Reputation can often make or break a type of wine. Chianti long has had a reputation of mediocrity, most often considered just a passable red table wine served in pizza joints and Italian restaurants in that iconic straw encased bottle. Italian winemakers did little to change this reputation associated with their product. For decades, they over planted the Sangiovese grape and focused on quantity over quality. This strategy worked for some time, stabilizing the Tuscan wine making region, that had been making this type of wine since the 18th century. However, years of low quality wine and an inexact recipe led to Chianti being an afterthought.
This all began to change around 1950. Tuscan vintners settled on a consistent recipe for their Chiantis. A Sangiovese-based wine, Chianti must legally contain at least 80% of the grape type, allowing it to be blended with lesser quantities of grapes like Canaiolo, Trebbiano, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even Merlot. A subset of ambitious wine makers began to focus on quality and began producing a product better than the basic Chianti.
These higher quality wines became known as “Super Tuscans”. Modern wine making techniques and new oak barrels were now being used. Chiantis were being aged more than the standard 4-7 months. Anything aged more than two years would be allowed to call itself a “Riserva.” The success of these “Super Tuscans” allowed producers to charge more money while restoring their reputation somewhat. Last but not least, most winemakers abandoned the traditional straw “fiasco” bottle (translated flask). It was too often associated with the cheaper, lower quality Chiantis of years past.
The Ruffino winery has been making wines in the Tuscany region of Italy since 1877. Producing their first Riserva Ducale (original) in 1927, the Ruffino Chianti has been one of the most popular and well respected worldwide. It was not until 1947, however, that the commitment to these higher quality “Super Tuscans” began to be realized with the first Riserva Ducale Oro (Gold Label). The best Sangiovese grapes from the Tuscan region aged in oak barrels for 36 months. It was made with the idea that it would be able to compete with fine wines from all around the world, not just Tuscany. To this date Riserva Ducale Gold is one of the consistently highest rated and best reviewed wines every year.
The bottle (found online from $25.99-30.99) is easily noticeable with its distinct golden label and opens with a floral aroma with hints of cherries and spice. Full bodied, yet well balanced, there are notes of berries, spices and oak. Soft tannins allow this to be a very drinkable wine with a long finish. A good companion with most foods, Chianti works especially well with pasta dishes, most meats, cheese, and even pizza. Chianti has come a long way from being just another boring old red poured at the table. Quality and elegance are now a part of the Chianti world.