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Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany's Noblest Wine

Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany's Noblest Wine

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Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany's Noblest Wine

653 pagine
10 ore
Sep 20, 2016


“An important new book on Chianti Classico: Winners of the André Simon 2013 award for their book The World of Sicilian Wine, Nesto and Di Savino have produced the investigative, scholarly and detailed book that Chianti Classico has long deserved. Nesto and Di Savino are brilliant historic investigators. . . . A must-read for anyone seriously interested in wine.”—Walter Speller,

This book tells the story of the ancient land named Chianti and the modern wine appellation known as Chianti Classico. In 1716, Tuscany’s penultimate Medici ruler, Cosimo III, anointed the region of Chianti, along with three smaller areas in the Florentine State, as the world’s first legal appellations of origin for wine. In the succeeding centuries, this milestone was all but forgotten. By the late nineteenth century, the name Chianti, rather than signifying this historic region and its celebrated wine, identified a simple Italian red table wine in a straw-covered flask.
In the twenty-first century, Chianti Classico emerged as one of Italy’s most dynamic and fashionable wine zones. Chianti Classico relates the fascinating evolution of Chianti as a wine region and reveals its geographic and cultural complexity. Bill Nesto, MW, and Frances Di Savino explore the townships of Chianti Classico and introduce readers to the modern-day winegrowers who are helping to transform the region. The secrets of Sangiovese, the principal vine variety of Chianti, are also revealed as the book unlocks the myths and mysteries of one of Italy’s most storied wine regions. The publication of Chianti Classico coincides with the three hundredth anniversary of the Medici decree delimiting the region of Chianti on September 24, 1716.

Winner of the following awards:
2016 André Simon Food & Drink Book Award: Drink Books Category
2017 International Organization of Vines and Wine: Jury Award, Monographs
2017 International World Cookbook Awards: Sustainable, For the Public Category
2017 Gourmand International World Cookbook Awards: Drink Special Awards Category


Sep 20, 2016

Informazioni sull'autore

Bill Nesto is a Master of Wine and a founder of the Wine Studies Program at Boston University, where he is also a Senior Lecturer.    Frances Di Savino is an attorney with a background in medieval and Renaissance studies and is Bill’s partner in life and on the wine road. Bill and Frances coauthored The World of Sicilian Wine, which won the André Simon Book Award in 2013.

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  • Florence and Siena sought greater control over their surrounding territory (ager in Latin). In each city’s march to become a city-state (civitas in Latin), conflict was inevitable. And Chianti became their battlefield.

  • In fact, it was in the 1950s that the Consorzio del Putto first added the Latin motto Solum nobis, meaning “Only us” or “For us alone,” beneath its emblem on neck labels. This putto had thrown down yet another gauntlet to the gallo nero!

  • This intensified the debate in Tuscany over the delimitation of the Chianti region.³² Chiantigiani began to mobilize in Greve. Italo De Lucchi, then the mayor of Greve, was concerned about how the wine trade was fraudulently using the name Chianti.

  • Antinori and Ruffino but also some of the elite small estates such as Monsanto, Isole e Olena, Castello dei Rampolla, and Castello di Ama elected to stay out of the Marchio Storico consortium, so as to control their own marketing.

  • Because Tuscany had such a large per capita consumption of wine, most of these merchants were in Florence and sold their wine locally. Those involved in exporting wine, on the other hand, were in the port town of Livorno.

Anteprima del libro

Chianti Classico - Bill Nesto



Detail from Gerardus Mercator’s map of Tuscia, 1589. Reproduced with permission from Tommaso Marrocchesi Marzi, Tenuta di Bibbiano, Castellina in Chianti.


The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine

Bill Nesto, MW, and Frances Di Savino


University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit

University of California Press

Oakland, California

© 2016 by William R. Nesto and Frances Di Savino

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Nesto, Bill, 1951– author. | Di Savino, Frances, 1960– author.

Title: Chianti Classico : the search for Tuscany’s noblest wine / Bill Nesto, MW, and Frances Di Savino.

Description: Oakland, California : University of California Press, [2016] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016015932 (print) | LCCN 2016017542 (ebook) | ISBN 9780520284425 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780520965539 (Epub)

Subjects: LCSH: Chianti wine. | Chianti (Italy)—History.

Classification: LCC TP559.I8 N469 2016 (print) | LCC TP559.I8 (ebook) | DDC 641.2/209455—dc23

LC record available at

Manufactured in the United States of America

25  24  23  22  21  20  19  18  17  16

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

With this work

we honor our mothers,

Antoinette Sirugo Nesto


Geraldine Saporito Di Savino,

for their love, wisdom, and fortitude.

We dedicate this story

to the winegrowers of Chianti

past, present, and future

for daring to be true.

As soon as the climb ends and the road levels off, the horizon widens and there you see the first harsh hilltops of Chianti—a land which remains forever Etruscan and medieval. The city and the present already have grown faint; the solitude of the forests and the fields fills me and blurs those boundaries which had appeared so clear. My renewal always begins here.



