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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.)


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

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. Moreover, we agree with Eric Asimov of The New York Times: "[W]hile the current rules require the blend to include 80 to 100 percent sangiovese, that remaining 20 percent can also consist of international grapes like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Even that small portion can dominate a wine to the detriment of its distinctiveness." So we have omitted Chianti blends in favor of 100% Sangiovese Chiantis (which cut out quite a few bottlings, hence the brevity of this list: good-quality 100% Sangiovese is not common at under $20).

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.
Le Cinciole Chianti Classico
(Chianti Classico, Italy. This is not their "Riserva" or other upscale bottling.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Le Cinciole's 2012 Chianti Classico is gorgeous. Gracious and lifted in the glass, the 2012 is not a huge wine, but rather a Chianti Classico built on finesse. Freshly cut flowers, sweet red berries, cinnamon and mint add nuance on the lifted, aromatic finish. The 2012 is pure class. 91 points. [Antonio Galloni, Vinous]

This is a bright selection, showing wild cherry, leather and balsamic notes alongside hints of well-integrated oak, pepper and espresso. It's not complex but it has a silky texture and is enjoyable now. 89 points.

A warm and dark cherry red in colour, with altogether pleasant fruit aromas, tinged with an attractive earthiness. Medium-bodied. Light and lively, with an edge of tannic minerality. Possesses a charm, a sunny acidity, nicely contained. Drinks very well indeed throughout an evening.

Le Cinciole is one of my favorite Chianti Classico estates, and its wines epitomize fragrant, elegant high-altitude Sangiovese. [Robert Parker]

Fresh red fruits with aromas of rose and marble stone on nose. Fresh strawberry jam with silky, polished tannins. Elegant finesse. From organically grown grapes. 91 points. [James Suckling]

This rich version is laced with cherry, berry, tobacco and black pepper notes. Ends with a lingering aftertaste of fruit and spice, showing persistence and intensity. 92 points. [Wine Spectator]

San Felice Chianti Classico "Il Grigio"
(Chianti Classico, Italy. This is not their "Gran Selezione" bottling.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

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) 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

Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico
(Chianti Classico, Italy. This is not the "Riserva" bottling. Also, beware offerings of half-bottles.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

♣ Though a lot of the comments quoted below happen to refer to the 2013 vintage, which apparently was even better than usual, critical response to other vintages of this wine was also quite strong.

Bright medium red. Precise, high-pitched aromas and flavors of red cherry, raspberry and blood orange, lifted by a strong note of violet. Dense, sappy and youthfully imploded, showing terrific verve and grip on the very long finish. A knockout entry-level Chianti Classico. 90 points. [nternational Wine Cellar]

Rich and sumptuous, boasting pure flavors of cherry and raspberry, matched to a juicy texture. There are plenty of tannins neatly folded into the overall structure, with hints of mineral and tea on the long, expansive finish. 92 points. [Wine Spectator, June 2016]

Fèlsina's 2013 Chianti Classico Berardenga shows a great level of richness and general intensity. The wine reveals a very full and luscious set of aromas with cherry and blackberry in pole position. Lighter tones of spice and tobacco fill in at the back and give the wine a greater sense of aromatic lift. The mouthfeel is also characterized by velvety richness. Look out for this delicious vintage. 91 points. [eRobertParker.com #221, October 2015]

The 2013 Chianti Classico Berardenga is one of the richest, darkest versions of this wine I can remember tasting. Black cherries, game, smoke, tar, leather and soy are some of the notes that take shape in the glass. The 2013 is wild, savory and surprisingly dense, raw and unformed for an entry-level wine. Accordingly, the 2013 is going to require more patience than is the norm, but it also has the potential to overachieve over the near and medium term. All the house signatures are very much alive here. 91 points. [Antonio Galloni, Vinous September 2015]

[I]ts color is garnet and it is fragrant with strawberry and leather on the nose. The strawberry continues on the palate along with rose petal, red raspberry and cherry. A hint of oak adds depth to the wine’s delectable flavor profile, which leans more towards fruity and less earthy, with medium tannins that do not overpower. Though the finish is not interested in lingering too long, the wine ends on an elegant note. Up to an hour’s decanting benefits this (and most) Chianti greatly.

Dark berry, underbrush and tobacco aromas lead the nose of this vibrant, structured wine while the palate doles out black cherry, fresh raspberry, licorice and clove. Fresh acidity and supple tannins balance the juicy flavors. 92 points.

Caparone Sangiovese
(Paso Robles, U.S.A.)

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.

• There are no retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• There are no retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine has two different CellarTracker review pages:
     » first page; and
     » second page.
• This wine has no Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

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 [Caparone's former designation for their Sangiovese] 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.

For a Splurge

As a compromise between average reviewer scores and average price, we will point to the Podere Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione Alta Valle della Greve bottling.

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.





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