Sangiovese, the most Italian of grapes


There is something quintessentially Italian about Sangiovese. Perhaps not so surprising since it is the most planted grape variety in Italy. Widely present in Tuscany, where it is found in Chianti, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino, it is also grown in various other Italian regions. It combines freshness, tannins and a light substance that makes it (often) easily recognizable. It’s a grape for the dinner table.

Sangiovese was mentioned in writing in the 16th century in Tuscany and Romagna. In the 19th century it spread to central and southern Italy. Its origins are probably in Tuscany, but it may have some ancestry further south, possibly in Calabria.

In the past, Sangiovese wines tended to be relatively light, sometimes with a dry finish. Today, they have more fruit and concentration, but they are never heavy wines. The grape grows on nearly 150,000 acres in Italy, so style and quality vary. Sangiovese is available in all price ranges.

The character of Sangiovese

Good quality Sangiovese wines have freshness and elegance. They often have a pleasant acidity and a good amount of tannins. A typical sangiovese is quite light, both in color and body. Cherries and tobacco are among the aromas.

According to many producers, Sangiovese is a capricious grape variety. It is adaptable and can thrive in different environments. But, they say, for the best quality, it requires specific conditions. Limestone in the soil is considered to be specifically beneficial for quality. The grape is susceptible to gray mold attacks due to its thin skin, so canopy management is necessary to keep the foliage airy. Sangiovese is, on the other hand, drought resistant, an advantage in many places in Italy. It matures slowly and late and thrives in clear, sunny weather.

Sangiovese can be used alone or in a mixture. The most prestigious wine, Brunello di Montalcino, is always 100% Sangiovese as well as some Chianti and Chianti Classico. In fact, today there are many wines in Italy made only with Sangiovese. Before, it was more unusual. The opinion then was that the tannins in Sangiovese should be softened with other grapes, even sometimes with white grapes as was the case in Chianti in previous years.

We come across different styles of sangiovese today. A softer, less tannic and sometimes quite dull modern style. There is also the more traditional style which retains the astringency that goes so well with food. The way the producer ages the wines – in small, new oak barrels, older oak barrels, larger barrels or steel tanks – also affects the style and taste of the wines and can mask the character of the wine. grape, especially if the oak flavors are overdone.

Chianti and Chianti Classico

A Chianti must contain at least 75% Sangiovese, a Chianti Classico at least 80%. (Chianti and chianti classico are two distinct appellations/sub-regions in Tuscany.) You can mix mostly with canaiolo and colorino. In recent years, producers have been able to use small quantities of French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile

The town of Montalcino overlooks 2,000 hectares of Sangiovese or Brunello as the grape is called here. Clemente Santi of the Biondi Santi estate created the Brunello di Montalcino wine using a Sangiovese clone he called Brunello. In 1966 Brunello di Montalcino obtained its DOC, and in 1980 its DOCG (the highest level of Italian wine classification), as one of the first. Soon after, Brunello became a worldwide celebrity. A Brunello is always 100% Sangiovese.

At best, Brunello has great intensity in the aromas, lightness and elegance in the body, and sweetness in the aftertaste. The characteristic Sangiovese tannins are there, but the wine is still balanced.

Vino nobile di montepulciano was also one of the first DOCGs. The wine is famous but does not have the same status as brunello. Vino nobile can be made from 100% Sangiovese, but the producer can choose to blend it with up to 30% other varieties.

On the Tuscan coast, the Maremma region grows sangiovese, locally known as morellino. Morellino di scansano DOCG is the most famous wine.

In Umbria, montefalco rosso is made with sangiovese. In Emilia-Romagna, Sangiovese di romagna once had a bad reputation, but today some of these wines are delicious. Le Marche also has Sangiovese, and you can find the grape as far south as Puglia and Sicily.

Outside of Italy, Sangiovese is harder to find, but the number of countries growing it has increased over the past decade.

Corsica and Argentina

The French Mediterranean island of Corsica grows Sangiovese under the name niellucciu. It covers approximately 3,700 acres. Corsica is a sunny island, and wines from niellucciu are full-bodied and structured with aromas of red and black berries, such as blackcurrants, blackberries and raspberries. On the nose, there are also fresh herbs and liquorice. Corsica also uses niellucciu for rosé wines. In fact, 70% of the island’s wines are rosé.

Argentina has just over 3,000 acres of Sangiovese, but you don’t notice much of it. It was planted in Mendoza in the second half of the 19th century. A hundred years later, it is thwarted by Malbec and the Bordeaux grape variety. Maybe we’ll hear more about Mendoza Sangiovese in the future. Some enthusiasts of Italian origin would like to put the grape back in the spotlight.

A few other countries have small plantations of Sangiovese: the United States, Australia, Chile, Romania, South Africa and a few others.

Area in the world:

Main countries where Sangiovese is grown:

The character of Sangiovese:

  • Relative light in color and body. Fairly elegant wines with fresh acidity and distinct tannins. In the aromas, we find cherries, red fruits, tobacco and sometimes fresh herbs. The finish can be a bit dry.

—Britt Karlsson


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