List of Illustrations



1. The Original Chianti

2. The Evolution of Chianti through Bettino Ricasoli: The 1600s to the 1870s

3. The Birth of Chianti Classico and External Chianti: The 1870s to 1945

4. Chianti Classico Enters the Global Market: 1945 to the Present

5. Chianti’s Hidden Roads

6. The Geography of Chianti Classico

7. The Secret of Sangiovese

8. Viticulture in Chianti

9. Enology in Chianti

10. Chianti Classico Winegrowers by Subzone

11. The Medici Code



Selected Bibliography

Works Cited




1. G. Garavini, Borders and Administrative Division of the Chianti Zone, 1929

2. Chianti Classico by Subzone

3. Radda in Chianti

4. Gaiole in Chianti

5. Castellina in Chianti

6. Greve in Chianti

7. Castelnuovo Berardenga Classico

8. San Donato Classico

9. San Casciano Classico


Frontispiece. Detail from Gerardus Mercator’s map of Tuscia, 1589

1. Giacomo Tachis at Brolio Castle in 2000

2. Giulio Gambelli at Tenuta di Bibbiano in 2000

3. Villa Pomona in Castellina in Chianti: then, 1916

4. Villa Pomona in Castellina in Chianti: now, 2015

5. Bando of Cosimo III de’ Medici, September 24, 1716

6. Torquato Guarducci, Il Chianti map, 1909


It is with heartfelt gratitude and respect that we acknowledge the individuals and institutions that have offered us guidance and assistance in the creation of this work. We are grateful to the archivists at the State Archives and Libraries of Florence and Siena, to Davide Fiorino at the Accademia dei Georgofili in Florence, and to Dawn Webster at Kiplin Hall in North Yorkshire, England, for their patience and selfless dedication to the cause of historical truth. We thank the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and its member producers for organizing our tastings at the consortium’s headquarters and for providing us with important technical information, especially Giuseppe Liberatore, Michele Cassano, and Silvia Fiorentini. Our quest to tell the story of Chianti Classico would not have been possible without the support and commitment of our stellar team at University of California Press—Kate Marshall, Dore Brown, and Zuha Khan—and our copy editor, Juliana Froggatt. Many thanks to our initial acquisitions editor, Blake Edgar, for helping to bring this work to life. We appreciate the friendship and knowledge that Daniele Rosellini and Nadia Riguccini shared with us during our many sojourns in Tuscany. We are grateful to our family and friends for their love, patience, and encouragement. Our profound thanks to our mère and belle-mère, Geri Di Savino, whose pencil touched every word of this text, and to our frère and beau-frère, Sam Di Savino, who held the fort in Boston while we climbed the hills in Chianti. Herein lies the fruit of all their efforts.


Fresh from our odyssey in Sicily, recounted in The World of Sicilian Wine, we embarked in 2014 on a new adventure—to tell the story of the ancient land named Chianti and the modern wine zone known as Chianti Classico. Located in the heart of Tuscany, Chianti in many respects is a world away from Sicily. Yet both have histories woven with conflict and complexity, despite the simplicity of their majestic landscapes. The similarities do not end there. In the nineteenth century, Italy’s two most famous and respected wines were Sicily’s Marsala and Tuscany’s Chianti. Like Marsala, Chianti became known worldwide in the twentieth century, propelled by the millions of Italian immigrants who brought their culture with them to the New World. The name Chianti was synonymous with the straw-covered flasks that graced virtually every Italian restaurant table until the 1970s. Bill vividly remembers his father (who had emigrated from Apulia) storing a large flask of Chianti under the kitchen sink. Every evening Dr. Nesto brought it to the family’s dining table to pour a small glassful to savor with his dinner. Chianti was also the first region in Italy that Bill visited during his studies for the Master of Wine examination. He was made an honorary member of the Lega del Chianti (League of Chianti) in 1999. Fran’s introduction to Chianti was in the 1980s when she studied for a year at the University of Florence and lived with the Anichini, one of the oldest families of viticoltori (winegrowers) in Chianti, who have farmed Fattoria Le Corti (in the high hills of Greve between Ruffoli and Lamole) since 1424.

Our first adventure on the wine road together began in Castellina in Chianti in 2003. As we traveled Chianti’s rural roads, we discovered a shared love of this land—its countryside and its culture. From that year on, we returned every September in time for the vendemmia (harvest). Bill gave a winemaking course to a small group of American wine students, and Fran introduced the budding winemakers to the culture and history of Tuscany. Then we began our Sicilian journey in 2008. In telling the story of Sicily, we came to understand yet another truth it shares with Chianti. Like Sicily, Chianti as a name is universally known, though as a place it is essentially unknown and misunderstood. In telling the story of Chianti, we knew from the beginning that it was essential to explain its origin and evolution as both a place and a wine region. The expansion of the Chianti wine zone to encompass most of Tuscany in the early 1930s effectively blurred the distinction between the original Chianti region (from then on known as Chianti Classico) and the external Chianti region (with the exclusive right to use the name Chianti for its wine), consisting of multiple subzones. We have met many a Tuscan, Italian, and American who are unaware of the differences between Chianti Classico and external Chianti. Remarkably, Chianti was among the first legal appellations of origin for wine in the world. The publication of this book will coincide with the three hundredth anniversary of that historic (but long forgotten) milestone of 1716.

And so, in our search to discover Chianti we were determined to take the wine road less traveled. In addition to visiting dozens of Chianti Classico wine estates and participating in organized tastings of Chianti Classico wines, we navigated the historical archives and libraries of Florence and Siena to search for clues to the transformation of Chianti as a wine region. We also met with Tuscan historians and former senior officials of the Chianti Classico consortium as part of our research. Along the way, we were privileged to speak with older Chiantigiani whose sharecropper families had tended Chianti’s vines for centuries. In our travels we built a real and virtual library of treasured volumes dating from the fourteenth century to the present day. In the process, one clue led to another and the story of Chianti emerged like a statue from a block of marble. Only by studying the history of agriculture in Chianti and Tuscany (including garden design) did we learn about a virtually unknown Tuscan named Girolamo da Firenzuola, who lived in Florence in the mid-sixteenth century and wrote the earliest known Italian agricultural treatise to mention (and laud) the vine variety Sangioveto (Sangiovese), the essence of Chianti Classico wine. Firenzuola, along with subsequent authors, also explained how to make wine in the style of Chianti (more on that later).

