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The Sangiovese Grape

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About Sangiovese

(Synonyms: Brunelletto, Brunello, Brunello Di Montalcino, Cacchiano, Calabrese, Cardisco, Chiantino, Cordisio, Corinto nero, Dolcetto Precoce, Guarnacciola, Ingannacane, Lambrusco Mendoza, Liliano, Maglioppa, Montepulciano, Morellino, Morellone, Negrello, Negretta, Nerello, Nerello Campotu, Nerino, Niella, Nielluccia, Nielluccio, Pigniuolo Rosso, Pignolo, Plant Romain, Primaticcio, Prugnolo, Prugnolo Dolce, Prugnolo Di Montepulciano, Prugnolo Gentile, Prugnolo Gentile Di Montepulciano, Puttanella, Riminese, Rosso di Montalcino, San Gioveto, San Zoveto (in Tuscany), Sancivetro, Sangineto, Sangiogheto, Sangiovese Dal Cannello Lungo, Sangiovese Di Lamole, Sangiovese Di Romagna, Sangiovese Dolce, Sangiovese Gentile, Sangiovese Grosso, Sangiovese Nostrano, Sangiovese Piccolo, Sangiovese Toscano, Sangioveto, Sangioveto Dell'Elba, Sangioveto Dolce, Sangioveto Grosso, Sangioveto, Montanino, Sanvincetro, Sanzoveto, Tabernello, Tignolo, Tipsa, Toustain (in Algeria), Tuccanese Uva Abruzzi, Uva Tosca, Uvetta, Uva brunella, Uva Canina, Vigna del Conte, Vigna Maggio)

Background

Sangiovese grapes Map showing the Tuscany region of Italy

Sangiovese, the informing grape of Chianti wines, is a red-wine grape originating in Italy, probably from the Roman era, and possibly in the region of Tuscany. Today, it is grown throughout the wine-making world, but the foremost specimens are still held to be those from Tuscany.

The province of Tuscany comprises four appellations of significance for Sangiovese-based wines. The best-known is Chianti, but also quite important are the wines of Montalcino and of the small and little-known Carmignano. Each of those areas produces a class of big wines and a class of what might be called "little brother" wines. The classes are:

  • Montalcino - Brunello di Montalcino is the big brother here, and the most esteemed Sangiovese wine out there; its little brother is Rosso di Montalcino.

  • Montepulciano - Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the big brother; its little brother is Rosso di Montepulciano.

  • Chianti - used to come in two classes, normal ("Annatto") and Riserva, but there is now a third atop those, Gran Selezione; note especially that unless a Chianti is labelled "Chianti Classico", it is a pale imitation made outside the heart of the Chianti appellation.

  • Carmignano - Carmignano wines included admixtures of non-Italian grape types—notably Cabernet Sauvignon—long before any clever winemaker dreamed up the designation 'Super Tuscans"; their "little brother" appellation is "Barco Reale".


Note: "Montepulciano" is the name of a town; do not confuse Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or Rosso di Montepulciano with the wine type named "Montepulciano", which is no relation to Sangiovese (that wine is usually more fully labelled as "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo".

Wine laws are, world round, by and large of, by, and for imbeciles. Italian wine laws regulating Tuscan wine, for example, forbade wines labelled Chianti to have over 70% Sangiovese, and to include some local "junk" types. In frustrated response, progressive Tuscan winemakers decided to just go ahead and make their first-class wines as they wanted, then labelled them, in perfect conformity with the law, as "vino da tavola" ("table wine"), the lowest grade under Italian label laws, usually signifying little other than "wine; made from grapes". They reckoned, rightly, that their names and prestige would sell the wines, which were marketed as "super Tuscans", a phrase that still stands (even though the laws were eventually amended, presumably sheepishly, to allow 100% Sangiovese bottlings to use the Chianti name, many winemakers continue the "vino da tavola" tradition as a sort of raised middle finger to the wine authorities.)

Sangiovese is a wine for which the particular clone used is especially important, and there are fourteen recognized clones. Brunello is one such, and probably the most prestigious (and hence expensive); Prugnolo Gentile and Sangiovese di Lamole are other respected clones.

Though Sangiovese is, as noted, now widely grown, perhaps the only area outside Italy to produce competitively excellent bottlings on a widespread basis is Washington State, which has the needed climate plus a dryness that minimizes Sangiovese's vineyard tendency to rot (owing to its thin skins). There is, though, also some respectable product from California, where Italian varieties are enjoying renewed interest. In Italy, Chianti was long regarded as a poor type of wine, and Americans of a certain age will remember the inexpensive and usually dire specimens that came (and still come) in straw-wrapped flasks. Nowadays, while cheapo Chianti is still made and sold, the overall quality level has soared (and the bottles are normal).

Sangiovese wines are typically somewhat light in color and in body, and fairly acidic. Newer vinification techniques have added some body weight and "texture" to Sangiovese, and so has judicious use of oak aging. Carefully chosen subsidiary wines used in blends also make for excellent results, though care has to be taken not to overwhelm the Sangiovese nature.

Older "classic" Sangiovese wines show distinct notes of cherry, especially bitter cherry, plus herbal overtones. More modern versions tend to show much more fruit, with darker "purple" qualities (plum, mulberry), as well as the typical red-wine complexities such as tar and tobacco.

Factoid: The grape name Sangiovese derives from Latin sanguis Jovis, "blood of Jove". Some reckon that it was first cultivated by the Etruscans.


