By Gordon and Jean Leidner
Ciao! Summer is vacation time and we just returned from the trip of a lifetime—2 weeks in Italy. We spent one of those glorious weeks in the heart of the Chianti region of Tuscany. Yes, it is everything one imagines: rolling hills of grapevines and olive groves, excellent wine, friendly people, excellent wine, delicious food, and….excellent Chianti wine!
While touring the Chianti region, we learned about its iconic symbol: the black rooster. There is an old story behind the symbol, and in a round-about way it has a lot to do with wine. It all started 800 years ago. Red wine had been produced in this area since around 1000 A.D. and Florence and Siena had had a long feud over rights to this region. Finally, around 1200, they agreed to end the feud with a contest.
Horsemen were to depart from the rival cities at the crow of a rooster. Wherever they met would determine the boundary lines and settle the dispute once and for all. While the Sienese chose a well-fed white rooster, the cunning Florentines chose a black rooster and starved him for a few days before the race.
On the day of the event the white rooster dutifully crowed at sunrise, but the hungry black rooster had begun to crow long before, thus giving the Florentine rider a significant head start.
The Sienese horseman only got about 15km north of Siena to the town of Fonterutoli before the two riders met. The boundary lines were drawn at the meeting spot and the majority of the Chianti Classico region now fell under the jurisdiction of Florence.
True or not, it makes a great story and that starving Black Rooster has been immortalized on every bottle of Chianti Classico since. Don’t you think that he (and the cunning of the Florentines) deserve a toast? Salute!
In search of some great Chianti Classico wine, we toured the popular Castello di Verrazzano, a winery famous for its founding family and its wine. Giovanni da Verrazzano, celebrated navigator and discoverer, was born there in 1485. The VerrazzanoNarrowsBridge in New York is named after him.
Our tour guide, Gillian, enlightened us with some facts about Castello di Verrazzano that we found interesting. For example, the vines are capable of producing 8 kilos of grapes per plant, but are pruned to produce only one kilo, and all of their grapes are hand-picked by 30 highly-trained workers. The estate has been producing wine since 1150AD. For those of us from a country that is only 237 years old, that is a really long time.
Three out of ten wines made at Castello di Verrazzano are Chianti Classicos and bear the proud symbol of the black rooster. In fact, having the legendary black rooster on the neck of the bottle guarantees the wine is the authentic Chianto Classico. This is due to the fact that Chianti Classico wines are strictly regulated by Consorzio Del Vino Chianti Classico (similar to a union), which uses the black rooster as its seal.
So what makes Chianto Classico so special? Chianti Classico wines are required by law to meet certain standards. First, they must be made of at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Second, they must be guaranteed to be from the Chianti region. Additionally, grape output per vine is limited and the amount of time the wine ages in oak is stipulated.
Chianti Classico wine is typically ruby-red in color with strong floral notes, particularly violet. The flavor is reminiscent of black cherries with a hint of oak and earthy spiciness. To make certain you are getting the real deal, look for the DOCG [Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed)] seal on the label.
Remember the town of Fonterutoli where the two riders met? Today it is a charming village, and home of another famous winery that has been run by the Mazzei family since 1435. (They also happen to own most of the town.) We suggest that if you are in the region you visit the Castello di Fonterutoli Winery’s tasting room and sample a few of their many 90+ point Chianti Classico wines. We did. Spendido!
Although we have always enjoyed Chianti Classico wines, and knew that the rooster on the label meant the wine would be really good, our trip to the Chianti region has given that skinny, black rooster on the label a whole new meaning. Look for it yourself the next time you shop for wine.
Gordon and Jean Leidner have been wine enthusiasts for years. They enjoy visiting wineries, hosting wine parties, and have even dabbled in making wine from kits. Gordon has been a history buff for most of his life, and blogs at his website Great American History.