In the pages that follow we tell the unified story of Chianti by interweaving and sharing our mutual discoveries along the way. (Unless otherwise noted, all translations in the text are by us.) The first four chapters trace the origin and evolution of Chianti from the Etruscan civilization through our age. Fran wrote chapter 1, The Original Chianti, and chapter 5, Chianti’s Hidden Roads, a personal narrative of our journey around the region with one of its most knowing guides. As we did in The World of Sicilian Wine, we have chosen to infuse this and other chapters with the narrative voice, to bring the historical, cultural, and sensorial ideas of our story to life. We coauthored the historical chapters (2, 3, and 4) that explore Chianti from the seventeenth century to the present day. Bill wrote the vinicultural chapters: 6 (on geography), 8 (on viticulture), 9 (on enology), and 10 (profiles of modern-day Chianti Classico wine estates by subzone). He also penned chapter 7, The Secret of Sangiovese, which unearths the long-lost secrets of Chianti Classico’s noblest vine variety. We conclude with a detective story in chapter 11, The Medici Code, in which Fran reveals Chianti’s most complicated and existential secret of all. She wrote this preface and the afterword as well, to respectively begin and end our tale. Our mission has been to unlock the mystery and essence of Chianti. For we believe that an understanding of place is essential for an authentic appreciation of its wine. It is with profound respect and affection for Chianti and its winegrowers that we have chosen to tell the story of Chianti in this way. They deserve no less.

By 1442, Florence’s leading civic humanist, Leonardo Bruni, had completed his twelve-book History of the Florentine People. During and after his lifetime, he was recognized as Italy’s first modern historian. Through the depth of his research and the honesty of his scholarship, Bruni endeavored to reveal the true history of Florence from its earliest origins. He was not content to repeat, or to let stand unchallenged, ancient myths and legends. In the spirit of Leonardo Bruni, and in the quest to reveal the true Chianti, we humbly do the same.

Bill Nesto, MW, and Frances Di Savino



. . . nomi seguitino le nominate cose . . .

. . . names are born of the things they name . . .



This is the story of the wine region once known simply as Chianti. But it is not a simple tale. With its many twists and turns, peaks and valleys, Chianti is a territory worthy of an epic. Framed by Florence to its north and Siena to its south, Chianti is a land of quintessential beauty and culture. It is the timeless paesaggio (landscape) in the background of a Renaissance painting. It is a land of castles, chapels, bell towers, farmhouses, hills, oaks, cypresses, olive groves, and vineyards. It is an authentic place which gave birth to an iconic (and then generic) wine, also known as Chianti. It is a wine region that is striving to reclaim its identity from the vast Tuscan appellation, which, by law, has the exclusive right to the name Chianti—and which we shall call External Chianti in these pages. Long before a Fascist-era ministerial decree officially designated it a vino tipico (wine type) in 1932, Chianti was valued as a special wine from the rocky hills of three river valleys between Florence and Siena in the heart of Tuscany: Val di Pesa, Val di Greve, and Val d’Arbia. This place, the original Chianti, now known as Chianti Classico, has been rooted in conflict for much of its history. Beginning in the twelfth century, Chianti was a battlefield, buffer, and border between these two warring city-states (and their respective proxies). Yet it was the dispute over the borders of the Chianti wine region in the twentieth century that came to be known as the Guerra del Chianti (War of Chianti). With the outbreak of this conflict in the early 1900s, Tuscany witnessed the birth of a field of scholarship aimed at answering the question What is Chianti? The resulting treatises mapped a multitude of Chiantis—Chianti storico (historic), geographico (geographic), geologico (geologic), enologico (enological), classico (classic), and commerciale (commercial).¹ They reveal how zealously the forces of Chianti Classico and External Chianti waged their battles both on paper and in parliament. But for all of the politics, polemics, conflicts, and complexities that have whirled around Chianti, the original place has remained one of bucolic simplicity and historic richness. We begin our journey by exploring Chianti culturale (cultural). This story is our search for the true Chianti.


From its earliest days, Chianti has been shrouded in mystery. Historic maps of Tuscany (called Tyrrhenia, Etruria, and Tuscia during earlier epochs) do not consistently identify a region named Chianti. Rather, the place-name Chianti often appears somewhere north of Siena and in the vicinity of the townships of Castellina, Radda, and Gaiole² and the Pesa and Arbia Rivers. Similarly, the origin of the name has yet to be discovered. It likely derives from a word in the language of the people who once controlled Etruria, the Etruscans.³ The Arno River to the north of Chianti was the natural boundary for northern Etruria. Since at least the seventh century b.c., Chianti was the entroterra (hinterland) of the Etruscan cities of Volterra to its west, Fiesole to its north, Arezzo to its east, and Siena and Chiusi to its south. Remarkably, Volterra, Fiesole, Arezzo, and Siena were four of the five dioceses of the Catholic Church that had ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Chianti as of the Middle Ages (the fifth being Florence, which the Romans founded). In contrast with the later period of Roman rule, when the main north-south roads, the Francigena and the Cassia Nova, circumvented it, during the centuries of Etruscan rule, roadways connecting established urban centers crisscrossed Chianti. This road map provides interesting clues to the relationship of Chianti to the surrounding towns, even in the present day. One throughway ran northwest along the high ridge from the town of Radda, past the parish church (pieve) of Santa Maria Novella, then north past the town of Panzano, eventually turning west in the direction of Sambuca in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.⁴ From this juncture another throughway branched north past the pieve of Santo Stefano in Campoli, on a hill between the Pesa and Greve River Valleys, then continued northwest toward the towns of Mercatale and San Casciano in Val di Pesa. A third one traveled from Volterra east to Castellina, then northeast to Lamole, and then to the Monti del Chianti (Chianti Mountains), where it intersected with the roadway that ran parallel to these mountains, leading north to the Arno River and south to the strategic city of Chiusi. This network of roadways, or ridgeways,⁵ suggests that there was an exchange of people and produce between Chianti and the Etruscan cities surrounding it. And indeed the Etruscan ruins discovered throughout Chianti provide ample evidence of this exchange.