Some Descriptions of Sangiovese Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Young Sangiovese has fresh fruity flavors of strawberry and a little spiciness, but it readily takes on oaky, even tarry, flavors when aged in barrels. While not as aromatic as other red wine varieties such as Pinot noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, Sangiovese often has a flavor profile of sour red cherries with earthy aromas and tea leaf notes. Wines made from Sangiovese usually have medium-plus tannins and high acidity. . . Blending can have a pronounced effect on enhancing or tempering the wine's quality. The dominant nature of [often-used] Cabernet [Sauvignon] can sometimes have a disproportionate influence on the wine, even overwhelming Sangiovese character with black cherry, black currant, mulberry and plum fruit. Even percentages as low as 4 to 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon can overwhelm the Sangiovese if the fruit quality is not high."

  • Stacy Slinkard, about.com

    "Typically Sangiovese grapes make medium to full-bodied wines with tannin structure ranging from medium-soft to firm. Dominant flavors associated with Sangiovese derived wines include: cherry, plum, strawberry, cinnamon and vanilla. There is often a herbaceous quality associated with Sangiovese wines. As for acidity levels, Sangiovese leans towards medium to high acidity content. The finish can range from elegant to bitter."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Good-quality Sangiovese is prized for its high acid, firm tannins and balanced nature. Savory flavors of dark cherries and black stone fruit are characteristic, and may be backed by secondary notes of tomato leaf and dried herbs. The use of oak has become more popular and this coaxes richer flavors from the grapes, tending toward plum and wild raspberry."

  • Monica Larner, Wine Enthusiast

    "Sangiovese is a versatile grape that spans the entire length of the quality spectrum, from low-end Chianti to top-shelf Chianti Classico. . . Brunello di Montalcino [is the] highest expression of Sangiovese; made exclusively from the dark Sangiovese Grosso clone, it shows beautiful richness, intensity and complexity, with aromas of forest fruit, cola and spice. Brunello is released five years after the harvest and the Riserva requires an extra year of cellar aging. .  Once the noblest of all Tuscan wines, Vino Nobile is made with the Prugnolo Gentile clone. The wine is minimum 70% Sangiovese, with components of Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo. This region also offers a lesser wine called Rosso di Montepulciano and a top-shelf Riserva. The wines show dark, earthy characteristics, often with subtle overtones of dried herbs or blue flowers."

  • wineaccess

    "As Sangiovese is a fairly delicate variety in terms of the fragrances and flavors it offers, what ends up being added makes a major difference in the final profile of the wine. Climate and altitude also influence the nature of Sangiovese-based wines; wines made in hotter, drier parts of Southern Tuscany are fleshier than wines made in Chianti and other cooler, higher areas. With lesser clones and viticulture, Sangiovese tends to produce tannic wines, without great color. The best examples are highly aromatic, fragrant wines with nicely integrated tannic structure. If you are looking for wines that are 100% Sangiovese, your best bet are the wines from Montalcino, a pretty medieval hilltop town 25 miles south of Sienna. Here, wines are made from the Brunello grape, also known as Sangiovese Grosso, an especially high quality (and large) clone of the Sangiovese grape. These full-bodied and powerful wines, labeled Brunello di Montalcino, rank with Barolo among Italy's most-ageworthy wines. Rosso di Montalcino, also grown in the same town, is also 100% Brunello, but results in a softer, fruitier wine that requires much less aging."

  • Appellation America

    "All that said, there are indeed common links in character across clonal variation. Sangiovese tends to be rather lightly-pigmented (the Brunello clone being a notable exception) and the wines -- even younger examples -- often cast a slight orange tinge at their margin in the glass. This characteristic can be a sly clue to experienced brown-baggers in blind tastings. Pronounced acidity is also an important common characteristic across clonal variation and even the most structured of Sangiovese wines have a firm acidic backbone. Other common descriptors for the aromatics of the variety often include prunes, dark cherry and earthy barnyard."

  • Madeline Puckette, Wine Folly

    "The Sangiovese grape is a bit of a chameleon; easily altering its genetics to fit the environment. There are many different mutations of the variety all over Italy, which results in very different tasting wines. From the delicate floral strawberry aromas of Montefalco Rosso to the intensely dark and tannic wines of Brunello di Montalcino, Sangiovese wine has something for everyone. . . FRUIT: Tart Cherry, Red Plum, Strawberry, Fig. OTHER: Roasted Pepper, Tomato, Leather, Clay, Brick, Tobacco, Smoke, Oregano, Thyme, Dried Roses, Potpourri. OAK: Yes. Usually light oak aging in neutral oak barrels. TANNIN: High. ACIDITY: High. AGEABILITY: Yes. 4-7 years (normal) & 10-18 years (Brunello di Montalcino). . . Sangiovese is savory. Because of its ability to be a chameleon, Sangiovese wines offer a wide range of tastes from very earthy and rustic–as is the case with many Chianti Classico–to round and fruit-forward. Regardless of where it’s grown, it always exhibits cherry flavors with more subtle notes of tomato. They next time you try a Sangiovese, dedicate yourself to sit and sniff it for a while. Over time you’ll find that aromas move towards dried cherries, figs and roses–especially if the wine is older."

  • Total Wine

    "Throughout Tuscany, Sangiovese produces wines that are crisp and lively with savory, cherry fruit flavors and soft to ripe tannins. The refined red-fruit flavors of better quality Sangiovese also contain complex flavors of earth, tobacco and coffee."

  • Food & Wine

    "Italian Sangioveses have vibrant acidity and substantial tannins, along with fresh cherry fruit and herbal scents. New World versions tend toward softer acidity and fleshier fruit."

  • Cal-Italia

    "Bright aromas and flavors of raspberries and strawberries with typical racy/lean acidity and mild tannins predominate in the lighter to medium-bodied Sangioveses. Darker, more robust and extracted wines with wild raspberry and violet nuances generally originate from cooler growing regions. Moderate tannins add to the fruitiness and naturally high acidity and give the wines additional complexity and length. The lighter styles of Sangiovese are best consumed within three years of their vintage. The bigger wines will improve for a decade as the aroma evolves to a complex bouquet of faded roses or violets, coffee, leather and cedar. The wine goes from bright deep garnet to a more brick-red. It softens and takes on a velvety texture with a rich, multi-layered complexity that echoes the nuances of the bouquet."


