Home to some of the globe’s oldest wine-producing regions, Italy is one of the world’s largest wine producers. This prominent producer yields a wide variety of wine, from the complex Nebbiolo to the particularly crisp Pinot Grigio. However, one type of grape dominates the vineyards throughout the country and is at the center of Tuscany’s pride – the Sangiovese.
Sangiovese is the most planted vine in Italy and considered Tuscany’s signature varietal. A lot of the fabled wine region’s top vintages come from Sangiovese whether as a varietal wine or a flavorsome blending component. It is an integral part of the world’s Chiantis, Brunello di Montalcinos, and “Super Tuscans,” among others.
The Beginnings of a True Italian Varietal
Sangiovese may have its earliest beginnings in Ancient as the its name means the “blood of Jove (Jupiter).” It was believed that Sangiovese vines were first planted by the Etruscans in Tuscany during this period. The wine was among the wines that circulated around the region and treated as a prestigious beverage of the wealthy and those of noble lineage.
In 1590, Italian agronomist Giovanvittorio Soderini mentioned Sangiov ese in one of his journals, revealing that the varietal produced magnificent wine. By the 1800s, the grape would gain recognition throughout Italy and became one of the country’s signature varietals. It was used as the main proponent or a blending component for Chianti wines and “Super Tuscans.”
In the early 1900s, it was discovered that the contemporary Sangiovese grapes were clones of different strains. The higher quality wines were called Sangiovese Grosso, and those with inferior characteristics Sangiovese Piccolo.
Further research in the late 20th century by the Italian government led them to the Emilia Romagna wine region. There, they discovered clones that yielded superior quality, which were called T19 and R24.
Today, more than 14 Sangiovese clones exist, some of which were pivotal in the rise and current success of Tuscany and the entire Italian wine industry. The popular varietal has contributed to the prestige of Italy’s esteemed wines like the Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. Italy loves it so much that it has around 155,000 acres devoted to growing the Sangiovese.
Sangiovese Flavor Profile
The modern-day Sangiovese is a product of numerous mutations and can take on a wide variety of qualities, from refreshing fruit-forward flavors to more savory notes. Topnotch wines are known for their pronounced tannins, stonefruit and dark berry notes with subtle hints of herbs and tomatoes, and nippy acidity.
Young Sangiovese grapes exhibit spiciness, strawberry and red cherry notes, an earthy scent, and medium to high tannins. To enhance the wine’s flavor, some vintners age the wines in oak barrels, which impart notes of raspberries, plums, vanilla, and smoke. The wine cellar staples also enhance the aromas and existing flavors of the varietal, which was revealed to be a “sponge” of oak-based characteristics.
The Brunello di Montalcino, purely made from Sangiovese grapes, exhibits most of the varietal’s agreeable qualities along with the added characteristics gained from French oak barrels. The wine is fruity or savory and particularly robust with aromas of cola, fruits and spice. This makes it quite popular with connoisseurs, critics, and wine enthusiasts worldwide.
Vintners initially had problems with Sangiovese’s light body and generous levels of acidity. To counter this, wineries tested strains with different temperatures and varying lengths of fermentation. Several types of wine were produced, but perhaps the most notable quality discovered is the way it blends with other varietals.
Remarkably, Sangiovese partners up well with reds like Colorino, Mamalo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Canaiolo, among others. The varietal can also be mixed with whites like Malvasia and Trebbiano resulting to fine vintages.
Terroir Matters: How Topography Affects Sangiovese
Like its blending characteristics, Sangiovese can adapt to any environment. It can grow on vineyard soils found in Italy’s wine regions as well as those in the United States and Australia. However, the vine thrives more on soils that have a good amount of limestone or clay, coupled with cool conditions and a little warmth. This allows the grape to produce compelling wines.
The buds of Sangiovese appear early, but take a while to fully ripen. Vintners are careful when providing warmth to ripening grapes . Too much can make its aroma and flavors fade. Compared to young grapes, a mature Sangiovese possesses a fuller body and a richer profile. The drawback, though, is the extended growing season to secure fully ripe grapes.
Sangiovese vines are known for being hardy and vigorous. If left uncontrolled, the supply will far outweigh the demand despite its strong performance on the market. Winemakers resort to cloning the grape and planting the vines in soils with lower fertility. The lower yield allows them to focus more on the quality of the varietals.
Sangiovese Food Pairings
Sangiovese has notable savory qualities that make it an ideal food wine. The robust red’s tomato and herb notes make it a fine match with three cheese pasta, carbonara, Tuscan steaks, Italian pizza, and cuisines with ricotta cheese. The hints of herbs and tomatoes will also act as a sieve, indirectly highlighting the wine’s fruity qualities.
Highly tannic versions of the wine pair up well with flavorful meat dishes like roast pork, fried chicken liver and sausages. It’s also great for kebabs, meatloaf, lamb chops and various types of European cheese.
It isn’t great though for fares that are too sweet or have too much sugar, as the combination could be rough on the palate. For an agreeable handshake of flavors, pair it with buttery dishes and those with olive oil. Think Italian food and wine lifestyle. After all, Sangiovese is the country’s signature wine grape.
Bottle Aging Potential
Sangiovese vines are remarkably hardy, and that extends to the some of the vintages they produce. Typically, a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino or a “Super Tuscan” can be aged for around 20 years or so. The Chianti Classico has high Sangiovese content and that means it can be stored for about 15 years.
For lighter variants like the Rosso di Montalcino and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, it’s best that to drink it within 5 years but some can last within 8 – 10 years. Basic Chiantis and New World versions are best consumed within 3 – 4 years.
Recommended Brands and Vintages
2010 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT. For such a young wine, the 2010 Fontodi Flaccianello is already drawing raves from wine critics and wine enthusiasts alike. Its voluptuous body is embellished with earthy, woodland, licorice and oak aromatics. Bold notes of currant, cherries, oak, plums, and coffee are coupled high tannins and mid-level acidity. The vintage is already impressive as it is, but it stands to improve even further once it ages and matures.
2006 Biondi Santi Tenuta Grippo Riserva. This wine typifies the ideal Brunello di Montalcino. On the nose, it presents intense aromatics of cherries, blackberries, cloves, and tea. On the palate, it has notes of blackberries, cola, cherries, dark chocolate and spice. It’s paired with firm tannins, creamy mouthfeel and provides a delightfully long finish. It’s one of the pricier wines on the market as it averages around $900 per bottle. It’s worth it as you’re still getting more than what you paid for.
2007 Casanova di Neri Cerretalto. Beyond the Sangiovese realm, we can confidently say the 2007 Casanova di Neri Cerretalto is one of the finest red wines around. Drinkers are welcomed by progressing aromatics composed of chocolate, blackberries, plums and tobacco. On the palate, the lusciously long finish is melded with notes of dark fruits and plums and pronounced tannins. This fine vintage go on top of your list of wine priorities.