There are a few reasons why the wine known as “Chianti” creates confusion. The main one being that here in the USA as well as most of the wine-growing world, the wine being produced, sold and drank is known by the name of the grape varietal that is used to make the wine. For instance, “I had a nice Cabernet with my steak” or “many of the Merlots that I drink come from Napa Valley” or “I try to chill my Chardonnays before drinking”.
In Italy (France, too, but that’s a story for another day) this is not the case. Wines are named after the region of the country that produces the wine. The actual grape used in making Chianti is Sangiovese. If Italy referred to their wines by the varietal name we would have heard Hannibal Lecter utter the famous quote, “a census taker once tried to test me; I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Sangiovese.”
There are actually 7 sub regions within the Chianti area of Tuscany. To discuss all of them would be way too much information. Suffice to say that on the shelves of your local wine store you are most likely to find three types of Chianti; Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva. I would caution you to stay away from the Chianti and pay the few dollars more for the Chianti Classico, a sub region with more stringent requirements that produces a much better wine. If you have a few extra dollars then by all means, splurge for the Chianti Classico Riserva which spends at least 27 months aging and getting better before it is released for distribution. To make certain you are purchasing a Chianti Classico wine look for the Black Rooster on the wine stamp.
Keep in mind that Chianti is not a wine for everyone. People usually fall into the “love it or hate it” category. If you limit your drinking to the good stuff you will find it to be an excellent accompaniement to heavier foods, especially pasta with red gravy. Try it!!