Chianti Classico, San Gimignano and some Super Tuscans
By Michèle Shah
This Guide was last updated on 30 March 2010
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The wine territory of Chianti Classico lies at the heart of the Chianti region, in the historic area between Florence and Siena where the original Chianti League was formed in the 13th century. It was here that Barone Bettino Ricasoli devised the formula for Chianti production in the mid-1800s and where today the vineyards of the ‘golden triangle’ formed by Castellina, Radda and Gaiole are considered the true centre of Chianti.
The predominant red variety for Chianti Classico is Sangiovese, though in this micro-region, you will also find many Super-Tuscan reds both single varietal wines and blends with international varieties. Tuscany’s most famous white wine from the ancient Vernaccia vine is found here too, grown around the medieval town and World Heritage site San Gimignano. The first documents which praise the vines of San Gimignano date back to around 1200 describing the flourishing wine trade where Vernaccia played a predominant role and one of prestige at the table of the local gentry and nobility.
High on the list of the many sensual joys of visiting Tuscany are the pleasures of wining and dining. Art and literature have emphasized the extravagant banquets of Tuscany’s Renaissance courts, the revelry of Medieval hunting and harvest feasts, which are still very much akin to the culture of Tuscany and its people. As you visit the picturesque Siena and the surrounding little towns and villages you will find trattorias and restaurants that will tantalise you with alluring aromas and flavours. Food is hearty with plenty of thick bean soups and Tuscany is also a meat-lover’s paradise, ideal for the local reds.
The Chianti Classico area is one of rolling hills stretching south from Florence to the northern outskirts of Siena. In a landscape mixing vines with olive trees and cypress trees there is great variation in microclimates and soil types. Most vineyards are planted between 250m and 600m above sea level on mainly calcium carbonate (limestone) soils with clay and some sandstone. Around the production area of San Gimignano soils date back to the Pliocene era and are mainly composed of sand with some limestone and clay, the percentages of which change from terrain to terrain.
The Mediterranean climate can yield harsh winters with snow-clad hilltops, and hot, quite arid, but breezy summers, with cool temperatures reaching both areas from the Tuscan coast. Temperatures in winter can drop to –6ºC and in summer gravitate to a high of 38ºC. The altitude and the diurnal temperature change in summer give the wine its elegant character.
The best way to get to the Chianti Classico area is by car. I would not recommend the local bus service or the train service, which is neither direct to either. Ideally, rent a car direct on arrival at Florence or Pisa airports. To drive direct from Florence to Siena take the motorway to the exit Firenze Certosa (Autostrada del Sole) which will take you right into Siena city centre (centro). If from Florence you wish to take the route which takes you through the heart of the Chianti Classico, then from the Firenze Sud Exit (Autostrada del Sole) take the Via Chiantigiana road which will take you to Greve in Chianti and then you can either continue more or less straight to Panzano in Chianti and Castellina in Chianti and on to Siena, or branch to the left to Radda in Chianti and Gaiole in Chianti and continue to Siena.
Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico
Via Scopeti 155, Sant'Andrea in Percussina, 50026 San Casciano in Val di Pesa (FI)
Consorzio della Denominazione San Gimignano
Villa della Rocca, 53037 San Gimignano (SI)
Siena Tourist Information Office
Piazza del Campo 56, 53100 Siena
Associazione Pro Loco San Gimignano (Tourist Information Centre)
Piazza del Duomo 1, 53037 S. Gimignano (SI)
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