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The Sangiovese Grape


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About Sangiovese

(Synonyms: Brunelletto, Brunello, Brunello di Montalcino, Cacchiano, Calabrese, Chiantino, Corinto Nero, Guarnacciola, Liliano, Montepulciano, Morellino, Morellino di Scansano, Negrello, Nerello, Nerello Campotu, Niella, Nielluccio, Primaticcio, Prugnolo Dolce, Prugnolo Gentile, Puttanella, San Gioveto, San Zoveto, Sangiogheto, Sangiovese Grosso, Sangiovese Piccolo, Sangioveto, Scanzano, Tabernello, Toustain, Tuccanese, Vigna del Conte, Vigna Maggio)

Background

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; it and Nebbiolo and Aglianico are the three great red-wine grapes of Italy, and among the best in the world. 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.

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”.

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”.

Wine laws world round are—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 moreover 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.

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Some Descriptions of Sangiovese Wines

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Some Sangioveses to Try

(About this list.)

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino
(This is not their “Rossofonte” or their “Vigna della Fonte” bottling.)

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



Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva
(Note that this is their “Riserva” Chianti Classico bottling.)

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



Fèlsina “Berardenga” Chianti Classico
(This is not the “Riserva” bottling.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
  (Beware half-bottle-sized offerings.)



Tua Rita “Rosso dei Notri”

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



Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico
(This is their basic Chianti Classico, not their “Riserva” or other named version.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
  (Beware half-bottle-sized offerings.)

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For a Splurge

Our nomination is the Isole e Olena “Cepparello”.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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