Some Sangioveses to Try

(About this list.)

We have tried here to present samples of pretty much the spectrum of Sangioveses, but it is impossible to find a decent or better true Brunello for under $20, so we had to omit that category. Otherwise, here are some Chiantis (from a sngle vintner, a standard and a Classico), some di Multipulciani (a Rosso and a Vino Nobile), a Morellino di Scansano, and a pair of Carmignani (from the same vintner).

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • San Felice Chianti Classico, $11 - $18
    (Chianti; c. 80% Sangiovese.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Perhaps a year or so too early [in 2013], I still decided to give San Felice Chianti Classico 2010 a pour, especially since 2010 is such a fantastic vintage for the region. . Red-violet in colour with aromas of cherry, earth and dried herbs. Cherry and tart cranberry flavours joined smooth, dry tannins in the medium body, whilst white pepper and traces of wild herbs lingered in the clean finish. A classic, straightforward example of Chianti, this is an elegant, slightly lean glass now that will continue to acquire a lusher perspective with a few years under its belt.

    Made with Sangiovese, Pugnitello and Colorino, this beautiful wine has an intensely floral fragrance of violet and iris, with undertones of dried tobacco and forest floor. The palate delivers vibrant wild cherry, white pepper and mint along with firm yet elegant tannins. 91 points.

    ♣ Wine Enthusiast: Top 100 Wine Values of 2013.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (29 August 2013), 92 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (2013), 90 points.

    A classically styled wine, the 2010 Chianti Classico San Felice is composed of Sangiovese with additions of Colorino and Pugnitello. This second grape once faced extinction and has recently seen a small renaissance thanks to the efforts of San Felice’s winemaking team. The wine is rich with tart plum, rose petal and dried cherry. The palate offers smooth, velvety tannins. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2024.

    Ripe and smooth, featuring a spine of acidity and tannins that keeps the cherry, tobacco and underbrush flavors focused, with a firm finish and fine length.

    Freshly cut flowers, sweet red berries, spices and mint are some of the many nuances in the 2010 Chianti Classico San Felice. Medium in body, the 2010 impresses for its inner perfume and fabulous overall balance. I especially like the clarity of the finish. 90 points.

    Only the “entry level” San Felice Chianti in a range of three San Felice wines made under the Chianti Classico DOCG classification, [the 2008] San Felice Chianto Classico may have been described as “relaxed and easy-going” by its winery, however it offered a depth and character that surpassed many “more serious” offerings from within the Chianti zone of production. . . [The 2009 vintage is] a moderately intense ruby colour in the glass . . . slightly higher in alcohol than the 2008 release (13% abv rather than 12.5% abv), although the alcoholic legs of this 2009 San Felice Chianti Classico when it is swirled remain moderate at most. Led by aromas of red cherry and almost perfumed wild raspberry notes, this 2009 San Felice Chianti Classico is an attractive and fruit-biased wine, although this is not to say that the 10 months of oak maturation have resulted in no effect, with subtle aromas of tobacco and chesnut also in evidence. Well resolved in the mouth, this 2009 San Felice Chianti Classico is medium bodied and shows a good harmony between ripe and savoury components. Slightly under-ripe red cherry flavours are offset by sweeter raspberry, damson and balsamic notes. The palate of this 2009 San Felice Chianti Classico is supported by accommodating tannins and well integrated acidity. Oak notes of cedar and cigar become more evident towards and through the finish which is delicate and lengthy. 87 points.

    The wine is fairly light with a red center and a clear rim. Green pepper, grass, and other verdant things make up a nose I would not normally associate with Chianti. Rich, full red fruits with hints of clove make up a very nice palate with a finish of green pepper and spice. This works well as a sipping wine. It would also go well with pasta in red sauce or red meat dishes with sauce. This is a very pleasant drinking experience. It is reasonable for the price.

    Fairly deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is moderately intense with red berry fruit supported by some cedar and balsamic notes, and nose tingling acidity. On the palate it’s bright, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by dusky greenish acidity and tannins that have a cedary burr and flow into a fairly long greenish tannic finish. It needs time, a year at least [2010 vintage in 2013], for everything to come together, but has nice tart fruit and a certain sassy charm, and will work well with succulent red meats.

    Lively black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with red berry fruit supported by yellow peach and greenish accents with some cedar as well, and some spice. On the palate it displays pleasant fruit on the outset, but draws up quickly, with the tannins taking over and flowing into a very quick tannic finish. It's short, and dries out on the palate too.

    The nose showed crushed red berries, soil and green stems. On the palate, I found sweet, round fruit with a nice balance of acidity. 88 points.

    [A] Classico with darker tones: Scents of loamy earth, wet bark and roses, matched with robust cherry fruit and a lot of chew.


  • Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano, $11 - $23.
    (Rosso di Montepulciano, typically c. 80% Sangiovese.)
         ($15.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    A sort of "baby Vino Nobile," from young vines just getting their rein; simple, straightforward, delicious in a baby-fat way; whispers of earth; if you like, a safe introduction to the region.

    Clear, pretty ruby color with a very aromatic nose of rose petals, tobacco, tar and earth. In the mouth, there’s decent tannin that gives it nice texture and the acidity is perfectly balanced with those tannins and the fruit. Flavors show more earth and tar, wood, raspberry and red pie cherry. This is a very pleasant, tasty Sangiovese Grosso that sips well and would very likely be a superb food wine with red sauced pasta or pizza. Uncomplicated and on the light side, but an excellent example of the wines I had most often while spending a week in Montepulciano some years ago.