In the main square of Castellina there is a small museum, Museo Archeologico del Chianti Senese, which is housed in the town’s medieval castle. Here many archaeological remnants of Chianti’s distant Etruscan past are on display. By one account, in January 1507 a farmer in Castellina was digging to plant a vineyard when he uncovered an Etruscan tomb containing many precious objects.⁶ These included wine wares and other ceramics associated with the Greek-inspired symposium (the after-dinner wine-drinking, poetry-reciting, music-playing, and other-pleasure-seeking ritual). Unlike the wine lovers of ancient Greece and Rome, the Etruscans invited their wives (and female relatives) to participate in their sacred symposia. Among the objects that the Etruscan Chiantigiani (native people of Chianti) used in their symposia were the bucchero kantharos (a wine goblet on a pedestal with two high, vertical-looped handles) and the kyathos (a one-handled wine cup or ladle). The kantharos was closely associated with the ritualistic worship of the Greek wine god, Dionysos (and the Etruscans’ wine god, Fufluns).⁷ The term bucchero refers to a typology of fine Etruscan black-fabric ceramics. The kantharos and kyathos objects on display in Castellina were made outside Chianti, in the more established Etruscan settlements of Chiusi, Orbetello, and Populonia (the last two both on the Tuscan coast).

In the middle of the seventh century b.c. the Etruscan aristocracy imported their prized wines from the Greek islands (such as Chios in the eastern Aegean) and the Turkish coast.⁸ By the end of that century, they had developed their own dynamic wine industry and culture. They exported their fine wine and bucchero wine wares throughout the entire Mediterranean region, including to coastal and central France, Spain, Greece, Syria, and Egypt. While the Etruscans adopted the ritual of the symposium and the style of many Greek ceramic wares, the bucchero kantharos and kyathos were strongly associated with Etruria and were imitated by ancient Greek (and Celtic) potters.⁹ Greek pottery commonly depicts Dionysos holding a bucchero kantharos.¹⁰ Bucchero wine wares and ceramics have been found in tombs and other Etruscan sites excavated throughout Chianti, including one on a steep hill in Gaiole called Cetamura (almost 700 meters, or 2,297 feet, above sea level), on the property of the present-day Chianti Classico wine estate Badia a Coltibuono. Whether the Etruscan Chiantigiani used their kantharoi, kyathoi, and other bucchero and bronze wine wares in the consumption of their native wine is not known. Archaeobotanic evidence of both the wild vine (Vitis silvestris) and the cultivated vine (Vitis vinifera) is suspected at the Cetamura site from as early as the third century b.c. As of 2014, approximately 430 grape seeds have been recovered from six strata (including Etruscan and Roman) in a 106-foot well there.¹¹ These discoveries were made by an Italian firm specializing in the excavation of wells, in close collaboration with a team of archaeologists from Florida State University, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Syracuse University, and New York University under the direction of Nancy Thomson de Grummond, the overseer of the Cetamura del Chianti archaeological site since 1983. Many seeds were found in vessels that are believed to have been cast into the well as sacrificial offerings, along with coins, votive cups, animal knucklebones (astragali), and ceramic and stone tokens, as part of a sacred ritual involving divination at this high-elevation site at the eastern edge of Chianti. An Etruscan ceramic amphora, pottery from two of Chianti’s surrounding Etruscan cities, Volterra and Arezzo, and an Etruscan bronze wine bucket, along with a fragment of an Etruscan wine strainer, were also retrieved from this well. In light of the archaeological evidence for the ritual and artisanal activity that took place at this site during the Etruscan, Roman, and medieval periods, De Grummond and her team have christened it the Sanctuary of the Etruscan Artisans at Cetamura del Chianti. As this book went to print, the Cetamura grape seeds were undergoing DNA analysis to determine their varietal identification. There is much excitement in Chianti about whether Sangiovese or an early precursor of Chianti Classico’s principal vine variety will be found among the pips from Cetamura.

Given the routes that the Etruscans established throughout Chianti, it is an open question whether wine was being transported from there to the surrounding Etruscan towns. There is evidence that an Etruscan settlement at Pisa, at the mouth of the Arno River, served as a repository for agricultural produce (perhaps including wine) shipped down from the Arno River Valley.¹² What is known is that, unlike the Greeks and their colonists in southern Italy and Sicily, who trained their vines either with the alberello (bush-vine) method or low on wooden stakes, the Etruscans married their vines to trees (usually elm, maple, or poplar).¹³ While the Etruscan words for wine and vineyard, vinum and vina, are Italic in origin, the Etruscan language included a distinct word, ataison, to identify this native form of vine training.¹⁴ From the Middle Ages until the mid-twentieth century, the sharecroppers of Chianti used a type of vine training called alberata or maritata, vines married with trees. Whether these peasant farmers knew it or not, their conjugal form of viticulture had deep roots in Chianti’s Etruscan soil.

Chianti remained a rural landscape for the Etruscan urban areas that encircled it. The pattern of modest Etruscan tombs in Chianti suggests that small family groups settled this countryside to intensively cultivate grapevines, olive and chestnut trees, and legumes as early as the second half of the seventh century b.c. Given the wooded hills and rocky soil, agriculture in this region must have been (and still is) a greater challenge than in the plains and valleys to the west of the Elsa River or on the gentle clay hills to the south of the Arbia River. The only evidence of ancient Chianti’s agriculture on display at the archaeological museum in Castellina are the fragments of bronze and iron implements that the Etruscan Chiantigiani used in their farming. The grape seeds that the archaeologists have excavated from the aqueous layers in the ritual well of Cetamura promise to help unlock some of the mysteries of Etruscan Chianti’s vinicultural past. Long before there were wine appellations of origin, there were the natural territorial borders established (and worshiped) by the Etruscans. The Etruscans used peaks, valleys, waterways, and trees to delimit both their urban and their pastoral landscapes. The Roman historian Varro credited the Etruscans with developing the science or discipline of defining the boundaries of land and sky, including the cardinal points of north, south, east, and west.¹⁵ Among their many deities, Selvans, depicted as a young man, was the protector of Etruria’s forests and wooded lands. He was also the god of their arboreal boundaries and borders.¹⁶ In the centuries to come, the winegrowers of the original Chianti would have done well to honor their ancient sylvan god!


