The magic of Chianti pours persuasively from the bottles of that wine which the whole world envies. The modern history of “Chianti Classico began in the 19th century with the “father” of modern vine growing and winemaking in Chianti who was the inspiration for production discipline: baron Ricasoli.
This land’s ancestral links with vine and wine was recently confirmed by an archaeological find in the area: some seeds of “Vitis Vinifera” dating to 23 centuries ago. Then in the late middle ages vineyards played a leading part in agriculture and the economy.
Derivation of the word Chianti, according to a 790 document in the abbey of San Bartolomeo in Ripoli, is hard to identify: probably it evolved from the Latin clangor, meaning the typical sharp sound coming from the dense woodlands, the aristocrats’ hunting horns and the shrieks of animals. But some linguists maintain that it is of Etruscan origin. Land of great wines, thanks to the monks who cleared woodland to plant vineyards around the abbeys, and thanks to the peasants who perpetuated the cultivation thereof.
The modern history of Chianti Classico began in the 19th century with the “father” of modern vine growing and winemaking in Chianti who was the inspiration for production discipline: baron Bettino Ricasoli. In 1874 he codified the rules for making wine (traditional Tuscan vinification system) and defined Chianti blend proportions, attributing a percentage to each of the main grape varieties: “from Sangioveto the wine receives its main dose of bouquet and a certain vigor of sensation; from Cannaiulo the sweetness that tempers the hardness of the former but without removing the perfume since the latter also has this characteristic. Malvasia, which could be done without in wines intended for ageing, tends to dilute the product of the first two grapes, increases its flavor and renders it lighter and more readily suitable for everyday use at table”.
So what prevailed was a Chianti for everyday drinking, medium bodied and suitable for all occasions and all food. So to attenuate the tannic Sangiovese a certain percentage of white grapes was required (Trebbiano and Malvasia) and other, softer red grapes (Cannaiolo and Colorino) which also gave a little color to the “pallid” Sangioveto.
In a glass of that ruby red wine, tending to garnet if aged, with its bouquet of sweet violets, spices and small wild fruit, with its structured, harmonious elegant taste, keen and slightly tannic, which then becomes velvety, we find all the pride of this land. The Black Cock on the labels was adopted for the first time by the Consorzio Marchio Storico Chianti Classico, founded by thirty-three producers in Radda, 1924. DOC status was granted in 1967 and DOCG in 1984.
To consolidate the renewal of the main Chianti vine species – Sangiovese – and to improve wine quality, over the last few years Operation Chianti 2000 has involved the replanting of a great many vineyards with the introduction of new clones. Impetus for this winegrowing evolution was given by the world success of The Supertuscan. The introduction of all ochthonous species (which produce excellent Chardonnay whites) has demonstrated the great enological value of this land.
One of the few in the world to be acknowledged as a land of wine: with its limitless vineyards, high concentration of wine producing cellars and its wine lodges and wine bars where Chianti effectively becomes a lifestyle.
The Chianti territory with its hilly countryside of incomparable beauty lies in the very heart of Tuscany. Administered by both the Provinces of Florence and Siena, during the Middle Ages it was harshly contested by these two rival cities until 1555 when the Medici’s imposed their hegemony on all of Tuscany.
It is difficult to trace its borders since only the mountains of Chianti in the East separate it from Upper Valdarno in a natural and neat way; the remaining territory fades into the hills of the Arbia, Elsa, Greve and Pesa rivers.
Mediaeval villages, castles, churches, abbeys, monasteries, cottages and villas lie one after the other in a fantastic itinerary that exalts the activity and inventiveness of man; centuries of work have modelled the hills of this region and the alternation of the olive groves and the forests creates a harmony unique to the world.
Along Via Cassia, or alternatively the faster Florence-Siena superstrada, one can follow again the paths once taken by pilgrims and wayfarers who, during the Middle Ages, reached Rome from Northern Europe with everything that it had to bear: parìsh churches, small towns, hospices, abbeys. Via Chiantigiana, on the other hand, is a more rural path that throughout its length crosses the classic wine region.
In any case, the visitor will be offered an unforgettable countryside always varying and harmonious and so diverse in colours and in atmosphere with the changing seasons. There are many ways to get to one of the parish churches, castles or isolated towns, silent witnesses to the historical and artistic richness of the Chianti region.
It does not matter how one gets there: whether by car, motorcycle, bicycle or bus, there are many possibilities for staying and enjoying a few days’ holiday in the relaxing atmosphere of Chianti, tasting the gastronomic specialties of the region accompanied by wines that have made Chianti famous all over the world.
Gaiole in Chianti – Stop 1, 2, 3
Historically the town has always been on the edge of Florentine territory, although today it is part of the province of Siena.
Gaiole grew up on the banks of the river Massellone thanks to the trade that passed up and down the river. Many local place names have either Etruscan or Roman origins and many archaeological sites prove the existence of settlements here in ancient times, such as the remains of the necropolis at Cacchiano (I – III century) and the columns of the church of San Marcellino.
Many small settlements grew up throughout the territory in the Medieval period. Many Romanesque structures are still visible today such as the churches of San Giusto in Salcio, San Polo in Rosso, Spaltenna and San Vincenti, all of which used to be part of the powerful diocese of Fiesole except the last which belonged to the Bishop of Arezzo.
Ownership of the Montegrossi fort was particularly violently contested. This feudal castle on the Valdarno road was fought over by Florence and Imperial forces.