    The wine pours a dark crimson wine. The aromatic elements of the wine are full of dark cherries and other berries. This wine is very fruit forward. This forwardness carries through to the taste. The wine is very smooth up front, with cherries and blackberries in the taste. There is a slight astringency in the finish, but it almost goes unnoticed because of the fruit in the front.

    Some producers treat their Rosso wines almost as an afterthought, using whatever grapes and wines are left over or considered unsuitable for their more prestigious – and expensive – Vino Nobile wines. However, other producers like Poliziano make their Rosso from specific vineyard sites and allot the time and attention necessary to produce Rosso wines of character and integrity. .  This wine is a class act. Its red fruit and berry aromas, silky tannins and lush fruit flavors are redolent of Rosso’s bigger and more expensive brother, Vino Nobile di Montalpulciano.

    When first opened this was very tannic and tight. Two or three hours later I tried it again. The nose was harsher than you would expect from 13% alcohol. Fruit, sour cherries and raspberry, could be smelled through the alcohol. There was also a strong floral aspect, lavender I would say. On the palate all the fruit came across as stewed. There was some tobacco and flowers, but still harsh. Tannins are still overpowering and drying. The finish is short. It will be interesting to see if this changes overnight. On the second night the alcohol is far milder, no longer overwhelming the nose. Cherries and raspberries again, but not as tart this time. Add some black fruit to the nose as well, all very ripe, even over-ripe, and sweet. There is also sweet vanilla and oak. On the palate, tannins are still strong and drying. Red fruit predominates, secondary flavors of tobacco and cedar join along for the ride. A bit of anise slowly grows into a background shine at the end. The wine is even-bodied, the finish moderate in length. Based upon this two-day tasting, I would say this could be very good in a few years, but really deserves time in the cellar.

    Poliziano did a lovely job of highlighting this wine’s high toned cherry and red raspberry fruit characteristics, while allowing cedar, mushroom, and tobacco notes to share in the spotlight. It’s true that Rosso di Montepulciano spends less time in oak, and it’s also true that this soft wine is full of approachable tannins that’s sure make it a great pair for any of your Tuscan themed dinners.

    [T]he color was garnet with pink edges and fluid viscosity. On the nose there were strong animal and gamey flavors along with tight fruit, hints of raspberries and persimmon. On the palate there were more of the animal flavors, earthy mushroom and well structured tannins and fruit. After 30min of decanting and warming up the fruit really expressed itself, lovely raspberries, wild blackberries and cherries. The acidity was pronounced but not unbalanced, lending structure to the wine. The finish was long with silky tannins and chocolate. Great value for money.

    [T]art cherry, red plum and spice flavors, with bitter chocolate finish.


  • Fattoria Le Pupille "Elisabetta Geppetti" Morellino di Scansano, $12 - $25
    (Morellino di Scansano; mostly but not 100% Sangiovese; do not confuse this with the "Riserva" bottling of the same name.)
         ($18.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The nose was fresh with ripe strawberry fruit, hints of dusty spice and violets. A rich meatiness seemed to peak out from the background along with saline minerals. On the palate, it was juicy with black cherry fruit, a hint of citrus and blackberry. It was persistent with an excellent balance of acidity. Dark red fruit lingered on the finish with inner floral tones, leaving a refreshed sensation with a slight tug of tannin on the palate. This is a very enjoyable wine that is highly recommended. 92 points.

    Dark bluish ruby colors in the glass, as boysenberry and vanilla aromas permeate intensely, with exotic dark licorice scents and even a bit of wild underbrush, while on the palate resinous dark chocolate notes with cassis and red berries fill the mouth. Nice balance and long finish.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (12 June 2012), 88 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (June 2012), 90 points.

    The 2007 Morellino di Scansano is a plump, juicy offering bursting with generous dark red fruit. The wine reveals lovely balance and a long, poised finish.

    Easy and fresh, this wine shows a natural ability to pair with most pastas or meat-based dishes. The finish is driven by smooth tannins and bright, berry-like freshness. 88 points.

    A round, juicy Morellino, with lots of blackberry, black cherry and hints of fresh herbs and chocolate. Has a plump medium body, with good fruit and mineral on the finish.

    This sangiovese wine exhibited a deep dark ruby color revealing a very complex nose of dark cherry, smoke, leather and earth. The finish was of black currant with a cherry hard candy finish. I had two fairly quick glasses of this wine as it was quite tasty and I was pleased with it. Before I knew it the bottle was gone. I’ll need to buy a case the next time I visit my wine merchant. 7-8 out of 10 wine glasses with a value of 5 out of 5 corks.

    Clear red colour and seducing nose that reminds me of cloves, cinnamon, and cherries and freshly picked red current. There are also some hints of fennel. On the palate this wine is very pleasurable with soft and silky tannin. Very good length.

    Ruby colour. Full aromas of black fruit, some cherry and hints of leather. Medium-full bodied with lots of fruit and chewy tannins. Medium-long finish that remains fresh throughout. Needs some time to integrate. .  Very much a typical Sangiovese character comparable to modern incarnations of Rosso di Montalcino. Including the characteristic leather aromas. Very nice at this price point. 89 points.

    This is an easy-to-drink, yummy red wine with strawberry and red cherry fruit interlaced with a bit of licorice and woody herbs. It is medium-bodied, with savory acidity and smooth, ripe tannins.

    It is a wine that has a fruity and perfumed nature and is made up of predominantly Sangiovese. It’s blended with Alicante and Malvasia Nero and scores remarkably high marks considering its low cost – Wine Advocate gave it 90 points.

    A blend of predominantly Sangiovese with additions of Malvasia Nera and Alicante, the wine is a deep violet color. Wonderful aromas of ripe cherries, flowers and underbrush and plentiful and carry through to the palate which is vibrant and juicy. This is very lively and 100% vinified in stainless steel. Medium bodied acidity with moderate tannins to match, this was perfectly paired with Rigatoni alla Norma. A great value here at about $15 and one of the best entry level Morellino I've ever had. 88 points.