Following the rise and fall of ancient Rome, Tuscany was invaded by tribes from north of the Alps, including the Ostrogoths and Longobards (Lombards). The former Etruria and its elevated wine culture lay buried deep in the rubble. The Etruscan cities of Fiesole and Chiusi were among the casualties. By 800, Charlemagne, the king of the Franks, had liberated Italy from the Longobards and was crowned the Holy Roman emperor in Rome by the pope. A parade of Germanic and French kings followed Charlemagne, each vying for the imperial crown and hegemony on Italian soil. The ensuing conflicts between the empire and the papacy dominated the Tuscan landscape for centuries to come. Florence and Siena, along with dozens of other cities and townships (comuni, the plural of comune) in central and northern Italy, emerged as vibrant centers of commerce and capital (financial, political, and cultural). This process of urbanization (inurbamento) profoundly reshaped the relationship of Florence with its surrounding countryside (contado). Although each city had deeply personal (and violent) factions in support of both the papal and the imperial causes, Florence ultimately allied itself with the papacy under the Guelph banner (with the goal of securing greater political autonomy and the pope’s lucrative banking business), while Siena allied itself with the imperial aspirants under the Ghibelline banner. The feudal lords of Longobard stock (such as the Ricasoli-Firidolfi clan) with fortresses in Chianti generally also allied themselves with the Ghibelline cause. For their loyal service to the Germanic kings, these imperial legates were granted more territory and greater jurisdictional and fiscal prerogatives in their fiefs in Chianti. These feudal families fortified their castles and landholdings, including hilltop villages, in a process known as incastellamento. During the same age, Florence’s links with Chianti were strengthened as reform-minded religious orders such as the Vallombrosans built abbeys (badie, the plural of badia) in the countryside in search of solitude and agricultural revenue. By the end of the eleventh century, the Vallombrosan order had established both Badia a Passignano in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Badia a Coltibuono in Gaiole. To safeguard their commercial and agricultural supply routes, Florence and Siena sought greater control over their surrounding territory (ager in Latin). In each city’s march to become a city-state (civitas in Latin), conflict was inevitable. And Chianti became their battlefield.

Before engaging on the battlefield, Florence and Siena set out to subjugate the feudal families controlling their respective contadi (the plural of contado). This was the battle of commune versus castle. For Florence, that meant defeating the Ricasoli-Firidolfi clan, which possessed, by some accounts, as many as fifteen castles in Chianti, from Brolio Castle in Gaiole to Panzano Castle in the heart of the territory between Florence and Siena.¹⁷ In his sweeping history of Florence, the sixteenth-century author Scipione Ammirato described the Ricasoli family as the ancient padrona d’una gran parte del Chianti (lord of a large part of Chianti).¹⁸ One of the earliest pictorial representations of the region lies at the base of a Ricasoli family tree engraved in 1584 (reproduced on the back of this book’s dust jacket). Armored knights on horseback, with lances in hand, are shown riding into battle and hunting (two of Chianti’s longest-standing pastimes). The Arno River courses downstream east of the Chianti Mountains toward Florence,¹⁹ and the Massellone River flows through the center of Gaiole. Chapels and cypress-lined ridges punctuate the hilly landscape. The walled city of Siena lies in the background. It is a panorama of Ricasoli castles and fortified villages which also are among the storied estates and townships of modern Chianti Classico: Coltibuono, Montegrossolini (Montegrossi), M. Rinaldi (Monterinaldi), Brolio, Cacchiano, Meleto, Gaiole, S. Sano (San Sano), Selvole, Vertine, Ama, Rietine, Radda, and Panzano. According to a later Ricasoli genealogy, Chianti’s first family also owned castles in the upper Arno River Valley and the castle of Monteficalli (Montefioralle) in Greve.²⁰ In telling the story of Florence’s conquest of Chianti, Ammirato identified Greve as the villaggio al principio della provincia del Chianti (village at the beginning of the province of Chianti).²¹ During the twelfth century, the Florentine Republic brought the Ricasoli-Firidolfis and the other feudal families of Chianti (and their vast landholdings) under its control. Brolio Castle (whose pentagonal bastions are unmistakable in the Ricasoli family tree) was the last Ricasoli citadel north of Siena’s territory. It fell to Florence in 1176. Florence finally asserted its dominion over Montegrossi Castle, the original bastion of the Firidolfis, in 1197.²² From that time forward, the Ricasoli-Firidolfi clan and its network of castles were perforce part of Florence’s defensive line against Siena.

