Brief history of Chianti: from the origins of the name to wine production

Brief history of Chianti: from the origins of the name to wine production

Origins of the name Chianti

The origins of the name Chianti aren’t certain. According to some versions of history, the name could come from Latin for clangor, or noise, from the sound of the hunt that rang throughout the forests that once covered the entire territory. Other versions say that it comes from the Etruscan word clante, or water, as the area has always been rich in water sources, but also name of an Etruscan family of the territory.

Already from these possible origins, one can intuit the richness and fertility of the Chianti area, with its mild climate and verdant flora and fauna, creating a territory well-adapted to inhabitation since the second millennium BC.

Etruscan an Roman era in Chianti

The Etruscans were the ones who first shaped the Chianti landscape. They abandoned the pastoral life for the agricultural, introducing the cultivation of grapevines. The Romans came next, and with them the beginnings of serious olive tree cultivation.

With the end of the Roman Empire, the area of Chianti went through centuries of battles, wars, and hardships, a situation that remained unvaried for all of the High Medieval.

The League of Chianti

After the year 1000, the Chianti territory began to develop again. Its viticultural vocation re-emerged in the 12th century, when families like the Ricasoli and Antinori staked their claims to the territory and began to build the reputation of the Chianti denomination.

The first documents in which Chianti is mentioned as a wine area date back to the 13th century as a reference to the League of Chianti, created in Florence in an attempt to form regulations for Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina, producers of red wine made from a base of Sangiovese.

The legend of the Black Rooster, symbol of Chianti Classico

As a rich territory, Chianti tempted the appetites of Florence and Siena. An interesting legend tells the tale of how the rooster came to be the symbol of Chianti Classico. The two cities, exhausted from decades of conflict over control of the Chianti territory in between them, decided to resolve their dispute with a contest between knights.

One knight from each city would ride out at the first call of the rooster towards the direction of the other city and knight, and where they would meet would be the border between the territories. The idea was to divide the land more or less in half, once and for all.

But things did not go exactly as both parties had planned. The Sienese chose a white rooster and fed him well on the day before, so that he’d awaken cheerfully, bright and early the next morning. The Florentines chose a black rooster (now symbol of Chianti Classico) that they starved and, upset and hungry, it began cawing much earlier than sunrise.

The florentine knight heard and left before his competitor, thus covering much more ground before meeting the other knight at the Castle of Fonterutoli, in Castellina in Chianti. Here, they signed the pact of peace and fixed the borders of their respective Tuscan territories—just a few kilometers from Siena.

1398: Chianti stays for the wine produced in the area

In 1384 the Republic of Florence created the League of Chianti, a political-military alliance with the aim of defending and administering the territory of Chianti on behalf of the republic. The icon of the League was, of course, a black rooster on a golden background.

From 1398, the year in which the first notary document in which the name Chianti appears refers to the wine produced in this area, at the end of the 17th century the production of wine increased exponentially as did its exports, which frequently reached England. It was therefore necessary to regulate its implementation.

The borders of Chianti established by Cosimo III

In 1716 the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’Medici issued the announcement Above the Declaration of Borders of the four Regions of Chianti, Pomino, Carmignano, and Val d’Arno di Sopra, with which he established rules and controls for the correct production of 4 particular regional wines: Chianti, Pomino, Carmignano and Valdarno di Sopra.

It adopted a form of protection based on geographical criteria, which in the case of Chianti read: “from Spedaluzzo to Greve, from there to Panzano with all the podesteria that contains the three thirds namely Gajole, Castellina and Radda, reaching the border of the State of Siena. And all those wines that will not be produced and made in the regions above confined, can not and deviate under any pretext to bargain and sail for Chianti wine”.

In implementing this announcement, Cosimo III was probably influenced by the work of the scientist and writer Francesco Redi (1626-1698), who was also his personal physician. In 1685 Redi had published the famous Bacchus in Tuscany, in which he had entrusted the praise of the various wines to the words of the Greek god, whose relentless linguistic and metric virtuosity betrayed his progressive inebriation, as also appears from the short fragment that sounds like this: “A good Chianti, the majestic imperious decaying wine takes me inside the core, and drives out every breath and pain with no noise.”

Chianti: then and now

But we must specify that the Chianti to which the Redi refers is very different from what we contemporaries can appreciate, also because it was only in the second half of the eighteenth century that the Accademia dei Georgofili, founded in Florence on June 4, 1753, began to experiment mixing various types of vines, trying to identify their characteristics before proceeding to blend them to obtain wine.

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