    The Morrellino is a cuvee of Alicante and Malvasia Nera along with the dominant varietal of Sangiovese. The fruit-forward result stands up to just about anything with a red sauce, from pizza to puttanesca. This wine doesn't fear salt or garlic, which makes it an ideal house wine to keep around by the case.


  • Tre Nova Bonatello Sangiovese, $13 - $14.
    (Columbia Valley, Washington State; do not confuse this with the more expensive "Riserva" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Tart and juicy, showing primary raspberry and strawberry fruit flavor, bold and forward. The generous natural acids provide a tangy base to the fruit, and make it especially food friendly. Best consumed young. 87 points.

    [B]brings to the palate lively red fruit of raspberries, cranberries and cherries. Earthy and generous! However, with approachable tannins and once again, the right balance of acidity that is going to make love to any tomato-based bowl of pasta topped with mounds of salty Italian cheeses.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (15 Dedember 2010), 85 points.

    At $15, the Bonatello was impressive in its deep fruit and almost mocha richness. I purchased a bottle and shared it with my next-door neighbors M. & M., and they loved it. This would be an outstanding and versatile wine to bring over for dinner.

    The Bonatello is 100% Sangiovese possessing a beautiful dark red color with a delightfully deep fruit flavor.

    Color: black cherry. Nose: soft, fluffy layers of cherries, Miracle Gro topsoil, hazelnut almond chocolate. Mouthfeel: loose. Tail trail: 6 seconds. Flavors: tart cherry, cranberry, hazelnut, firm spices, bandages. . . Rated: 89.

    Nose initially shows a lot of earth and leather along with dried cranberries, and light herbal notes. The taste has a pleasing, crisp, acid blast and a slightly bitter note on the mid-palate. 100% Sangiovese. Doebler Vineyards, Wahluke Slope and Coyote Canyon, Horse Heaven Hills. Blend of Brunello and Romagnolo clones.


  • Fattoria Ambra Carmignano "Santa Cristina in Pilli", $14 - $30.
    (Carmignano, c. 75% Sangiovese.)
         ($16.64 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Deep cherry with black reflections. The bouquet is brooding, with berry fruit supported by hints of wet paper and bramble; it's not as clean as I might have liked. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich sour cherry fruit supported by sour berry fruit acidity and tannins that are fairly dry and flow into a dry tannic finish. It's a wine that will work well with fattier meats that need something to clear the palate between bites.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] Santa Cristina in Pilli is manifested intense ruby, very classic, the nose reveals freshly ripe berries, raspberry, currant, violet, spicy good start, juniper, light pepper, cardamom, cola; mouth full and well-made, high caliber tannins, generous fruit, confident aging capacity.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (31 October 2012), 88 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (30 June 2012), 91 points.

    This is a fabulous effort, not to mention a steal for the money.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (1 July 2012), 90 points.

    Bright red. Rich red fruit, violet and tobacco aromas; this is more open today than the [other wine tasted]. Bright and fresh in the mouth, with flavors similar to the aromas and mounting, youthfully chewy tannins. Shows a more opulent mouthfeel than the [other Carmignano].

    Wines by . . . four Carmignano producers were the only ones I could find in the New York area, and . . . the Ambras were my favorites .  Dried cherry aromas, cherry and licorice flavors with a meaty edge.

    Tasty. Fine. Not bad or overly out of balance. Fruit thins a little on late palate, but that’s fine at this price. “The 2001 Carmignano Santa Cristina in Pilli, a dark garnet, has a vigorous, and peppery nose of red and black berries, and an attractive medium weight on the palate with good freshness and balance on the finish. Drink: 2005-2010.” My lord I could not possibly agree more with these comments.

    The subject of today's review is the 2009 Ambra Carmignano, a pretty floral and aromatic red from these hills. In the glass, the wine is a deep violet and has a distinctive bronze hue at the rim remiscent of Brunello. The floral aromatics are very pretty and the mingle with soft red berry notes. On the palate, the wine is juicy and medium bodied with fresh acidity and good overall structure. Solid and enjoyable, but not more than that especially given that it lacks a bit of the richness the vintage is known for. While it may have been named after a poem, it isn't exactly bottle poetry. . . 87 points, and a nice value at $13.

    [Google-tranalated from Italian:] [It] shows aromas fleshy and well arranged, good fruity expression: blackberries, plum ... with a background leathery and slightly vegetal subtract harmony. Discreet progression even if the air tends to lose definition. In the mouth it is tasty and good acid backbone of medium-bodied and austere tannins. It does not have the pace of the top wine but does not skimp on elegance, delighting even with a decent return on the fruit.


  • San Felice "Il Grigio da San Felice" Chianti Classico Riserva, $15 - $23.
    (Chianti, 100% Sangiovese.)
         ($18.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Riserva label Gran Selezione label
    There is room for confusion here, owing to the new official Chianti category of "Gran Selezione", which supposedly sits atop the former acme, "Riserva". San Felice's "Il Grigio da San Felice Chianti Classico" seems to have become bifurcated with the 2010 vintage, some being of the new "Gran Selezione" category (expensive—our splurge wine for this type) and a continuing "Riserva" bottling. Pricing and quotations apply to the Riserva; mind the labels, and caveat emptor.

    Hallmark Sangiovese aromas of blue flowers, woodland berries, underbrush, leather and spice take center stage in this stunning wine. The palate delivers succulent black cherry flavor accented by black pepper, cinnamon, mint and sage, with bracing yet ripe tannins. It’s already delicious, but hold for additional complexity. Drink 2015–2025. 93 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (29 August 2013), 93 points.