By 1203, Florence was challenging Siena’s growing territorial influence. Siena had acquired control of the township of Montalcino to its south. The Florentines returned to the battlefield to extend their borders in Chianti while Siena was raiding the next important town to its south, Montepulciano. In the dispute over Chianti, the Florentines eventually prevailed at the bargaining table. The podestà (ruler) of Poggibonsi, together with an assemblage of bishops and leading laymen, awarded control of Chianti to the Florentines in an arbitral decision known as the Lodo di Poggibonsi (Poggibonsi Judgment) in June 1203. The Sienese flouted this decision for more than 350 years, until the Florentine Grand Duchy annexed their city-state in 1555. Every couple of decades or so, the citizen-soldiers and mercenaries of Siena (and its imperial allies) trampled the Chianti countryside, toppling castles and razing vineyards. (There were some difficult vintages in those centuries!) In response, the Florentines organized a network of military leagues (leghe, the plural of lega) to defend and govern their hard-won territories in all directions. The dimensions of each lega were based on the challenges which it was likely to confront in overseeing and defending its borders. The Lega del Chianti was born shortly before 1306.²³ It united the three principal towns of Castellina, Radda, and Gaiole with almost seventy surrounding smaller villages and parishes. Radda served as its headquarters, and the gallo nero (black rooster), symbolizing vigilance, became its emblem. As of 1384 the Lega del Chianti extended from Staggia Castle on its western border (near Poggibonsi) to the parish churches in the Chianti Mountains on its eastern border (overlooking the upper Arno River Valley). Moving from the west, its northern boundary skirted south of the Pesa River and then farther south of the township of Greve and its several hamlets, including Panzano and Lamole, as Val di Greve had its own lega. The Florentine Republic appointed Piergiovanni Ricasoli as the commissario (commissioner) and podestà of both the Lega del Chianti and the Lega di Val di Greve during the Aragonese invasions of Chianti from 1478 through 1484.²⁴ With this wartime commission, Florence effectively united Chianti and Val di Greve as one territory under the defensive command of the Ricasoli (and the standard of the gallo nero). Over time, the wine region of Chianti naturally evolved to incorporate the Greve River Valley as well. Piergiovanni Ricasoli and his fellow knights of the Lega del Chianti would not have been surprised.

In 1384 the Lega del Chianti adopted a formal set of bylaws (statuto) to govern itself. For the most part, their provisions covered the military and civil matters at the core of the lega’s mission. The lega added an article in 1444 called Della vendemia (About the harvest). It prohibited the harvesting of wine grapes within the lega’s borders before September 29 (the Feast of Saint Michael) each year.²⁵ While recognizing the hardship that might compel certain families to harvest their vineyards before the grapes were mature, the language unequivocally prohibited this, given the great damage which the lega would receive because the wines would not be good and could not be sold.²⁶ The provision also required that all dog owners keep their dogs tied up for the entire month of September. Violators were subject to monetary fines payable to the lega (with one-quarter of the fine going to the whistle-blower). A former podestà of the Lega del Chianti, Michelangelo Tanàglia, in the late fifteenth century authored a didactic poem titled De agricultura, in which he advised his readers

on the open hills, to never tire

of planting vines, of the best kind,

or of attending the plant of Bacchus,²⁷

because wine grapes are the most profitable crop. The poem (written in the vernacular Tuscan language) also includes detailed descriptions of vine varieties and viticultural and enological recommendations. This lega took its Chianti seriously!

Between the early fourteenth century and the disbanding of the leghe by the Hapsburg-Lorraine grand duke in 1774, the borders of the Lega del Chianti changed slightly as townships and parishes were added or removed. After 1774 the townships of Castellina, Radda, and Gaiole were combined with the potesteria (territory) of Greve to create the vicariate of Radda. The grand duke himself, Peter Leopold, toured Chianti in July 1773 and kept a travel journal of his observations. He described il Chianti as encompassing the broad swath of land between Florence and Siena. According to the grand duke, Chianti was tutta montagna (all mountains), was bordered by Florence, Certaldo and S. Casciano, as well as by Valdarno di Sopra and Siena, and comprised the vicariate of Radda and the potesteria of Greve. He explained that the most traveled road of Chianti was the one from Florence through Greve and Panzano to Castellina.²⁸ Remarkably, the map of the vicariato di Radda produced by Ferdinando Morozzi in 1781²⁹ looks like it could be a map of the first consortium of Chianti wine producers, established in 1924. For certain strident tradizionalisti (traditionalists) in the twentieth century, the historic borders of the medieval Lega del Chianti constituted the definitive boundaries of Chianti as a wine appellation. The story of Chianti as a wine region, however, did not begin or end with the Lega del Chianti.


In the long centuries that followed the decline of the Etruscan and Roman civilizations, the culture of the vine (vite) languished in the land of Etruria. As the cities in Tuscany grew into centers of trade, finance, and manufacturing in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, agriculture was also commercialized and revitalized. In contrast with the rest of Europe, Tuscany’s rinascita (rebirth) began in the Middle Ages. This rebirth flourished in urban markets and rural fields. It was rooted in a culture of commerce and contracts—and poets and painters. The city of Florence established close links with its sources of grain, meat, produce, and wine. Urban citizens (cittadini), from noblemen to artisans, increasingly purchased land in the countryside with the goal of securing their food supply and investing their gold florins securely. Acquiring land in the contado promised greater economic self-sufficiency for city dwellers.³⁰ It also conferred social capital once possessed only by the landed aristocracy. Within the walls of Florence and Siena, monastic and lay farmers tended walled gardens. Their vestiges are the extant communal streets and other places with vigna (vineyard) in the name. These urban vineyards (including those just outside or nearby the city walls) were likely either specialized or kitchen gardens with grapevines and olive and fruit trees planted together (vinea cum arboribus). Given the constraint of urban space, grapevines, whether trained low or on a pergola, would have been densely planted. In the early 1300s, ecclesiastical institutions and Florentine landholding families began widely planting specialized vineyards in the plains and hills surrounding the city.³¹ Beyond providing daily sustenance (as a companatico, or bread pairing), wine had assumed liturgical and medicinal importance in the Middle Ages. Before the bubonic plague epidemic (known as the Black Death) struck in 1348, the city of Florence had ninety thousand to one hundred thousand citizens by some counts, making it one of the five most populous in Europe. Its surrounding contado, including Chianti, was under great pressure to supply Florence with its most essential staple, grain. Prior to the Black Death, Florence needed to import the equivalent of seven months of its grain supply every year.³² The local market for wine was also robust. Florence’s guild of wine merchants (Arte dei Vinattieri) was first organized in 1266. The vinattieri worked with a network of agents (mediatori) throughout the countryside to purchase wine for the Florence market, even from peripheral areas of the contado such as Chianti.³³ By one estimate, the consumption of wine in Florence totaled 23.7 million liters (6.3 million gallons) in 1280.³⁴ Its annual per capita wine consumption ranged between 220 and 260 liters (58 and 69 gallons) during the 1300s.³⁵ Each barrel of Chianti brought to market in Florence would have been subject to the duties (gabelle, the plural of gabella) imposed by the Florentine Republic on wine brought into the city and sold within its walls. The gabelle were also levied on other staples, including grain, meat, oil, and salt. By all accounts, the increasing gabelle (used to fund interest payments on the republic’s mounting public debt) did little to slake the Florentines’ thirst for wine.³⁶

