About Sangiovese Wines
Sangiovese is Italy’s best known red grape variety, and is synonymous with Tuscany. It’s the most widely planted grape variety in Italy, and at the start of the 21st century, accounted for one in every 10 vines planted.
Traditionally used, as the main grape in the world famous Chianti, Sangiovese is now being grown all over the world, from Argentina to Australia. Top winemakers across the world have recognised the high quality levels of the grape, and are making single varietals, and using it with great success in blends.
The Sangiovese grape has been grown for centuries, and dates back to Roman times. It is planted all over Italy from Tuscany southwards. At its pinnacle, it is responsible for some of the highest quality red wines in the world, but it is also a real workhorse, and produces soft, inexpensive reds all over the country.
It’s also known by several different names, depending on where it is; in a sub region of Tuscany, it’s known as Brunello; in Abruzzo it’s called Montepulciano; and other well known synonyms are Morellino and Niuciello.
It’s a small dark skinned grape, which is known for producing wines of balanced structure, with firm tannins, and is characterised by high acidity levels, which add balance to the intensity of many of the wines. Oak ageing brings out the ripeness, and intense characteristics of the grape. But in areas outside Tuscany, and indeed Italy, it can produce lighter, fruitier styles of wine.
It’s a grape that ripens late, which means there is more time for the sugars and flavours to concentrate; but because of its thin skin it can rot and be damaged easily. In cooler areas, if the grapes are not fully ripened, the wines can be harsh and acidic, so it performs best on limestone – rich soils, in warmer areas, although not too hot. It is less intense in natural style than its Piemontese counterpart Nebbiolo, and produces a wider variety of styles, from lighter, fresher, cherry fruit reds, for everyday drinking in central and southern Italy, to the great Tuscan legends.
It is also the integral part of the so called ‘Super- tuscans’, thus named, because the producers decided to use grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon to add richness, power and colour, which are not legally approved under Chianti laws, so are simply Tuscan wines, but in a very ‘supertuscan’ way!
What Does Sangiovese Taste Like?
Sangioves can vary intensely in style, depending on where and how it is grown. At its sublime best, with low yields and hand crafted production, it produces intensely coloured, yet beautifully balanced reds, with aromas and flavours of black cherries, wild herbs and a hint of mocha. One of the characteristics of the Sangiovese is the fresh acidity that is found on all wines, however intense, and this provides a lift at the end of the taste. Tannins are not overwhelming. However, in poor vintages, or with poor winemaking, the wines can be thin and harsh.
With oak ageing, characteristics of intense morello cherries, and figs develop. As Sangiovese ages, it takes on a more gamey character, and a degree of delicacy. The more southern areas of Tuscany, will produce, richer, fuller styles, due to the warmer climate.
Further down the scale, the more simple Sangioveses, grown all over Italy have a fresh, red cherry, and herbaceous style, whilst the Sangiovese in the New World countries, is softer, richer, and more velvety.
Where is Sangiovese Typically From?
The heartbeat of Sangiovese is in Tuscany, where it has been grown since Roman times. Here it is the integral part of the Chianti blend, and south of Chianti, in the slightly warmer climes, it produces outstanding Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
South East of Tuscany, in the rugged hills of the Abruzzo region, it is widely grown, and is known as Montepulciano. It is also grown in most regions from Tuscany, right down to Sicily, in a variety of guises, and producing a variety of styles. It is less known in the far north, although the Veneto and Emiglia-Romagna regions produce the juicy, medium bodied Sangiovese di Romagna.
Outside Italy, it is being grown with great success in Argentina, where Italian immigrants took the grape in the early 20th century; over in Australia, Margaret River and Langhorne Creek are proving regions, which are working well with Sangiovese. And of course, the heavy Italian influence and community in the States, has led to great success with the grape, both in California and Washington State.
Matching Sangiovese With Food
Wines made from the Sangiovese grape are wonderful food wines, but obviously the right matches, depend on the style, intensity and richness of the wine, which , with Sangiovese, can vary wildly.
Sangiovese di Toscana, Sangiovese di Romagna and other regional wines- these tend to be slightly lighter in style, and are perfect with tomato or ragu based pasta dishes, vegetable dishes, such as ratatouille, and cured meats, including parma ham and salami.
Chianti and Chianti Classico – the simple rule is, the more intense and rich the wine, the more intense the food can be ; it’s a question of matching like with like. Therefore simple lamb chops, lasagne or shepherds pie would work well with a relatively simple Chianti, whilst rib of beef, or roast lamb with rosemary demands a more intense Chianti Classico. The traditional partner to Chianti classico is steak fiorentina, great slabs of seared steak, with a rocket and parmesan salad.
Chianti also works brilliantly with game, from venison to duck, and is a good red to match with turkey and goose, due to its natural sweetness and controlled tannins.
Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – these 100% Sangiovese wines, together with the powerful Supertuscans cry out for perfect roast beef, rich braised red meat dishes, or a wedge of aged parmesan.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – another great mainstay for Italian cuisine, it’s perfect with Bolognese, cannelonni, pizza, and other everyday fare, such as sausages, gammon, and cheese based dishes.
Outside Italy – the warmer, riper, more primary fruit driven styles of New World Sangioveses work very well, with game, barbecues, and rich braised dishes.