    A pure expression of Sangiovese, the 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio shows the inner warmth and richness that is characteristic of the Castelnuovo Berardenga subzone of the famous Tuscan appellation. Balsam herbs and eucalyptus oil appear at first and slowly give way to black fruit, cherry cola, violet and Spanish cedar. It shows an extremely polished feel in the mouth. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2028.

    The nose showed animal musk and dusty black cherry. On the palate, I found vibrant strawberry fruit, spice and earthy minerals. This wine is well structured and has great balance. It was a pleasure to drink. 91 points.

    Lead pencil and slightly dusty black fruit, with a certain crunch on the palate. Very nice length and a freshness. 90 points.

    In the glass, this San Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico is deep ruby with a hint of garnet. Moderately intense at the centre of the glass it fades to a lighter, more pale tawny colour at the rim with a hint of rusticity (a hint of Tuscan earth) showing this wine’s time in oak at the rim of the wine. Alcohol is light by comparison to some of the varietal Sangiovese wines coming out of Tuscany these days (some of which reach 15% abv), but this Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico is perhaps only half a percentage point under the norm for wines made under the Chianti classification, weighing in as it does at 13% abv. More forward and riper in its aromas than some Chianti, this Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico shows straightforward (but perfectly balanced) cherry notes (never too sweet or too sour) along with a whiff of dried earth as the bouquet initially wafts from the glass. With further time and air, a hint of leather and tobacco arises to add further complexity. A more modern style, this balanced set of characteristic make this Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico much softer on the nose than some more austere and bitter “old” styles of Chianti. In the mouth, this more open and modern style is continued with this Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico showing an enviable length of those balanced and ripe cherry flavours. At the onset seeming a little thin, the medium bodied weight of this wine really appears in the mid-palate with the fruit flavours suddenly thickening and becoming more complex. A conveyor of velvety tannins brings weight, nuances of leather, chestnut and a hint of dried violet. This Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico is an accomplished Chianti Classico which ends with a trademark twist of bitterness and a suggestion of dried orange peel. On the whole, this Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico is a highly accomplished wine. Unlike some top producers of Chianti, San Felice have not smothered their Chianti Classico Riserva in oak (one of the most consistent problems with Chianti “Riserva” is that you never know how obvious the oak will be when drinking the wine). A balanced approach to oak in the cellar (the mix of origin and size of oak used to age the wine) has resulted in a balanced wine in the bottle and the glass. Tamed tannins result in eminently enjoyable and drinkable Chianti which is worthy of its place alongside any traditional Tuscan plate of braised pork or a mature and tangy cheese anytime. 87 points—A Chianti which oozes class!

    San Felice’s wine Il Grigio embodies to the fullest degree the qualities of Sangiovese as they are expressed in the unique terroir found at San Felice.

    Somewhat backward. Sweet, ripe, and dark fruit (more open on the palate than the nose suggests). Cherry and plum, firm acidity and ripe, rich, yet dry tannins. Very good length.

    Lively cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with cherry fruit supported by deft slightly dusky cedar and some savory spice, also slight peppery accents and a certain airiness from alcohol. On the palate it's ample, with fairly sour cherry fruit supported by moderately intense sour berry fruit acidity that has some leatheriness to it, and by warm rather balsamic tannins that flow into a fairly long balsam laced finish. It has a tired feel to it, and I would have liked more depth and richness to the fruit.

    While the aromatics conjure a juicy, fruit-forward Chianti, the mouth is something else: lean, focused, with tannins that grip your tongue. Herbal notes, leather and a distinct gamy note. So interesting, and it will get even more so in a few years.

    Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly bright, in a slightly rustic key, with balsamic notes and animal accents -- stable straw to be precise -- overlying brash acidity and hints of dried mushrooms. On the palate it's full, with rich cherry fruit supported by lively cherry acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean fresh cherry finish that gains direction from tart berry fruit acidity, and flow into a clean fairly tart finish. Pleasant, and will drink very well with succulent red meats or stews; it also has the capacity to age nicely for a number of years, and if I had the fortune to have a case I'd set some aside. Score: 88-90


  • Vecchia Cantina di Montepulciano Vino Nobile "Vecchia Cantina", $15 - $18.
    (Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; not their "Poggio Stella" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Deep black almandine with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with red berry fruit supported by slight grilled pepper accents, and by some spice, with slight cedar as well. On the palate it’s medium bodied, with ripe fairly sweet (for a dry wine) cherry plum fruit that’s fairly bright, expected supported by berry fruit acidity and by tannins that are smooth and sweet. Pleasant in a rather tart fruit forward key, and will drink nicely with foods.

    Vecchia Cantina has produced a very balanced food friendly wine that carries just enough acid to cleanse the palate of the lingering smoky flavors dry rubbed ribs may have left behind. This wine drinks a lot bigger than one might expect it to, showcasing a lushness of red and black fruit with spice and herb notes accentuating the components of the dry rub. Formidable tannins provide a backbone to carry the flavors through to a long lingering finish. Five years into this wines journey, it is holding up exceptionally well and will continue to age well with proper cellaring for another five to ten years. Rating: Excellent (90).

    Very dark almost black crimson. Sweet, heady perfumed, and spicy. Dense and sweet, but with some real character. Finish is slightly dusty and with highish acidity and austere tannin. Needs ageing.

    I have never had great luck with Vino Nobiles. They tend not to be great values, and I think many are basically clumsy relations of Chianti Classico. But this one, produced by a co-op in the region, was reasonably priced and has very nice fruit and balance. Dark ruby color. Nice nose of macerated cherries, tobacco leaf, lemon zest, and gravel. Lots of dark cherry fruit in the mouth, with a hint of unsweetened cocoa powder and lots of stony minerals. Full-bodied, with loads of dusty tannins providing a nice framework for some additional aging. Bright acids keep it fresh. A touch of bitterness in the finish. Would be excellent with meat-sauced pasta. B+.

