In Italy, you cannot go past Tuscany without trying some wine. This 'how to buy chianti wines' guide is a collection of the many facts I learned while travelling the beautiful Tuscany region for three weeks.
Eventually, it was during the middle of my Tuscany adventure that I did a wine tour with My Tours. The guide gave us so much information on the types of wine, what to look for on the labels and how not to get ripped off. I remember thinking on the bus that I wished I knew all this before I started my tuscan wine adventure.
So now I want to share all this knowledge with you and be better informed for your Tuscany holiday.
The whole Chianti area is most loved and famous for its green rolling hills. Chequered with vineyards, olive groves, wheat fields and then lined with the iconic cypress trees. Plus there is always a villa or small village perched on every hilltop. A photographer's paradise.
So let's begin with the geography. The Chianti wine growing region extends from north-south between Florence and Siena. But, it's east-west borders have changed over the centuries.
Additionally, the Chianti region is further divided into 7 sub areas, as shown on the map below.
Chianti Classico, not to be confused with plain “Chianti” wine name, is the largest of the sub areas and the most well known. It's located in the heart of Chianti region. Only wines from this sub area are permitted to have the black rooster seal on the bottle neck. Just look for the black rooster on a white background with bordeaux colour frame. If you see the black rooster seal on wine produced in other regions, then its a fake Chianti Classico wine. There are strict guidelines the wine growers must follow.
Other Chianti regions
Colli Fiorentini is the region located around the Florence area. I did try some nice Riserva near the village of Tavarnelle at Giannozzi Winery.
Colli Senesi location is near to Siena. And the Vernaccia wine from Monteriggioni or San Gimignano is quite nice (a white wine).
Or visit the Montechiaro vineyard for professional wine tasting and education.
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Other popular wine buying regions
If you stay in Siena, you will surely want to visit two other popular wine growing regions. In particular the Montepulciano and Montalcino regions. You can easily visit these areas on a day tour from Siena. Or choose to stay a few days in the historic Montepulciano and explore from there.
Montalcino is famous for its Brunello di Montalcino wine. Everyone told me that this will be the best wine I will taste. Verdict - it was.
Interesting fact is that its still made with sangiovese grape. The story goes like this. Initally the winemakers of Montalcino gave the name Brunello to this grape as they believed it was a unique variety that only grew in this region. After extensive testing it was deemed to be the same as the sangiovese grape just smaller in size. Thus, the Montalcino wineries must advertise them as sangiovese. But, they can use the name Brunello to show its made from the smaller sangiovese grape grown in the Montalcino area.
The strict wine-making guidelines state that it must contain at least 80% sangiovese grape and aged for 5 years with a minimum of 2 years in oak. However, the Riserva wine must age for at least 6 years with at least 2 years in oak. Therefore, if you find Brunello wine in the shops that is younger than 5 years, then you are buying a fake. To illustrate, as my visit was in 2017, I should not be able to find a brunello wine in the shops dated younger than 2012.
In contrast, in the Montepulciano region you will find the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine. It must age for at least 2 years in oak or 3 years for the Riserva. The minimum requirement is 70% sangiovese grape but these days the producers seem to favour 100%. The taste was different and for me didn't taste as good after drinking the Brunello! Therefore, I would recommend you try other wines first and leave Brunello until last. There's no going back!
Demystifying the wine classifications?
You will notice that there are some letters that appear after the wine name on the label or on the bottle seals. This is of great benefit to buyers and therefore it's good to know what it means. I'll break it down simply for you.
In 1963 the Italian government decided to introduce an official quality guarantee system for Italian wines. Systems had existed for centuries between the winemakers in each region. But now it's controlled by the government regulators. It requires for the grapes to be grown in a specified region with specific methods to meet the defined quality standard.. The strict guidelines include careful selection of grapes, a specific yield and origin and at least 80% sangiovese grape.
There are three main categories:
- DOC - Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata.
This translates to a controlled designation of origin. Basically inspired by the french wine AOC rating. It means the wine must be produced in a specific, well defined region in Italy. And that it adheres to the defined wine-making rules to preserve the local traditions.
- DOCG - Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.
This translates to a controlled AND guaranteed designation of origin. Specifically it means there is an extra important step added to the process. Basically government licenced personnel taste and analyse the wine before its bottled. This ensures there is no manipulation by the winemaker. Then they seal the bottles with a numbered government seal across the cap or cork. Truly a top quality wine at top dollar.
- IGT - Vino a Indicazione Geografica
This translates to any wine of particular local region/sub area. The wine can be a blend of different grapes from that region. Therefore, it doesnt need to meet the strict requirement of at least 80% sangiovese grapes (as per DOC and DOCG categories). Basically, we would call this table wine. Typically they are average wines but occasionally you do find a good bottle! These wines are sometimes called Supertuscan, coined in the late 1970s. It indicates the red wine does not follow the traditional production rules of the DOC and DOCG wines but the wine itself had good structure. It allows the winemakers to use grape varieties not allowed by the traditional DOC and DOCG, for example, cabernet sauvignon or merlot.
Another phrase/category you will now see is Gran Selezione. Coined in 2013, this is a Chianti Classico wine still produced only with grapes owned by the winery. But its cultivated with strict rules regarding chemical free and organic properties. Still producing high quality wines. It still requires at least 80% sangiovese grape and the minimum aging in a bottle is longer at 30 months.
Buy chianti wines cheatsheet
To summarise, below is general overview which you can print and take with you when you visit Tuscany. It's designed to help you with your purchases especially in regards to buying the correct vintages.
In mobile view, you can slide the table across.
Type of wine
Aging period (standard wine)
Aging period (Riserva)
Chianti Classico - DOC or DOCG
Black Rooster seal on neck of bottle
1 year in oak barrel
2 years in oak barrel
Alcohol content at least 12.5%
Chianti Classico -
Min 80% sangiovese grape.
30 months + 3 months in a bottle.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Min 70% sangiovese grape.
2 years in oak barrel
3 years in oak barrel
Brunello di Montalcino
Must be100% sangiovese grape
5 years with 2 years minimum in oak
6 years with 2 years minimum in oak
Take note, producers have meetings with the ministry regularly to discuss issues and amendments to current laws, therefore the information in this post is subject to change!
Comment below on whats your favourite Chianti wine?