Tuscany areas:Florence Siena Lucca Chianti San Gimignano Arezzo Pisa Versilia Cortona Montecatini Garfagnana
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The territory of Chianti runs on pretty much a north/south axis from Florence down to Siena. It is the famous land of vineyards and hilltop towns, with Greve, Radda and Castellina forming a triangle in the very heart of Chianti.
The area is bordered to the west by the Florence - Siena autostrada, passing first by San Casciano Val di Pesa, the largest town in the area, and on to Poggibonsi. However, the 'classic' route is via the 'Chiantigiana', the N222, which winds up and down through the hills and valleys of this most popular area.
Chianti is without a doubt the most well known of all Italian wines. There may be only one denomination - Chianti D.O.C.G - but there are many different styles, ranging from light Beaujolais-style quaffing wines to structured, complex wines with enough backbone to reward aging and maturing.
The predominant grape variety is Sangiovese, but the laws allow for an addition of between 10 and 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. A Riserva wine is one that has been aged longer before being released; it should come from a good year and benefit from further aging, although it is not always the guarantee of quality that might reasonably be expected.
The vineyards of Chianti are scattered over much of central Tuscany; the Classico zone begins northwards of Siena and reaches most of the way to Florence. This zone generally produces the best wine. The other six zones are:
Colli Aretini: the hills around Arezzo produce a medium-bodied Chianti, soft and best drunk young.
Colli Senesi: from the hills to the south and west of Siena, this is the largest Chianti sub-zone. Chianti plays second fiddle to Brunello and Montepulciano.
Colli Fiorentini: all styles of Chianti, from light everyday stuff to some excellent Riservas.
Montalbano: from the hills west of Florence. The better grapes tend to go to make Carmignano.
Rufina: the smallest of the seven, this zone, to the north east of Florence, produces some of the most complex and long-lived wines in Chianti.
Colline Pisane: pleasant, light wines from the hills around Pisa.
Greve in Chianti, the chief town of the Gallo Nero region, is home to Chianti's largest wine fair, held every September. The small village, named after the nearby river, expanded considerably during the 14th and 15th centuries, and, after the unification of Italy, became the most important centre of the valley.
Today you will find a wine shop around every bend, with some of the better ones being found in the Piazza Matteotti. The statue in the middle of the square is of Giovanni di Verrazzano, the man who discovered New York harbour.
Castellina in Chianti is another quietly affluent hilltop town, yet it was at one time at the very frontline of the ebbing and flowing wars between Florence and Siena. A striking remnant of those times is the Via delle Volte, a covered gallery that was once part of the town fortifications. The old fort, in the central square, is now home to municipial offices.
Radda in Chianti, to the east of the Chiantigiana route, has retained more of its ancient character than most towns and villages of the area. It is located in the hills of Chianti, the Monti del Chianti, and was once the seat of the mediaeval Lega di Chianti. This once powerful league took the black cockerel, the Gallo Nero of all bottles of Chianti, as its symbol.
The significance of this dates to a border dispute between Siena and Florence, a dispute that saw the border drawn at the point where a horseman from each city would meet on the road. They were both to set out at the cock-crow, as indeed they did, except that the Florentine cockerel had been starved, and woke to greet the day considerably earlier than its Sienese counterpart.
The town still retains the elliptical form it had in mediaeval times, and the streets of the miniscule town centre are centred around the square, Piazza Ferrucci. It is here you will find the Palazzo del Podesta, with frescoed decorations and numerous ancient shields and crests, and the main church, raised on a platform directly opposite the palace.
San Casciano Val di Pesa, on the northern edge of the Chianti Classico zone, is the first major town on the Chiantigiana route from Florence. It is also the largets town (pop.16,000) in the area. Parts of the 14th century walls still remain, and the town is home to an interesting church, Santa Maria del Prato, housing works by Simone Martini, Ugolino di Neri, Taddeo Gaddi and Fra Bartolomeo.