Without a doubt, Italian wines from Sangiovese grapes are some of Italy’s best known and loved. Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape variety and the one that makes up some of the most recognizable Italian wines, especially from Tuscany. However, it’s interesting that virtually none of those wines are actually named Sangiovese. Mostly this has to do with Italian wine history and culture which, as is the case with most of the old world, names wines based on their place, not grape. So let’s explore Sangiovese a bit.
First, this is a deep purple grape, not to be confused with Deep Purple, the hard rocking British band. Most people tend to describe the flavor of Sangiovese wines in terms of fruits like plum or dark cherry, but often you’ll find that there is a little spicy quality too. Maybe a dash of clove. Now that might sound like a lot of other wines, especially Pinot Noir, right? But Sangiovese brings with it a fun sense of place. I often think of sun-dried tomatoes when I take a sip – But maybe I’m just tasting the heritage of Italy and envisioning the bucolic landscapes of Tuscany.
Next, the grape and the wines produced are known by several different names depending upon where the grapes are grown and where the wine is made in Italy. While most of the Sangiovese is concentrated in Tuscany it’s planted throughout the country.
Sangiovese is the primary grape of Chianti. There are eight officially designated Chianti wine production areas: Chianti Rufino, Chianti Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Sensei, Montalbano, Chianti Colli Aretini, Colline Pisane, Montespertoli, and, of course, the best known, Chianti Classico. So when you drink one of these you are drinking wine that is mostly Sangiovese. I say mostly because, depending upon which particular area, the winemaker is permitted to blend in smaller percentages of other grapes from the region.
Chianti Classico is best known for a couple of reasons – there are higher quality standards and a bit more regulation regarding aging of the wines, but also because of marketing. The Consortia del Vino Chianti Classico established the recognizable symbol of the black rooster which further distinguishes the wines of Chianti Classico from the other wine areas of the broader Chianti region.
That’s not all there is to know about the Tuscan Sangiovese wines. Around the hill town of Montalcino, the grape is known as Brunello. Yes, those awesome Brunello di Montalcino and very tasty Rosso di Montalcino are Sangiovese. These, particularly the Brunello, are beautiful wines from one of the prettiest towns you’ll ever want to visit. Brunello get pricy but that’s because of the extra care that goes into them, including higher standards for aging before they are released.
Then we come to one of my personal Sangiovese favorites – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I’ve been teased that I will order it for dinner at a restaurant just because I like to say the name! And I admit it – It makes me feel like an Italian native every time I say it.
Two other Sangiovese wines you’ll see are Carmignano and Morellino. Carmignano are unique in that they must include some Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc in the blend along with the Sangiovese.
Sangiovese is being grown outside of Italy, including the US, and lots of it is quite good. It’s just I like to go native with certain wines and this is one of them. Wine can have the magic of the place captured in the bottle for me and there aren’t too many places I love as much as the land, the food and the people of Italy.
Okay, I’m biased. And I am happy to admit it!
2012 San Felice Chianti Classico $15
2013 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino $19
2011 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva $19
2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano $28
2009 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Gold Label $36
2010 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino $45
2009 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino $56
2009 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino $58
2007 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Paganelli $100