Chianti has long been synonymous with straw flasks, red-checkered tablecloths and inexpensive pizzerias. Though this less than stellar reputation for producing weak, weedy red wine lingers\u2014fallout from decades of overcropping and quantity-focused production\u2014the denomination has moved on. And today\u2019s Chiantis are well made, fresh and savory.\r\n\r\n\u201cOver the last 10 to 15 years, producers have been investing in the vineyards with better clones, and lowering yields to improve quality,\u201d says Giovanni Busi, president of Consorzio Vino Chianti.\r\n\r\n\u201cAnd over the past seven or eight years, there\u2019s been a growing number of small and medium-sized firms that now make and bottle their own wines instead of selling grapes to large producers. This has also driven up quality within the denomination.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe vast majority of Chiantis are geared for everyday enjoyment, though select Riservas (especially Chianti Rufina Riservas) boast elegance and aging potential. And though the array of styles produced can make it tough to define a region-wide identity, one thing all Chiantis have in common is their fantastic quality-to-price ratio.\r\n\r\nHere\u2019s your primer on this rejuvenated denomination.\r\n\r\n\r\nZoning in\r\nChianti is generally a laidback, straightforward red, but the denomination causes more confusion than any other appellation in Italy, starting with its name.\r\n\r\nThe Chianti DOCG spans six provinces in Tuscany\u2014Arezzo, Firenze, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena\u2014and is one of the biggest denominations in Italy, in addition to the country\u2019s largest for still red wines. With more than 3,000 producers and over 38,000 acres of vines, its massive output exceeds 100 million bottles per year.\r\n\r\nBesides straight Chianti, the enormous appellation also has seven official geographical subzones: Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano,\u00ad Rufina and Montespertoli. There\u2019s also the Chianti Superiore category, made with lower yields and higher quality grapes than the straight Chianti, as well as Riserva versions, which must age at least two years before release.\r\n\r\nTypical Chiantis boast violet and wild berry aromas that follow through to the palate alongside fresh acidity and pliant tannins.\r\n\r\nMany also assume that Chianti Classico DOCG is synonymous with this much larger Chianti denomination, but they are indeed two separate classifications, with different production regulations and growing zones.\r\n\r\nSangiovese is the main grape in Chianti, and the region\u2019s wines must be made from a minimum of 70% of the variety. Decades of research into this fickle variety have prompted many Chianti producers to replant their vineyards with the latest generation of clones. These plants are more resistant to disease and allow for better grape maturation.\r\n\r\nMerlot and Cabernet were planted extensively a few decades ago, but an increasing number of producers have returned to adding native varieties to the blend. Some use grapes like Canaiolo and Colorino, while others opt for 100% Sangiovese.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nUp to 10% of white grapes are allowed in the wines, once considered essential to soften tannins and make the wines more approachable. Most winemakers have since phased them out, but Piccini, one of the denomination\u2019s largest producers, has revived the custom for its latest Chianti, Mario Primo.\r\n\r\n\u201cMario Primo is a nod to tradition,\u201d says Santo Gozzo, winemaker for Piccini. \u201cIt\u2019s made with 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and 10% white grapes, mostly Trebbiano and a little Malvasia, that impart aromas, lightness and drinkability.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s the kind of fresh, easygoing wine people here used to drink to give them energy back in the days when wine was a part of the daily diet. Today, it\u2019s for enjoying at lunch or by the pool. It\u2019s even better slightly chilled.\u201d\r\nQuintessential Chianti\r\nLively and made to be enjoyed young, straight Chianti is the easiest drinking of all the versions. Of all the Chianti designations, it has the highest permitted grape yields. The assorted subzones, with the exception of Rufina, also turn out predominantly early-drinking reds that are all about juicy fruit and freshness.\r\n\r\nChianti Superiore bottlings have more structure, but they\u2019re also best enjoyed within a few years of harvest to capture their succulent fruit sensations. Riservas can be enjoyed for several years after harvest, and the best offer impressive medium- to long-term aging potential.\r\n\r\n\u201cChianti isn\u2019t Barolo and doesn\u2019t want to be,\u201d says Busi. \u201cProducers aren\u2019t trying to make a wine to ponder and mull over. With a few exceptions, Chianti is a social wine to open with friends over conversation and share over a few laughs.\u201d\r\n\r\nTypical Chiantis boast violet and wild berry aromas that follow through to the palate alongside fresh acidity and pliant tannins. They can be paired with everything from appetizers to fish and pasta. Riserva bottlings generally have more tannic structures and work with a variety of pasta dishes and heartier meat courses.\r\n\r\n\r\nRufina\r\nRufina stands out for its finesse, structure and longevity. The area has long produced fine wines: In 1716, Cosimo III de\u2019 Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, included it in his proclamation that demarcated the four best wine areas in Tuscany. (Rufina was then part of Pomino.)\r\n\r\nThe smallest zone in Chianti, both in size and production, Rufina has only 22 producers and around 2,500 acres of vines (mostly Sangiovese), which only account for about 4% of total Chianti production. Its hillside vineyards, the highest in the denomination, enjoy a unique microclimate.