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The historic Chianti Classico region, first outlined in 1716 by Cosimo di Medici III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, has made moves over recent years to raise the reputation of its wine. The regional winemakers’ association, the Consorzio Chianti Classico, has redefined its winemaking laws and classification systems, notably banning producers from making wines from grapes grown outside of estates in the region, which stretches between Florence and Siena. And In 2014, they introduced the Gran Selezione category as its flagship wine. Now, Chianti Classico producers are hoping the introduction of 11 new subzones that chart the changing landscape will strengthen the identity of their wines.

Announcing the official declaration of the new measures in July, President Giovanni Manetti said, “This represents a new step towards a greater appreciation of the unique characteristics of Chianti Classico.” Winemakers will be able to label their top-tier Gran Selezione bottles with geographic distinctions in addition to Chianti Classico. The new regulations also call for an increase in the amount of sangiovese (a minimum of 90 per cent, up from 80 per cent, starting in 2027) in these elite red wines while eliminating the use of international varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot or syrah.

The new subzones called Unita Geografiche Aggiuntive (UGAs for short, easier to say than the clumsy English translation, Additional Geographical Units). They are Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio and Vagliagli. The boundaries were drawn by cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti, who spent 15 years analyzing the climate, elevations and soils across Chianti Classico’s 70,000 hectare spread (home to 7,140 ha of vineyards) to document the varied landscape.

Sangiovese is the hallmark grape of Chianti Classico, but paying attention to vineyard as opposed to variety can help consumers understand why the region’s wines offer such a diversity of styles and flavours, from delicate and floral to spicy and refreshing to rich and fruity in nature.

More precise language on the label should draw attention to the site-specific nature of estate-grown Gran Selezione wines, which represent about five per cent of the wines produced each vintage. It’s a starting point that follows the logic used by producers in other fine wine regions in Italy, notably Barolo and Barbaresco. Many Chianti Classico producers are eager to use the geographic zones for other wines, which would require yet another change to the winemaking rules.

But more words on a label can also bred confusion for consumers. How many Canadian wine lovers note a difference between red wines from Chianti compared with those made in Chianti Classico? But that’s where education comes in. There’s obviously passion from winemakers in Chianti Classico to showcase what makes their wines special. It’s up to them to make these new distinctions meaningful.

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