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The grape harvest at a Tuscan vineyard south of Florence, part of the Chianti subregion that can produce wines labelled Chianti Classico. (Giampiero Sposito/Reuters)
The grape harvest at a Tuscan vineyard south of Florence, part of the Chianti subregion that can produce wines labelled Chianti Classico. (Giampiero Sposito/Reuters)

I bought a bottle of Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico. But how can this winery call their Chiantis ‘classic’ if they’ve only been making them for 17 years? Add to ...

The question

I purchased a bottle of Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico but recently learned that the winery produced its first bottles only in 1999. How can they call their Chiantis “classic” if they’ve only been making them for 17 years?

The answer

The Italian word “classico” in this case is technical jargon, not a common adjective. In combination with the word Chianti, it refers to a geographical zone rather than an old-school wine style. Chianti itself is a large swath of vineyard area that covers much of Tuscany. Within that area is a much smaller subregion known as Chianti Classico, which stretches roughly from Florence in the north to Siena in the south. The Classico zone is considered the historical heart of the Chianti region as well as the source of many of its best wines, thanks in part to the rich concentration of soils known as alberese and galestro.

So, for example, a winery may produce a “Chianti” using grapes from the wider area, but it may also produce a “Chianti Classico” with fruit sourced only from the designated subregion. Similar “classico” designations exist for other Italian regions, such as Valpolicella and Soave.

Incidentally, while Il Molino di Grace was started by Frank and Judy Grace in the 1990s, the property had been the site of vineyards for more than three centuries, with previous owners selling their grapes to other producers rather than bottling them on site. So, in a sense, you were drinking a pretty classic Chianti.

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