Realm of the Gallo Nero | Posted: 07 June 2016
Self guided walking holidays in Tuscany
Self guided walking holidays in Tuscany
Self guided walking holidays in Tuscany

The rafia covered flasks of Chianti wine are among the most recognised bottles in Italy, but how the famous black cockerel came to be its symbol is quite a story...

Way back in the mists of time, the region of Chianti in what is now Tuscany, found itself at the centre of a storm and being fought over by the city republics of Siena and Florence. Legend has it that in order to end the fighting, it was decided that a knight from each city would race out and where they met would define the boundary between them.

As was common practice at the time, the race would start at the crowing of the cockerel, each city carefully selecting their own bird. But unknown to the populace of Siena, the crafty Florentines had taken a black cockerel and kept it locked up and underfed for several days.

Unsurprisingly after this forced incarceration, as soon as it was released it began crowing – well before sun-up – and the knight galloped off on his errand. Unlike his Sienese counterpart who had to wait several hours until the sun finally came up before his white cockerel crowed – by which time it was too late. He met his opponent after only 12 kilometres near the village of Fonterutoli, leaving the vast majority of Chianti in the hands of Florence. From that day on, the heroic gallo nero (the black cockerel) became the symbol of the Chianti region.

In 1716, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici, decided he needed to clarify exactly which vineyards could claim to produce Chianti wine. He issued an edict legislating that the three villages of Castellina, Gaiole and Radda as well as the village of Greve and a stretch of hillside north near Spedaluzzo were the only officially recognized producers of Chianti. This delineation existed until 1932, when the Italian government expanded the Chianti zone to include Barberino Val d'Elsa, Chiocchio, Robbiano, San Casciano in Val di Pesa and Strada. Subsequent expansions in 1967 saw Chianti covering much of central Tuscany.

Related Holidays & Further Information

From Florence to Siena

Chianti is just one of many celebrated wines from Tuscany, though probably the most well-known and easily recognised, and although you can sample it on any of our holidays in Tuscany, there's nowhere better than on a walk through the very heart of Chianti country.

More about our walking holiday in Chianti >

For a Chianti to be a Chianti, it must be produced in this region and be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Most Chiantis, in fact, are 100% Sangiovese, though some winemakers blend the Sangiovese with a little Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah to soften the finished wine. The two most accessible types are Chianti Classico, produced from grapes harvested from those first villages outlined in 1932; and Chianti, which is produced in the outlying areas. All types have DOC or DOCG classification.

For those (like me), who don’t know exactly what the classifications mean, here’s a brief look:

• DOC is the Italian designation for wines produced within a specified region (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) using defined methods and that satisfies a defined quality standard.
DOCG was an extension of the above when it was deemed that too many products were being classed as DOC and so a higher level (e Garantita) was needed to make the best stand out. DOCG wine bottles can be recognized by a numbered governmental seal across the cap or cork.
• Classico (classic) is reserved for wines produced in a region using traditional methods. In the case of Chianti Classico, this traditional region is that as defined by the decree of 1932.
• Riserva (reserve) may only be used only for wines that have been aged at least two years longer than normal for that particular type of wine.

And so it’s time to celebrate this much celebrated wine’s 300th anniversary. Chianti Classico, once easily recognizable by its squat bottle enclosed in a raffia basket, has come of age and is undoubtedly one of the best-known wine brands in the world. The official date of the anniversary is 24 September (when the edict was drafted) so if you are in Tuscany on that day, make sure you raise a glass to Cosimo. Not that you need to be in Tuscany then or on any other date to enjoy this fine red wine.

By its nature, Chianti wines are very earthy and rustic, high in tannins (it feels dry in the mouth), and has a smell and taste that has underlying hints of strawberries and cherries. It is also high in acidity, which makes it a perfect accompaniment to food – but not, as the villainous Hannibal Lecter once claimed, with liver and fava beans...

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