Mouth-filling, rich in tannins and a forward acidity: these are the basic traits of a Sangiovese wine. Prominent berry aromas are also typical. Without this red variety the cult Italian wine Chianti and the Super Tuscans would not exist. Strict rules and checks ensure that world-class superior quality wines contain a high percentage of this grape. Blending with Cabernet Sauvignon has proved particularly successful.
A grape from antiquity
The name Sangiovese comes from the Latin “sanguis Iovis”, meaning “blood of Jove” (another name for Jupiter). It is not only Italy’s foremost red wine grape, it is also one of the oldest. In all likelihood the Etruscans already cultivated a variant of the Sangiovese grape even though the name is not mentioned in documents until the 18th century. In spite of extensive DNA analyses, it has not yet been possible to determine its parent grapes, so this venerable variety continues to keep its secret.
Full-bodied wines from Sangiovese
In warm regions Sangiovese grapes ripen late and produce mouth-filling, high-alcohol wines. In cool regions, high levels of acidity and hard tannins are typical. The quality of the acidity and tannin structure and extract values vary widely. The spectrum ranges from simple table wines all the way through to world-class premium bottlings.
Age also affects quality. Young wines are much more acidic. The high levels of tannins are also noticeable in a certain tartness on the palate. Sangiovese wines have very good ageing potential. They become more balanced with age and develop a richer complexity. They are extremely well suited to ageing in oak barrels. The bouquet is reminiscent of cherries and plums. After ageing for some time, they develop nuanced earthy aromas and a darker colour.
Top wines from Tuscany
Tuscany is the home of Sangiovese wines. The Sangiovese grape variety forms the basis of the best known and most popular Italian wines: Chianti, Brunello and Tignanello. It is traditionally blended with other grape varieties.
Sangiovese is also known in Italy as Prugnolo, “the little plum”. For many years the viticultural authorities disapproved of the variety and imposed several less than sensible restrictions. Supporters of Sangiovese produced wines such as Tignanello or Sassicaia known collectively as the “Super Tuscans”. Strict DOCG regulations ensure that the quality of Sangiovese wines is exceptionally good. This is borne out by the fact that the majority of wine experts are persuaded of its excellent quality.
Sangiovese is a primary component of classic Chiantis. Varietally pure versions can be found in Brunello, where the variants Sangiovese grosso and Sangiovese piccolo produce concentrated wines. When yields are kept in check, Piccolo usually produces the best wines. A low yield is essential for the concentration, flavour and aroma of the wine.As the Sangiovese grape has a strong tendency to mutate, numerous clones have emerged over the course of its long viticultural history. Italian winemakers vinify these variations under different designations, giving the wine a regional character too. These include numerous DOCG wines. Some of the highest quality wines are Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Carmignano and Morellino di Scansano, among others.Tuscan winemakers like to experiment. One of the most successful outcomes is the marriage of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon – a blend that for many years was not officially sanctioned by the authorities. Today Chianti is allowed to contain up to 25[JS1] % Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of the big Chianti producers make Cabernet-Sangiovese blends with elegant names and high prices. Further blending partners are Merlot, Canaiolo and indigenous grapes such as Mammolo. To the annoyance of winemakers who would like to make ageable wines, Chianti’s rules still prescribe a proportion of white varieties.
Cultivation of the Sangiovese grape variety
Characteristic for the Sangiovese variety is the slow and late ripening of the thick-skinned, blue-black grapes. The vine flourishes best on loose, calcareous soils on good sites. This is where it produces the biggest yields.With around 72,000 hectares planted, Sangiovese is Italy’s most popular variety. It is most widespread where the Etruscans once settled. Besides Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna is also a notable growing area. Smaller plantings can be found in Umbria.Very little Sangiovese is planted outside Italy. Winemakers in Corsica, Israel and Tunisia make small quantities of Sangiovese wines. There are larger vineyards in the New World where the variety was introduced by Italian immigrants, chiefly in Argentina and Australia. California also has considerable plantings and it is gaining in importance there.There is nothing more enjoyable than a glass of Chianti. Mondovino offers Chianti and other Sangiovese wines, and they are available in Coop stores too.