Jurists (civil and canon), notaries, and learned laymen who acquired land in the contado to plant their vines used their classical scholarship to recover the viticultural knowledge that was lost with the decline of Roman civilization. The rebirth of the classics so closely identified with the Florentine Renaissance of the 1400s and 1500s began centuries earlier with the recovery of Roman law by medieval counselors and clerics. Their knowledge of Latin provided a gateway to the discovery of ancient Roman texts, including the epic of Virgil, rhetoric of Cicero, and husbandry of Columella. The Tuscan poet and humanist Petrarch wrote works in Latin as well as Tuscan during the fourteenth century. He embraced the classical Roman ideology of agriculture as an ethical pursuit by personally tending to the grapevines, fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs in his gardens. In his library was a treasured personal codex of Virgil’s works. In 1339–40 he commissioned the Sienese master Simone Martini to paint a frontispiece for this volume. It is a tribute to Virgil’s three celebrated works, the Eclogues (also referred to as Bucolics), Georgics, and Aeneid. In the lower left-hand corner, symbolizing the Georgics, a lengthy poem exalting the virtues of agriculture, is a vinedresser at work. In contrast with the opening lines of the Georgics, which promise to explain how to marry the vines to their arbor of elms,³⁷ Martini’s vinedresser is pruning a stand-alone, alberello-like vine. A distinct form of alberello tied to a stake is still found today in the high Chianti hills of Ruffoli, Casole, and Lamole overlooking Val di Greve and in Panzano. Compared with the maritata, or tree-festooned, vines of Virgil’s Georgics or the classic Tuscan countryside, Martini’s depiction of the freestanding vine in the Virgil frontispiece suggests a more careful form of viticulture, which the Sienese artist surely observed either in the Chianti hills and mountains north of his hometown or in Avignon, where he was working on commissions for the papal court (and on the Virgil frontispiece for Petrarch) during the 1330s.

The merchants of Florence also brought back empirical observations about French wine from their business travels north of the Alps. From the Middle Ages, Florentine and other Tuscan merchant-bankers were well represented at the Champagne fairs, and later those in Bruges and Lyon. At these fairs, Tuscany’s merchant-bankers were engaged in long-distance trade and finance in almost all commercial sectors, except those involving wine and other foodstuffs. One early Italian raconteur of France’s wine country was the Franciscan monk Salimbene. In his thirteenth-century Chronicle, he marveled that the hillsides and plains in Auxerre were covered everywhere with vineyards. He added that the farmers in this area of Burgundy sow not, nor do they reap, neither have they storehouse nor barn; but they send wine to Paris by the river which flows hard by; and there they sell it at a noble price.³⁸ In other words, Salimbene (who had previously lived in Lucca, Siena, and Pisa in Tuscany) was amazed that the economy of Auxerre supported a monoculture of vines. Indeed, any Tuscan or Lombard merchant traveling to and from the Champagne fairs would have been equally astonished, given that no city in Tuscany or Lombardy (or elsewhere in continental Italy) lived on its agricultural trade like the wine ports and cities of France, Rouen and La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Laon, Auxerre, [and] Beaune.³⁹

In the summer of 1348, following the bankruptcies of two of its most prominent banking houses (the Bardi and the Peruzzi) and devastating harvests in the previous two years, the bubonic plague felled approximately one-half of the population of Florence.⁴⁰ The decades following this sudden population loss witnessed a dramatic reduction in the amount of grain that Florence required to provision its citizens. Remarkably, this also represented the beginning of Florence’s most vibrant economic growth, lasting until the end of the fifteenth century.⁴¹ Agriculture in the surrounding contado became more diversified (and by some measures more efficient) in the succeeding decades. In some areas, grapevines were planted on more than 30 percent of the cultivated land.⁴² More grapevines and olive and fig trees were also planted in areas of the countryside, like Chianti, in ways more suitable to its nature.⁴³ In contrast with the thirteenth and the first half of the fourteenth century, fewer specialized vineyards were planted in Florence’s surrounding countryside, in favor of an increasingly mixed system (coltivazione consociata) of tree-trained vines and other arboreal crops (which reduced a landlord’s capital expenditure by eliminating the need for wooden canes and specialized labor for dedicated vineyards). Because of the loss of manpower in the countryside following the Black Death (particularly in already sparsely populated areas like Chianti), absentee Florentine landowners consolidated their landholdings (in a process known as appoderamento) to create farms (poderi, the plural of podere) that could each be managed by a single family of tenant farmers.⁴⁴ Unlike the winegrowers in Auxerre whom Salimbene observed, the farmers of Chianti were required to sow and reap their grain as well as tend and harvest their grapevines and olive trees. The Chiantigiani also lacked access to a navigable river on which to ship their wines to market cheaply and without excessive jolting⁴⁵ (the Arno River was navigable only downstream from Florence to Pisa). The limited quantity of Chianti wine that reached Florence had to travel in barrels by mule- or ox-drawn carts over steep hills and through valleys. For wine being transported from Val di Greve (only about twenty-six kilometers, or sixteen miles, south of Florence), the cost of overland transport in this period is estimated to have added 25 percent to the price.⁴⁶ Notwithstanding these challenges, Chianti wine made its name in the Florence market by the end of the fourteenth century, when the price of wine was increasing appreciably.⁴⁷ The first known documentary reference to the wine of Chianti is an entry dated December 16, 1398, in a Florentine account book of the well-known Prato merchant Francesco di Marco Datini. It refers to his purchase, as arranged by his notary, Ser Lapo Mazzei (an ancestor of the Mazzei family of Castello di Fonterutoli in Castellina), of six barili of vino biancho di Chianti (white wine of Chianti; one barile, the singular of barili, was equal to forty-six liters, or twelve gallons, in the Florence of the early 1400s).⁴⁸ In a letter of 1401, Mazzei also referred to wine from Lamole in Val di Greve, which after some time will be good red wines.⁴⁹ While the earliest reference to Chianti wine is ironically to a white wine, Ser Lapo’s description of the red wine from Lamole could come from a modern wine writer’s description of a fine Chianti Classico.

