Make it Meaningful to Make it Memorable (ft. The Chianti Seven)

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As a wine student, you have most likely memorized the seven subzones of the Chianti DOCG—and somewhere along the way, you got it through your head that Chianti Classico does its own thing and is NOT one of the seven. For your next trick, you probably learned where to find each subzone on the map.

Or…at least that is the way my studies progressed. I was well-armed with flashcards, wine maps, and a power point slide with seven distinct bullets—one for each of the not-so-famous subzones of the Chianti DOCG.

Despite endless repetition, I had a hard time memorizing the seven subzones of Chianti (much less locating them all on a map). My mistake, of course, was trying to memorize a list of terms without any meaning or familiarity behind them. However, once I learned each area’s “back story,” memorizing the terms—and locating them on the map—was a breeze!

The moral of my story is: make it meaningful to make it memorable. Your brain loves (and finds it easy to remember) information that is ripe with narrative and meaning. Your brain hates (and tends to forget) lists of words, terms, or sounds that lack context.

Here is some of what I learned about the subzones of Chianti, many years ago. I still remember it to this day.  

Cityscape of Florence with the Arno River in the foreground

Four of the seven subzones are grouped around the city of Florence, so we will start there:

Colli Fiorentini:  This area—translated as and encompassing the hills around Florence—surrounds the southern edge of the city of Florence. This is one of the northernmost areas of the Chianti DOCG. The vineyards of Colli Fiorentini are generally planted on the south-facing slopes of the rolling hills of the area; and may reach as high as 1,000 m (300 ft). The zone also includes some low-lying land in the valleys of the Pesa and Arno Rivers. This is one of the lesser known of the Chianti sub-regions, and much of the wine produced from the Colli Fiorentini vineyards ends up being served—by the glass or carafe—in the cafes and restaurants of Florence.

Montalbano: This subzone is named for the Montalbano Hills—a low chain of hills located to the north/northwest of the city of Florence. The Montalbano zone—located towards the northern end of the Chianti DOCG—overlaps the Carmignano DOCG. Vines used for Chianti Montalbano tend to be planted on the western side of the hills (where the soil is more sandstone), while the Carmignano DOCG is located on the eastern side of the zone—where the soil is richer in limestone. As such, wines labeled under the Chianti-Montalbano DOCG tend to be lighter and fruitier in style than those produced in some of the more inland areas. This region famously includes the town of Vinci—where Leonardo di Vinci once lived.

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Montespertoli:  Montespertoli is the newest of Chianti’s official subzones, having been designated as such in 1997. Before that, it was part of the Colli Fiorentini region. Named for the town of Montespertoli—located about 12 miles/20 km southeast of the historic center of Florence—this is the smallest of the chianti subzones in terms of acreage. The area is known for its rolling hills, well-drained limestone soils, and abundant sunshine—all of which help to produce well-ripened grapes and lush, balanced wines.

Rufina:  Rufina—undoubtedly the most famous of the Chianti subzones—is located in the foothills of the Apennines, east of the city of Florence. Rufina overlaps the Pomino DOC and is differentiated from most of the rest of the Chianti DOCG by its inland location. Likewise, Rufina experiences more continental influences on its climate and can claim some of the region’s highest elevations: vineyards here are planted as high as 1,600 ft /500 meters (higher than the average of the rest of the region, including Chianti Classico at 1,000 ft/300 meters). The high elevation of the area’s vineyards lend an excellent diurnal temperature fluctuation, and the area’s limestone-and-clay soils strike the ideal balance between excellent drainage and just enough water retention (making this area particularly drought-resistant).

  • The dueling republics of Florence and Siena famously solved their border dispute via a race between two knights on horseback, who each set off from their respective towns at the first crow of the rooster. The hungry black rooster of Republic of Florence famously arose before dawn, allowing most of the disputed land to be awarded before Florence. In honor of this event, the black rooster has been the symbol of the Consorzio of Chianti Classico since 1924. The rooster on our graphic map thus serves to remind us of Florence to the north, and Siena to the south.

Three of the seven subzones of the Chianti DOCG are located further afield from Florence:

View over the city of Siena

Colli Senesi: The Colli Senesi subzone—located in the southern reaches of the Chianti region and spread out over three noncontiguous areas—is tucked into the hills surrounding the city of Siena. The area is considered one of the most prestigious of the seven subzones, which makes a lot of sense considering that it overlaps Montalcino, Montepulciano, and San Gimignano. It even has stricter standards than some of its kin, in a sense. For instance, wines of the Chianti DOCG require a minimum of 70% Sangiovese in the mix; in Colli Senesi, the minimum is raised to 75%. It also requires a higher level of alcohol (13% minimum abv) for its Riserva wines; Chianti DOCG and the other six subzones require just 12% or 12.5%.

Colli Aretini: The Colli Aretini zone is named for the hills of Arezzo. Arezzo—one of the 9 provinces of Tuscany—is located in the eastern part of Tuscany. The Colli Aretini encompasses the valley of the River Arno at the point where the river moves from its southerly course and takes a loop-de-loop turn to head north and west on its way to the city of Florence. This river valley keeps the region cool, as it allows the moderating influence of the Mediterranean Sea to penetrate inland. The zone does include some elevation—as high as 1,000 ft/300 meters in spots—on the hills that rise out of the Arno valley floor. The Chianti Aretini subzone is not particularly well-known; much of the vineyards of the area produce fruit destined to be included in wines labeled as Chianti DOCG.

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Colline Pisane:  The Colline Pisane—the hills around Pisa—zone is located just south of the city of Pisa. This region is unique in that it is closer to the Mediterranean Se—and on a lower set of hillsides—than the rest of the Chianti region. It is also somewhat of an outlier—literally—in that there some distance between Colline Pisane and the rest of the Chianti subzones, all of which are connected. The area’s unique location (and terroir) helps to make the wines of the Colline Pisane quite distinctive. They are often described as lighter and softer than most, with a ruby-red color, floral (violet) aromas, and a distinctively fruity (as opposed to earthy) character— especially when young.

Note: In addition to the concept that making information meaningful makes it memorable, this post demonstrates chunking—a key principle of education and learning that I find particularly applicable to the study of maps and geography. More on that later!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

3 Responses to Make it Meaningful to Make it Memorable (ft. The Chianti Seven)

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