In the XIV century, Gaiole became the region capital for ‘terziere’ within the Lega del Chianti (Chianti League). This political and military association was run from Florence. What was already a center for trade and business became an important defensive bulwark between Florence and Siena and the town was continually rampaged through until 1555. In that year, Siena definitively surrendered and became an annexation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
The Chianti League was broken up in 1776 when the ruling Lorena family turned the ‘terzieri’ towns into independent municipalities.
The Gaiole region is home to many different Medieval castles. Visitors can admire Cacchiano Castle, built in the XIII century by the Ricasoli family. This castle was destroyed by the Aragonesi in 1478 and then rebuilt in 1530.
The same family also gave Gaiole (stop 1) Brolio Castle which was transformed into a Neo-gothic villa in the XIX century. In was renovated by the famous architect, Sangallo in 1484 after a military strike by the Sienese.
The road which goes up along the parish church of Gaioleto the fortified (stop 2) parish church of Spaltenna , one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in the area with its simple and elegant facade and Romanesque bell tower.
If you continue to follow the road upwards you will find the (Stop 3) fortified town of Vertine, dating back to before 1000 AD, which suddenly appears before you in all its striking beauty.
Continuing along the crest you reach San Donato in Perano, of which the first record dates back to 995 AD, and which currently looks like a large 17th century villa.
Not much further on from San Donato, towards Radda, a road leads to Vistarenni, a grandiose 1600 villa which rises on the site of an ancient village from the XI century.
Radda in Chianti
Radda’s history is documented from the IX century BC, thanks also to the numerous archaeological findings, but the first reference to its castle dates back to the XI century, when it was listed in an inventory compiled for Emperor Ottone III which summarises the territories included in the Florentine abbey. In 1220 the territory was purchased by a family of the Tuscan feudal aristocracy, the Guidi Counts, under authorisation of Frederick II. Already from the end of the XIII century, however, the territorial extension of the Council of Florence, at the end of its bitter struggles with the Guidi Counts, incorporated the area of Radda into its confines.
Radda was first the capital of one of the three districts of the Chianti League, and then, from 1384, the podestà jurisdiction of the League itself. The leagues represented at the time the highest autonomous institutional organ of the Florentine county, supplied with an autonomous statute and very precise defensive dispositions. Only with the reforms required by the Leopoldo Grand Duchy, Radda was definitively transformed into an autonomous commune.
The territory of Radda, in the Middle Ages, was characterised almost exclusively by the agricultural economy, centred on the production of oil and especially wine, even though there was no lacking in pasture activities and artisan production linked to the spinning ofwool, hemp and linen. Later on, the share-cropping system was diffused, bringing about the construction of farms and estates in the Radda countryside. Today agriculture has specialised in the production of quality oil and D.O.C. (guaranteed quality) wine, while artisan work has evolved into a mechanical and wood-working industry.
The numerous castles that rose in the Radda area only that of Volpaia was brought to a good level of expansion. Its walls with towers and bridge house are still, in a large part, visible while other fortresses, such as Albola and Monterinaldi, are today in advanced states of ruin. Still others, such as is the case of Castelvecchio, have been transformed into noble houses or farms. Other examples of this type are the castles of Castiglione, Trebbio and Paterno. Furthermore it is still possible to find numerous fortified medieval residences that the council has inherited from the ancient lords of the warrior aristocracy.
Castello di Volpaia
It was built in the eleventh-century as a fortified village on the Florence/Siena border. It was constructed by the Florentine “della Volpaia” family which boasts two distinguished Renaissance artists, Benevunto and Lorenzo. The latter was a close friend of Leonardo da Vinci and is best known for having designed the “Clock of the Planets” for Lorenzo de’ Medici’s use in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.
Villa of Vignamaggio
It is surrounded by an elegant Italian garden in a stunningly beautiful corner of the Chianti countryside, offers an authentic testimony of countrylife during the Renaisance period. The main part of the villa dates back to the 14th century.
The Gherardi family who bought the villa from the Gherardini at the end of the 16th century, were responsible for its present appearance.
Mona Lisa, the daughter of Anton Maria Gherardini, was born at Vignamaggio in 1479. The Gherardini were a noble family in Tuscany, probably of Etruscan or Roman origin.
They began to construct their castle at Montagliari on a hill dominating the Greve river valley.
From this position the Gherardini often robbed the merchants on their way to Florence, who in 1302 finally decided to put an end to these episodes and besieged the castle.
After a long hard battle the Gherardini moved to the other side of the valley at Vignamaggio where they built the first part of the villa.
Greve in Chianti
Greve has been inhabited since the Etruscans made the area their home. Many local places names however were given by the Romans who later settled in the region.
The town center dates back to the Middle Ages. The town was able to develop thanks to its proximity to the ancient pilgrims’ route, the Via Francigena, and the Via Volterrana which led to Volterra – both of which brought much trade and business to the area.
The town’s population increased and many churches and castles were built in the area. The town’s history of wine making stretches back as far as the fourteenth century and the wine produced then was considered as prestigious as it is today. Many noble Florentine families, who were the main consumers of locally produced wines, invested in the area and helped the local farms.
After the unification of Italy, Greve became the most important town in the Chianti region. Local sites of interest are Santa Croce Church in the town center, the nearby castle at Borgo di Montefioralle, San Cresci Church and Sacro Cuore Church at Greti.