their production to their feudal lord and the church. Most agriculture was promiscuous. That is, fruit, olive, or nut trees first defined the farm. Rows of grapes were planted between the trees. Because of the rough terrain and the fact that farming was by nature done by hand, these "rows" had little in common with our current perception of vineyard rows. Then, grain and, more recently as in post-Columbus, corn were planted between the vines. Further, the grapes were planted primarily to produce calories and alcohol. Five hundred years ago the peasant farmer's concept was survival, not production of "fine" wine from "noble" varieties.
Many varieties could be found in these vineyards, perhaps as many as 100, maybe more. Also, local nomenclature might have its own name for even the common varieties, such as Sangiovese. Still today Sangiovese has at least five different "names" in Central Italy.
In the 1800's Europe had somewhat of a Renaisance or discovery of wine on a broad scale. Perhaps it was the trading and consumption of the Brit's that advanced things past that of the Pope and a few local leaders. In Tuscany that led to the definition of Chianti (and its close cousins Carmignano and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano) and Brunell di Montalcino around the turn of the previous century. Brunello is 100% Sangiovese historically from the Sangiovese Grosso clone from the Montalcino area. Chianti and its cousins were defined as field blends, based primarily as Sangiovese (80-90%), traditional Tuscan whites such as Trebbiano and Malvasia (0-10%), and traditional Tuscan reds including Canaiolo Nero, Mamolo, and Colorino, among others (0-10%). These represented common vine types in the vineyard. Note that because of the vineyard devastation from phyloxera during the last 15 years of the 1800's, many vineyards were already being replanted! This facilitated a perceived upgrading of the grapes and wine.
So, today? Brunello remains 100% Sangiovese, but the rules for aging have been relaxed with a reduction of the time of barrel aging in favor of bottle aging. This is in response to the modern taste toward fruity and bigger wines.
The Chianti formula has evolved significantly in the last 30 years. The whites are excluded from the most current rules. Sangiovese is 80-100%. The remainder can be the traditional Tuscan reds or French Bordeaux varieties or Syrah. At a somewhat slower pace, I understand Carmignano and Vino Nobile have similarly updated their formulas. Cabernet Sauvignon has been a permitted component in Carmignano for a longer than Chianti.
Also, with Chianti, we have a number of appellations, some overlapping, most with their own distinctive characteristics. The "preferred" Chianti Classico region is the old Chianti League area between Florence and Sienna. Another seven appellations loosely surround the area, with typical geographical ties. For example, Chianti colli Senesi is Chianti from the hills around Sienna.
Ah, and with Vino Noceto? Misto is our "traditional" Chianti blend. The new, 2006 vintage of 140 cases is 89% Sangiovese from a Chianti clone on the Hillside block co-fermented with 1% Canaiolo Nero, 3.5% Malvasia, and 6% Trebbiano. The 200 cases of Hillside are 100% Sangiovese from that clone, which can be traced back to Isole e Olena. From the same clonal selection, Reward Ranch is from a neighbor's vineyard less than 1/2 mile away. These three wines usually show as cousins, but rarely as siblings. Dos Oakies, Marmellata, and Noce Knoll can be traced back to the respective Brunello producers Il Pioggione, Biondi Sante, and Altesino. On our estate these three are grown on a 16 acre, contiguous section. It's amazing the divergence of flavors and styles we see.
Enough? Ask. I can spout more until you want me to go away! And, millie grazie for your interest.