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe area is in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains, farther north than \u00ad\u00ad\u00adthe rest of Chianti, and benefits from cooling nighttime breezes that relieve hot daytime temperatures during the growing season. These temperature changes prolong maturation, generating complex aromas and firm acidity.\r\n\r\nRufina sales have risen over the last few years, but this wasn\u2019t always the case.\r\n\r\n\u201cUp until about five years ago, the market demanded muscular, concentrated wines, and didn\u2019t want elegant, precise wines like Rufina naturally produces,\u201d says Lamberto Frescobaldi, a winemaker and president of the Marchesi Frescobaldi Group, which counts the stunning Castello Nipozzano as part of its vinous dynasty. \u201cIt wasn\u2019t that long ago that what we now call elegant used to be called diluted.\u201d\r\n\r\nTo satisfy the market, some Rufina producers previously tried to beef up their wines with techniques that included extensive green harvesting to drastically lower yields for greater concentration and aging in new oak. But thankfully, consumer tastes have changed, and these winemakers now focus on what the area does best: fragrant, linear and vibrant reds destined for long-term aging.\r\n\r\n\u201cNow, we use more Sangiovese and concentrate more on the vineyards,\u201d says Frescobaldi. \u201cPlanting at higher densities, three times higher than before, and switching to the Guyot training system from spurred cordon allows our grapes to achieve greater polyphenolic ripeness while keeping alcohol levels in check. In the cellar, we\u2019ve also decreased maceration times from five weeks to about 25 days, to avoid over-extraction.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nWinemaker Federico Giuntini, the estate manager of Selvapiana and adopted son of the winery\u2019s owner, Francesco Giuntini, has been a staunch defender of Sangiovese.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn the 1980s, we didn\u2019t have enough money to replant the vineyards, so we skipped the whole Merlot and Cabernet craze,\u201d he says. \u201cFor the last 20 years, we\u2019ve invested heavily in Sangiovese, using better clones, planting at higher densities and planting in better vineyard sites. We\u2019re now benefitting from the results.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nGiuntini farms organically and shuns selected yeasts for vinification, relying instead on natural or wild yeasts for fermentation. \u201cSangiovese best expresses Rufina\u2019s growing zone,\u201d he says. \u201cIt produces elegant, structured wines with serious aging potential, where the tannins, alcohol, acidity and fruit are well balanced.\u201d\r\n\r\nAs the market looks for elegant, terroir-driven wines, Giuntini welcomes the increased interest in Rufina.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s finally our moment,\u201d he says. \u201cAnd we\u2019re ready.\u201d\r\nClassy Chianti to Try\u00a0\r\nSelvapiana 2013 Vigneto Bucerchiale Riserva (Chianti Rufina); $30, 94 points. This opens with enticing scents of blue flower, ripe dark-skinned berry, new leather, vanilla and sandalwood. Elegant and full-bodied, the palate delivers crushed raspberry, wild cherry, truffle and chopped herb, while intense licorice notes linger on the long finish. Fine-grained tannins and bright acidity provide impeccable balance. Drink through 2025. Dalla Terra Winery Direct. Cellar Selection.\r\n\r\nMarchesi de\u2019 Frescobaldi 2014 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Riserva (Chianti Rufina); $30, 91 points. Red berry, blue flower, tilled soil and a whiff of dark spice take delicate shape on this polished red. The elegant, almost ethereal palate offers wild cherry, strawberry, star anise and dried aromatic herbs framed in bright acidity and refined tannins. Drink 2019\u20132024. Shaw-Ross International Importers.\r\n\r\nCecchi 2015 Riserva (Chianti); $36, 90 points. Ripe berry, star anise, forest floor and a whiff of toast lead the nose. On the round, chewy palate, supple tannins frame succulent flavors of black cherry, raspberry compote and dark baking spice. Drink through 2020. Terlato Wines International. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nBindi Sergardi 2016 Al Canapo (Chianti Colli Senesi); $15, 89 points. Aromas of red-skinned berry, underbrush and a hint of mint merge together in the glass. The juicy palate doles out red cherry, raspberry jam and a note of eucalyptus, while pliant tannins provide easygoing support. Enjoy soon. Vinovia Wine Group.\r\n\r\nConte Ferdinando Guicciardini\u00ad 2014 Castello di Poppiano Riserva (Chianti Colli Fiorentini); $28, 89 points. Tilled earth, underbrush, wild berry and blue flower aromas lead on the nose. On the full-bodied palate, bright acidity and solid, seasoned tannins support flavors of dried black cherry, green peppercorn and clove. Franco Wine Imports.\r\n\r\nDonatella Cinelli Colombini 2015 Fattoria il Colle (Chianti Superiore); $22, 89. Aromas of ripe blackberry, tilled earth and pressed violet come to the forefront. On the juicy, savory palate, supple tannins cushion fleshy black cherry, raspberry jam and star anise. Enjoy through 2019. Banville Wine Merchants.\r\n\r\nCastello Sonnino 2015 Riserva (Chianti Montespertoli); $20, 88 points. This blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon opens with aromas of pressed violet, ripe wild berry and a whiff of pipe tobacco. Soft and juicy, the accessible palate offers crushed raspberry, vanilla and licorice framed in pliant tannins. Drink now. Omniwines Distribution.\r\n\r\nPiccini 2016 Mario Primo (Chianti); $13, 88 points. This pliant, savory red opens with fruity aromas of crushed red berry and a whiff of dark spice. The bright, supple palate doles out succulent red cherry, crushed raspberry and a hint of clove alongside soft, supple tannins. This is delicious and enjoyable in the near term. Foley Family Wines. Best Buy.