The Most Famous Red Grape in Italy
Sangiovese is arguably Italy’s most famous red variety, and definitely its most planted.
With such extensive vineyard area, the quality of the wines produced can vary dramatically, but at its best it provides the base for top class Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and the famed Super Tuscans.
Sangiovese literally means “the blood of Jove” and is believed to date all the way back to the Etruscans. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that it took a foothold in Tuscany with “hard and acidic” grapes for blending purposes.
1883 was a standout year as it was the first time Sangiovese had been blended with Canaiolo to make the basic blend for what we still know to this day as the wines of Chianti.
There are dozens of clones of Sangiovese planted around Italy, and modern thinking is to plant as many together as possible in mass selection sites. Research is focused on pairing clones with soils and microclimate to map out the future for the top red wines of Central Italy.
Sangiovese is famed for its flavours of dark cherries, raspberries, black plums, and often an herbal tomato leaf note.
Oak maturation and bottle ageing can add tobacco and leather aromas.
Sangiovese is most commonly vinified into dry red table wines, either varietal or blends.
Sangiovese ripens slow and late, and its thin skins are prone to rot. Growing regions need a warm, dry autumn well into October.
In hot years Sangiovese wines are rich, alcoholic, and long lived. In cool years, however, they can be high in acid and full of harsh tannins, which is exacerbated by over-production.
The colour of Sangiovese wines is often gloriously garnet, with a brown tinge that results from its propensity to oxidise readily.
The rich fruit and tomato leaf aromas make Sangiovese a perfect pairing for anything with a sweet tomato base, like pizzas and pasta sauces.
ITALY – TUSCANY
Sangiovese enjoys the limestone escarpments and the exposures of the south side of the Tuscan hills, meaning that the grapes ripen readily, barring a very difficult year.
Sangiovese is the grape behind the high quality Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and the base to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Where Sangiovese really caught the attention was the super premium blends of Toscana IGT, which became known as the “Super Tuscans” and blends with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
ITALY – ELSEWHERE
Sangiovese is a workhorse grape in nearly all the remaining wine regions of Italy, from Lombardia in the north and to Campania in the south.
Some of the best non-Tuscan examples come from Umbria with Torgiano DOCG and Montefalco DOCG.
In southern Italy Sangiovese is mostly used for blending with local grapes as many producers search fro the next “Super Tuscan”.
Italian immigrants have taken Sangiovese to Mendoza in Argentina and to higher altitude spots in Australia.
The success of Super Tuscans in the 1980s and 1990s meant that plantings in California shot up 2000% percent by the turn of the century, with vines planted n Napa, Sonoma, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. The producers are seeing big improvements as the vines age and develop.