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A Black Cock Guarantees Satisfaction

by Peter May

A black cock on the neck band of a bottle of Chianti guarantees a premier wine made in a tradition dating back centuries.
Black Cock? Are you trying to be rude?
   Not at all. The 'gallo nero' or black cockerel is the trademark of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and appears on the neck label of members wines.

I've had Chianti without that label.
   The gallo nero isn't on every Chianti, only those from the premier central region.

Where's that?
   Chianti is an Italian wine producing region between Florence and Siena in central Tuscany. The best wine comes from Chianti Classico in the central part of the area.

Hold on, I've had California chianti!
Chianti's reputation has many imitators. Way back in 1716 Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, defined the boundaries of where Chianti Classico wine could be made in an attempt to stop imitations. His decree was the world's first legal document defining a wine production area.

If the label says Chianti what's the difference?
   Italian Chianti comes from a geographical region for known for centuries as Chianti and the wine must be made from approved varieties. Chianti Classico is a blend of four varieties. Sangiovese is the most important, forming at least 75%, and imparting the typical Chianti flavor.
   Other varieties used can be Canaiolo (<10%) Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (<15%). Surprisingly the blend must include 2-6% of white varieties Trebbiano or Malvasia. California 'chianti' has no definition, can and is made of anything.
   When you buy Italian Chianti you know you are getting a quality product produced under regulations intended to reflect a historic tradition by the inclusion of white grapes, and to recognize modern tastes by allowing international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to be included.

What does it taste like?
   Sangiovese's flavor predominates. This red grape produces a wine with a bright ruby-red color. It has a spicy aroma of wild berries. The flavor offers black cherry and raspberry. It is a refreshing drink that can be complex and ages well for up to ten years.

And it comes in round raffia covered bottles?
   Not any more. Chianti winemakers have spent decades in improving their wines and image. They use standard 'bordeaux' style bottles that are easy to store on their side when aging. You can still get some raffia-covered bottles, but usually the wine inside is not of the best quality.

Why a black cock?
   The gallo nero symbol dates back into antiquity. Two cities, Florence and Siena were growing weary of never ending warfare and decided to settle their boundary dispute by means of a contest. When the morning cock crowed a horseman would ride towards the other city, and where the two riders met would be the border.
   Siena chose a healthy white cock, pampered and fed it up in preparation for the contest. Florence picked a scrawny ill-fed black cock. The black cock woke hungry before the sun rose and crowed while the white cock was still soundly sleeping. The Florentine rider got to ten miles of Siena before meeting their rider. Thus the boundaries were drawn and Chianti became part of the Florence Republic.

Gallo Nero? That reminds me of . . .
Say no more. A certain large American winemaker sued the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico who lost the right to use that ancient name in the USA to publicize their wines.

Don't say
'any chianti is OK with me'

Do say
'I'd like a bottle of Chianti with a black cock please'

If you have been, thanks for reading.

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© Copyright Peter May 2002.

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1 February 2002