Wines of Italy: Chianti and Pinot Grigio

Posted by on Apr 7, 2012 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Wines of Italy: Chianti and Pinot Grigio

If you've been reading this blog for any period of time (and likely even if you haven't) you know that there's a multitude of grape varieties out there. Did you know that Italy produces upwards of a 1000 different grape varieties? Most of these blends are used to add more complexity, and if you're drawing from a 4-digit number of grapes, then the complexity available is going to be legendary.

Obviously we cannot cover all of these lovely grapes, but we can focus on some of the best. In this blog we'll explore two of the most popular styles of Italian wine that are available in North America: Chianti, which is usually a red wine, and Pinot Grigio, which is usually a white wine.


First, like Chardonnay, Chianti is not the grape variety, but is the name of the region where the grapes are grown. By Italian law, Chianti must contain 75%-100% Sangiovese, which is a type of grape. Depending on the amount of Sangiovese the winery uses they can blend up to 10% Canaiolo and up to 20% of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah.
Let's take a look at the classifications first. Chianti falls into one of three:

  • Chianti – Means it has been aged for four months.
  • Chianti Superiore – Means that it has been aged for 7 or more months.
  • Chianti Riserva – Means it has been aged for at least 38 months.

The time frame for aging a Chianti is typically 5-15 years, depending on the quality.

Chianti is great for the novice wine drinker because it comes in a variety of styles from light to full-bodied. This versatile wine can be paired with many different foods, but one of the best is red tomato sauce—which means that it's even better accompanied by a traditional Tuscan pizza. Yummy. You can expect flavors of Cherry, Strawberry, and maybe some blueberry as well. There is, as well, a distinct floral characteristic on the nose.

So if you find yourself strolling through the hills if Italy where can you go to pick up a nice bottle of the stuff? Chianti in Tuscany and is sub-divided into the following 7 areas:

  • Chianti “Classico” — This is the most common Chianti available in North America and it comes from the area between Florence and Siena.
  • “Colli Aretini” – The grapes are grown in the hills of Arezzo and they produce wines that are medium bodied and are usually best drunk young.
  • “Colli Fiorentini” – The grapes come from the hills of Florence and they produce a variety of different styles from young drinkable wines to great reserve styles of Chianti.
  • “Colli Senesi” – The grapes are grown in the hills of Siena and this is the largest sub region of Chianti, but is more known for producing Brunello di Montalcino. We will explore this wine in a later blog.
  • “Colline Pisane” – Known for their pleasant light wines that come from the hills of Pisa.
  • “Montalbano” – Grapes are grown in the hills around Pistoia or west Florence and are usually used in regional Chianti Blends. See below for the classification.
  • “Rufina” – This is one of the smallest producing regions for Chianti, but it produces high quality, complex, premium styles of Chianti. The Rufina area is located to the east of Florence.

Pinot Grigio

Hailing from Northeastern Italy, mostly from Alto-Adige, Veneto and Friuli, comes the Western World all-star, Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Grigio, unlike Chianti, is actually the name of the grape, and not the region. It comes from the Pinot Family and is better known in France as 'Pinot Gris.' The difference between the Italian style and the French style is that the Italians harvest their grapes earlier in the season in order to get a greener, fresh, more acidic wine that will resist over-ripening.

Pinot Grigio is the number one imported white wine from Italy to North America. If you're at a restaurant, chances are you're going to see Pinot Grigio in the premium category because of its popularity.

In terms of the flavor, this white is usually very light, very crisp, and subsequently very good. You can expect flavors of green apple, pear, and melon, all with a highly acidic crunch.
If you're wondering what happens when you leave the grape on the vine for a little while longer, the result is a less acidic, sweeter outcome. The yield will have honey or tropical flavors and are consequently more common for warmer climates such as the following:

  • Australia
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Canada (BC)
  • New Zealand
  • United States (California, Oregon and Washington State)

Pinot Grigio is best served in the summer time as a refreshing wine. It pairs well with light pastas, seafood, and creamy cheeses. It is also great for making summer cocktails such as a martini. In fact, if you like martinis try this recipe out:

The Glamour Girl Martini

  • 3 oz Pinot Grigio
  • 1 oz Peach Schnapps
  • Splash of Cranberry Juice
  • And one cherry
  • pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and pour into chilled cocktail glasses.

If you know of any other great cocktail recipes, let me know in the comments. In the next blog we'll go a little bit further into Italy and explore some great wines and the places that they come from.

About Dave Keighron

Dave Keighron has written 63 posts in this blog.

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