Once upon a time, Florence and Siena were two warring cities in Tuscany, famous for their vicious territorial battles. But one battle that will forever remain engraved in memory and history is the battle of Montaperti. It was a “bloody” war in the true sense of the word. On the fateful day of September 4th, 1260, the Florentines (Guelphs) and the Sienese (Ghibellines) answered the call of animosity and fought to the death at the hill of Montaperti. The battle raged on, with no side conceding defeat until a man named Bocca degli Abati changed the course of fate.
The History of Chianti and the Rooster
The Florentine man, for unknown reasons, betrayed his clan by ripping off the hand of the Guelphs’ Standard Bearer. This singular, traitorous action left the Florentines at the mercy of the Sienese. Over 10,000 men were reported to have died, tainting the river Arbia with blood. Incensed by the gut-wrenching betrayal of his so-called kinsman, Dante Alighieri portrayed Bocca degli Abati in the ninth circle of hell in his famous divine comedy.
The Proverbial Black Rooster
Wine enthusiasts know a Chiantico Classico wine from its trademark emblem, a black rooster. The rooster is tied to the infamous medieval war that plagued the Florentines and the Sienese. There’s more to this symbol than what meets the eye.
What bone of contention between the two communities led to so much bloodshed? It all boiled down to the Chianti land. The two cities were ensconced in this long-standing feud to gain control of the Chianti territory, a rich land replete with agricultural resources and raw materials.
Following the battle of Montaperti and many others, both cities became battle-weary. They reached some sort of truce to determine the boundaries of each city relative to the sought-after land. Their reconciliatory solution was an unusual competition devoid of weapons and blood – an amusing horse ride competition. It was decided that representatives from each city would set out at dawn, and the point at which they met would serve as the boundary of each town. The Florentines selected a knight, and the Sienese did the same.
Considering that the medieval era lacked something as luxurious and practical as an alarm system, they wagered on roosters to kickstart the competition. While the Sienese selected a robust white rooster, the Florentines placed their bet on a black, skinny, and malnourished rooster.
Based on this decision, one would assume that the Florentines were a simple-minded lot, but it was good thinking on their part. It so happened that the fat Sienese rooster slept through dawn while the starving Florentine rooster was too ravaged by hunger pangs to sleep, so it started crowing long before dawn. Thus, the Florentine knight won the competition by a landslide. The two knights met at Fonterutoli, granting Florence unrestricted claim to the Chianti Classico region.
The Trademark Wine
The Chianti Classico area, since the Etruscan times, has had a reputation for its excellent wine production and vast agricultural lands. It was a flourishing land in all ramifications; little wonder it triggered a war between two powerful cities. However, it was only in the seventeenth century that wine production in this area reached its peak. The Chianti wine gained momentous acclaim that transcended the locality and spread all over Europe. Given its widespread marketability, it was imperative to create regulations that governed its production and sale.
On September 24th, 1716, the Grand Duke Cosimo III De’Medici issued an edict highlighting new laws guiding the production and sale of the Chianti wine and the areas permitted to produce the wine. The specified areas were; Chianti, Carmignano, Promino and Valdarno di Sopra. The edict stated that no wine produced outside these areas could be marketed as Chianti wine. Today, these areas are now known as Chianti Classico, Chianti Rufina, and Chianti Montalbano (Valdarno di Sopra maintained its name).
And that is the story of the black rooster and how the Chianti Classico wine came to be. The next time you are in Florence, remember to make a toast to the legendary black rooster who halted decades of bloody confrontations!