    Cherry and violets on the nose. Medium bodied on the palate. Sour cherry finish, abbreviated and a bit flat. This wine is made from Sangiovese in the shadow of the great Brunello di Montepulcianos. It's not particularly lively or robust. In fact, it's a bit flat. Take a pass for $16.

    Here’s a simple, direct Vino Nobile, with aromas of plum, toast and coffee followed by a linear palate of black fruit, espresso and a hint of bell pepper flavor. Pair this with grilled meats or salami. 86 points.

    Vecchia Cantina is a Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano. It is made from Prugnola di Gentile, a Sangiovese clone. It is tangy, juicy and delicious, anchored with a spicy earthiness, the tannins soft and round. There is a lushness to this wine that I don’t expect in a Sangiovese. That made it all the more pleasing.

    I found the wine’s perfume to show the plum and spice of a wood-aged, ripe wine (two years in botti, or oak casks), and the mouth had a roundness and richness that made me think grilled steak. The finish was long and delectable, and overall this struck me as a tremendous offer [at $15].


  • Caparone Aglianico, $16 from the winery (quantity discounts available).
    (Paso Robles, California)

    We do not normally list wines chiefly or solely available from the winery, but Caparone Winery has earned entries here for each of the half dozen varietals—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico— that they bottle, so ordering a mixed case or half-case is both reasonable and economical. This is one of the most undeservedly little-known wineries in the country, chiefly because Dave Caparone only bottles about 3,000 cases a year and disdains advertising and competitions. He was the first in the U.S. to grow and bottle Sangiovese (1986).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Medium reddish-purple color, aromas of ripe red fruits, earth, dried herbs, and a touch of vanilla. Medium-light mouthfeel, with good acidity, fairly mild tannins, and moderate finish.

    The Caparone winery prides themselves on a minimal intervention approach to winemaking. They don’t fine or filter any of their wines, techniques that are employed by the majority of wineries throughout the world to give the juice a clearer appearance. The main reason behind fining and filtration is to keep the public happy, and not freak out that their wine is cloudy. Some winemakers argue that fining and filtration strips a wine of its flavor. . . The back of the bottle states that this wine will cellar for another 25 years or more, which blew my mind a little bit when I read it! Unfortunately I’m not hanging on to any long enough to find out. . . I’m not going to pretend that this is the first time I have tasted this wine, I’ve been a fan since it graced my lips a little over a year ago. It’s unlike any other wine I have ever tasted, in a good way! Pale crimson in appearance, the nose explodes with complex spices of cinnamon and clove, and shows bold red cherry and dried cranberry. On the palate the bold red cherry continues, with distinct ripe raspberry and the cherry turning slightly sour with herbal notes on the lengthy finish. Tons of character and definitely decant an hour before serving.

    The brunello has unmistakable tobacco tones with cinnamon coming in late. Unfortunately there were no examples of their '88 or '89 vintage so there was little to compare it with. We also tried the '92 and '93 from the barrel and these had very good legs even after less than a year in oak in the case of the '93. This 'brunello' is certainly not (nor will it ever be) a Poggio Antico or an estate-bottled Caparza, but in a decade I think the '91 will be great drinking.

    It’s worth noting [in 2007] the vintage: 2002. This is the current release for this wine. Brilliant. A beautiful, milky/cloudy brick red struck fear into my drinking companion, but I was hooked on sight. This is an unfined and unfiltered wine. The color is alluring and seductive and coos out for attention. My Riedel (yup, snob) opines “cooo come hither.” The nose is REALLY exciting. Pungent, with deep dark fruit, and wet earth. Mossy, maybe? A few broken pine needles? A sprinkle of cocoa powder, and a wild underlying black & white pepper. But each time I go back in to exactly pinpoint the spice, it changes. Wow. And the wine smells healthy. I don’t have a way to further describe “healthy” to you, it’s just something that hits me sometimes. Rarely, actually. This is the beauty of wine however: it’s subjective. You can’t be wrong! (And neither can I, yeehaw!) In the mouth: a buxom medium, or slender full body. Mellow tannins don’t punch you in the face or make your teeth have immediate sweaters. The wine has a zest that makes the glands salivate in a healthy manner. Again, wow. This is a seriously great, great, great wine at this price. In fact, I’m going to a food/fun gathering tomorrow where I know no one, and this is the bottle I’m bringing. Hooray! Hooray! A bottle to really enjoy for $12!

    This is their sangiovese, old school and unblended. Smell it: flowers, earth. Taste it: light cherry. More earth. For $15 bucks you can drink it every day and with less than 14% booze you can drink it all day long. Pair it: (and no we aren’t gonna just say pasta and pizza) Thai style bbq ribs, albondigas soup, roasted golden beets. Goat cheese. Ancient balsamic. What else do you need? A recognizable rating? How’s this for a recognizable rating? It’s beautiful, beautiful, just beautiful. Yes. We Rate This Wine: Sunny Corleone. Get. Some.

    His 1986 Sangiovese was the first grown in the United States. And bottles from a more recent year were on hand for our swilling-pleasure. This velvety red started with the taste of melting chocolate and finished with a divine spread of raspberry as it swirl before heading reluctantly down my throat. I was now officially in love. Husband was happy for the outcome and instantly ordered up a couple more glasses.

    This Sangiovese is a nice spicy medium-weight wine that will match very well with red sauced Italian dishes, sausage, and many other dishes. The wine is bright and fruity and I found it to be very pleasant by itself, but salivating for some sausage bread buried in a nice marina sauce. I'm probably going to sit on this one for a year or two, not because I think it needs it, but more because I'm sure the wine will hold up well, and it will be interesting to see how it further matures in the bottle. Caparone claims the first Sangiovese in in the United States, with their first vintage in 1986. Their experience shows.

