Canaiolo is a light red skinned grape variety still permitted in the controversial blend that is increasingly akin to a recipe, used to make Chianti. While the once-permitted white skinned grapes have largely been eradicated, Canaiolo continues to play an important, if not a less potent role in the region. Indeed, during the 18th century, Canaiolo had upstaged Sangiovese in the region's wines.
Canaiolo's dimming star is due to a number of factors. Firstly, its genetic makeup does not take well to grafting, essential in ensuring the ongoing survival and influence of local grape varieties following the scourge of phylloxera in the late 1800's. As a result, Canaiolo suffered from poor clonal availability thereafter. Secondly, Canaiolo boasts neither the tensile structure of Sangiovese and its inherent savoury complexity, nor the scent of other grape varieties such as Mammolo, used in the Chianti pot.
What Canaiolo does offer, however, is a sturdy resistance to rot. The variety was subsequently used for governo styles, made with the assistance of dried grapes that were added to the fermenting Chianti must. The fashionability of this approach has declined however, with better vineyard management techniques and lower yields giving sufficiently concentrated wines without its assistance.
Nevertheless, fine old plots of Canaiolo remain. Intrepid producers, including Castelvecchia, craft straight varietal expression albeit, as simple early drinking wines; while other luminaries, such as Isole e Olena, use the variety in their Chianti Classico blends.