In establishing a more equitable system to tax its residents (including the exaction of interest-earning forced loans⁵⁰ to fund the public debt, called the Monte), the Florentine Republic in 1427 fortuitously developed a classification of the wines from its subborghi (suburbs), contado, and distretto (outer district). Called the Catasto (census), the new tax system required cittadini and contadini (the residents of the contado) alike to report the value of their taxable assets (based on the investment return on real estate and the fair market value of movables such as shares in the Monte). In taxing liquid wealth, the Catasto established reference values for agricultural products like wine. These were also used to calculate the yield harvested from agricultural landholdings. For our purposes, the 1427 Catasto could also be called the 1427 Classification. Without naming or ranking specific estates (like Bordeaux’s 1855 Classification), it established a tariff schedule for the wines of 106 growing regions or localities representing most of modern-day Tuscany (with the exception of Siena, Lucca, and Massa-Carrara).⁵¹ The reputation enjoyed by the various production zones determined these tariffs, although in certain cases the assigned reference values diverged from actual market prices.⁵² Among the highest valued were the wines from several localities in the upper Arno River Valley (such as Galatrona) and then those from Chianti et tucta la provincia (Chianti and its entire province), Panzano, Badia a Montemuro (a high-altitude hamlet north of Radda on the slopes of Monte San Michele), and Valdirubbiana (the Ema Creek Valley, near the modern-day hamlet of San Polo in the northeastern corner of the Chianti Classico appellation), followed by the wines of Lucolena and Mercatale a Greve.⁵³ In other words, for the architects of the 1427 Catasto, the wines from Chianti and its entire province just north of Siena and farther northward to Panzano, the Chianti Mountains, the upper Greve River Valley, and the Ema Creek Valley were all worth their weight in florins!

While the 1427 Catasto did not define the geographic borders of Chianti and its entire province, an analysis of the numerous other place-names it listed indicates that in the early fifteenth century Chianti was still considered largely synonymous with the domain of the Lega del Chianti. Nevertheless, and its entire province suggests a more expansive view of Chianti as a wine region. As the Catasto’s tariff schedule indicates, the wines from the high valleys of the Arbia, Greve, and Pesa Rivers between Florence and Siena were all highly valued. So it is only natural that the intrinsic geographic and geologic conditions (steep hills with poor and rocky soils) that distinguished these locations came to be collectively associated with the prized territory that the Florentine Republic had wrested first from the feudal Ricasoli-Firidolfi family and then from the Republic of Siena a little more than 225 years earlier, namely Chianti.


In reviving the Latin agricultural treatises of classical authors such as Cato the Elder, Pliny the Elder, and Virgil, the Florentine humanists also restored the agrarian ideals of ancient Rome—in both letter and spirit. As Rome had evolved from a republic to an empire, its leaders had embraced agricultural tranquillity and the pursuit of the golden mean, ‘aurea mediocritas.’⁵⁴ Following Florence’s evolution from a republic to a principate, its ruling families likewise embraced agricultural tranquillity. In the first half of the fifteenth century, Cosimo de’ Medici immersed himself in both the library and the garden at his country villa outside Florence.⁵⁵ By the late 1400s, Lorenzo de’ Medici (instead of pruning vines or grafting fruit trees like his grandfather Cosimo) was writing works that expressed his delight in the beauty of the Tuscan countryside and in the many pleasures it offered.⁵⁶ Beyond finding peace in their country gardens, the landowning families and ecclesiastical orders of Florence institutionalized agricultural stability in the form of the mezzadria (sharecropping) system. Florentines brought their knowledge of legal contracts and financial accounting to the management of their agricultural landholdings. They entered into leases with tenant farmers on either a fixed-term or a perpetual basis, stipulating fixed rent (monetary or in kind) or share (in kind only) payments, to cultivate previously abandoned or wooded lands. In the mid-thirteenth century, the mezzadria form of tenancy was introduced in the countryside of both Florence and Siena. Chianti was no exception. Radda, Greve, and Castellina are the places in Chianti where the earliest mezzadria contracts have been identified, from the Duecento (1200s).⁵⁷ The Florentine landlords increasingly entered into fixed-term leases with their sharecropper farmers (mezzadri, the plural of mezzadro) to cultivate Chianti’s rocky terrain and lean soil. These contracts provided that the padrone (landowner or landlord) and the mezzadro would share the year’s harvest equally (mezzadria deriving from mezzo, or half). As a general rule, the landlord would deduct from the mezzadro’s share an amount equal to one-half of the working capital that the landlord had advanced (without interest) earlier in the agricultural cycle for oxen, manure, seeds, wooden stakes, or tools. The landlord also invested capital to construct or enlarge the farmhouse, or casa colonica, for each resident mezzadro family’s podere. This was typically a stone building that included (in addition to the farmworkers’ living quarters) a cistern, stall, oven, and wine cellar. The sharecropper tenancy, with its built-in incentives for efficient and productive land use by the mezzadro family, required less labor supervision and land management by the absentee landowner.⁵⁸ Contrary to the popular association between the mezzadria form of tenancy and mixed agriculture, during the Middle Ages the mezzadria contract initially provided for the intensive planting and tending of specialized vineyards, stipulating that the vines be trained on dry

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