    This past fall, I had a major hankering for Sangiovese that went unsatisfied until one snowy night last month when I happened into Webster's and discovered that Sangiovese was their December feature. The 2004 Caparone was the standout from the flight I had that night. I never knew a Sangiovese could have so much character.

    I really think that all of the wines of Caparone in Paso Robles are exactly that ["wines in the $20 range that offer character and value"]. They’re all often under $15, and have been for quite awhile, which is a big statement coming from a small family-run winery (not a trust-fund or second-career winery). Let me just say that a $15 Sangiovese made from cuttings of Il Poggione’s Brunello vines is one of the best deals in the wine world, not just California. . . And if you join their wine club you get them for even less! Please, don’t tell everyone–I want to keep these wines for myself.


  • Fattoria Ambra Carmignano "Montefortini", $16 - $18.
    (Carmignano; c. 80% - 85% Sangiovese.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A vivid hue of crimson, the wine was quiet at first, but benefitted from 30 minutes of open air, revealing an intriguing, winey bouquet scented of violets. Fruity black cherry, rich, and smooth - a smoothness I’ll attribute here to the French varietals - with suggestions of anise, clove, and tobacco. The finish is moderately long ending in a final cadence that calls to mind just how well structured the wine is. A wine of aristocratic personality relying more on finesse than brute strength to achieve structure, harmony, and balance.

    Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is moderately intense, and fairly green, with grilled bell pepper mingled with spice and some hints of cedar, with underbrush as well. Not much fruit. On the palate it's medium bodied, with moderately intense bitter berry fruit supported by moderate acidity, and by clean brambly tannins that flow into a clean bitter tannic finish with some mineral acidity as well. It's fairly direct, and what one has is the interplay between tannins and savory accents more than fruit. In other words, I found it interesting, but if you're looking for a fruit driven wine this isn't it.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (1 July 2012), 91 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (30 June 2012), 90 points.

    The 2005 Carmignano Montefortini is a bigger, darker wine than the Santa Cristina in Pilli. It reveals superior density and concentration in its mentholated, balsamic profile, along with notes of earthiness, leather, smoke and dark ripe fruit that open in the glass. Ideally the wine needs a few years of cellaring, and should age beautifully. It is a gem.

    (80% sangiovese, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 5% canaiolo nero and 5% other varieties; 14% alcohol): Bright red. Reticent aromas of flinty redcurrant and red cherry complicated by a hint of black pepper. Fresh and classically dry, with red fruit flavors and a clean, long, smooth finish. This beautiful sangiovese-based wine will age effortlessly for another ten years. I find that Montefortini is always austere in its youth, and quite different from the plumper Santa Cristina in Pilli bottling.

    Rustic is definitely not a word you'll use to describe the 2007 "Montefortini" Carmignano from Fattoria Ambra; this is a silky-smooth, medium-bodied red with the personality of a Tuscan nobleman: rugged, woodsy, yet refined. Think of a guy who goes hunting in tweeds and can field-dress and cook what he shoots. Whatever he bags, this Carmignano is the kind of wine he'd serve it with. It's a blend of 85 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Cabernet, and 5 percent Canaiolo (an old-school Tuscan blending variety), and it's a knockout.

    Cherry ruby with some brick in the rim. The bouquet is lively, and vegetal, with grilled bell pepper mingled with red berry fruit and a fair amount of alcoholic warmth. On the palate it's medium bodied, with moderate fruit that's a touch tired, supported by fairly light tannins and slight sour plum acidity. I'd have expected greater depth given the nose; it's like seeing a long shadow approach and discovering that the person casting it is short.

    The winery is situated in the small region of Carmignano, which is located west of Florence. This area had been a favorite source of wine for the Medici, but has become less well known in recent history. Wine drinkers "in-the-know" love this producer, which has very little trouble selling all of its beautiful wine every vintage. This was definitely the hit of the evening and was a great choice to have with the beef. A bigger style compared to the other wines of the evening, but still soft and juicy with so much sangiovese as its main component. A fine way to finish this seminar.


For a Splurge

The obvious choice is one or another Brunello di Montalcino. (Mind, even for a splurge, these can get pretty pricey pretty quickly, easily well into the three-digit range.) Brunello di Montalcino must be: made from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes; made from grapes grown no higher than 1,968 feet above sea level; and receive at least four years of aging, of which two must be in oak. The great divide in Montalcino is about that oak, with traditionalists using large Slavonian-oak botti(relatively mild) and modernists using new French oak barriques (distinctly more assertive). There is no obvious right or wrong, but the two styles do differ. Palate Press has a good, extensive article on the issue: recommended reading.

Recommending a particular Brunello for a splurge is from difficult to impossible. There are numerous published lists of recommended wines and winemakers of Brunello, and few of them have much in common; every reviewer seems to have his or her favorites, and either they are quite idiosyncratic or (more likely) there isn't that much difference in quality at this level (though there can be substantial differences in style).

If you are going to pop for a splurge Brunello (which is pretty much any Brunello), we recommend relying on a winemonger knowledgeable in Italian wines. You can expect to pay anywhere from $35 to $70 for a bottle, and it would be extremely wise to make plain to the retailer whether you want a wine for further cellaring or one for more or less immediate consumption. It would also be wise to specify whether you are interested in a "classic" Brunello or a "modern" Brunello (see the discussions of style near the top of this page, or the article linked a couple of paragraphs up).

If you insist on a few names to start your own researches on, here are some that were on more than one list: Caparzo; Silvio Nardi; Uccelleria; Il Poggione; and Gianni Brunelli (in, very roughly, probable cost order, though that depends a lot on the vintage). If you are going to buy an older vintage (about five years back from the present is usually the most recent available), make sure you feel comfortable with how the retailer will have stored it.



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