The first definition of a wine-area called Chianti was made in 1716. It described the area near the villages of Gaiole in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti and Radda in Chianti; the so-called Lega del Chianti and later Provincia del Chianti (Chianti province). In 1932 the Chianti area was completely re-drawn. The new Chianti was a very big area divided in seven sub-areas: Classico, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina. The old Chianti area was then just a little part of the Classico area, being the original area described in 1716 about 40% of the extension of the Classico sub-area and about 10% of all Chianti. Most of the villages that in 1932 were suddenly included in the new Chianti Classico area added immediately or later in Chianti to their name (the latest was the village of Greve changing its name to Greve in Chianti in 1972).
The popularity and high exportability of this wine at the moment of introduction of the DOC, 1967, was such that many regions of central Tuscany didn't want to be excluded from the use of the name. As a result the Chianti wine-area got about 10% more territory. Wines labeled Chianti Classico come from the biggest sub-area of Chianti, that sub-area that includes the old Chianti area. The other variants, with the exception of Rufina from the north-east side of Florence and Montalbano in the south of Pistoia, originate in the respective named provinces: Siena for the Colli Senesi, Florence for the Colli Fiorentini, Arezzo for the Colli Aretini and Pisa for the Colline Pisane. In 1996 part of the Colli Fiorentini sub-area was renamed Montespertoli.
Many different kinds of wines are produced in Chianti:
Until the middle of the 19th century Chianti was based solely on Sangiovese grapes. During the second half of the 19th century Baron Bettino Ricasoli who was an important Chianti producer and, in the same time, minister in Tuscany and then Prime Minister in the Kingdom of Italy, imposed his ideas: from that moment on Chianti should have been produced with 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca (Malvasia bianca is an aromatic white grape with Greek origins). During the 1970s, producers started to reduce the quantity of white grapes in Chianti and eventually from 1995 it is legal to produce a Chianti with 100% sangiovese, or at least without the white grapes. However, for a wine to retain the name of Chianti, it must be produced with at least 80% sangiovese grapes. It may have a picture of a black rooster (known in Italian as a gallo nero) on the neck of the bottle, which indicates that the producer of the wine is a member of the "Gallo Nero" Consortium; an association of producers of the Classico sub-area sharing marketing costs. Since 2005 the black rooster is the emblem of the Chianti Classico producers association. Aged Chianti (38 months instead of 4-7), may be labelled as Riserva. Chianti that meets more stringent requirements, (lower yield, higher alcohol content and dry extract) may be labelled as Chianti Superiore. Chianti from the "Classico" sub-area is not allowed in any case to be labelled as "Superiore".
|Comparative table of Chianti laws of production|
|normal||Classico||Colli Aretini||Colli Fiorentini||Colli Senesi||Colline Pisane||Montalbano||Montespertoli||Rùfina||Superiore|
|Max. grape prod. (t/ha)||9.0||7.5||8.0||8.0||8.0||8.0||8.0||8.0||8.0||7.5|
|Max. grape prod. (kg/vine)||4.0||3.0||4.0||4.0||4.0||4.0||4.0||4.0||4.0||2.2|
|Min. age of vineyards (years)||3||4||4||4||4||4||4||4||4||4|
|Min. wine dry extract (g/l)||19||23||21||21||21||21||21||21||21||22|
|Min. alcohol cont. (%)||11.5||12.0||11.5||12.0||11.5||11.5||11.5||12.0||12.0||12.0|
|Min. ageing (months)||3||10||3||9||3||3||3||6||9||9|
Chianti is not the only traditional wine made in Tuscany, and sangiovese is usually the base of most red variants like Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Carmignano (together with other grapes), Morellino di Scansano, etc., while Brunello di Montalcino is based on a variant called sangiovese grosso. There are also new wines, based on sangiovese and some popular French grapes that are usually dubbed "Super Tuscans". Due to rule changes, some of these wines (particularly the pioneering Tignanello) could legally be labeled as Chianti if they would reduce the quantity of international grapes under 15% (or under 20% in the case of Chianti Superiore), though many producers of these wines have chosen not to do so.
The word "Chianti" can be used as a semi-generic name in the United States if the place of origin is clearly indicated next to the word to avoid consumer confusion. However, with the popularity of varietal labeling, semi-generic names are rarely used today, even on jug wines.
Due to the wine's relative cheapness, its easy-drinking qualities, and the frequent use of the empty fiasco as a candleholder, Chianti is very strongly identified with Italian American cuisine, especially the "red sauce" variety pioneered by southern Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Nowadays is common to name Chianti all the central part of Toscana. Often Chianti geographical area is confused with the Chianti wine area or with the Chianti Classico sub-area. Unlike for the wine-area, there is actually no statement describing the actual geographical Chianti area.
In the film The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter mentions that he once ate the liver of a census taker "with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." However, as a curiosity, in the book Dr. Lecter says "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone".