Eight years ago, I wrote a series on the wines of Italy, including the wines of Tuscany. In my article on Tuscany, I highlighted that Sangiovese is the grape that is responsible for Tuscany’s most important red wines, including Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Today we’re going to explore Sangiovese in a lot of detail with the help of my Ohio wine friend Jim Sperk*. Thank you, Jim, for your great help with this article.
Let’s Start with the Name Sangiovese
There’s an interesting myth regarding the name Sangiovese. It is believed that the Estruscans made wine from the grape more than 2,000 years ago. They planted the grape along trade routes. One route was along the Marecchia river, near the colle Giove or hill of Jupiter, named for the Roman god. Many years later, the Capuchin monks built a monastery near Mt. Giove (Mount Jupiter) in the town of Sant’Arcangelo. Legend states that during a religious banquet, a visitor to the monastery, appreciating the monks’ wine, asked for the name of the grape. The monks had never thought to name it so came up with a name on the spot – sanguis jovis, or the blood of Jupiter, because of the location on Mt Giove. The monastery is still there. Communion during the daily mass is served with a taste of Sangiovese wine.
The Grape’s Colorful History
There are two things about this grape that are hard to believe.
First, that the grape has 14 or more clones. According to Science of Cooking, back in 1906, a researcher named Molon broke down these 14 clones into two main classifications:
- Sangiovese Grosso produces the highest quality wines, including the famous Brunello, and is responsible for a few of the 14 clones.
- Sangiovese Piccolo produces lower quality wines and is responsible for the rest of the 14 clones.
Second, this famous Tuscan grape is only half Tuscan. In the early 2000s, it was discovered that Sangiovese is half Tuscan (the Ciliegiolo grape) and half southern Italian (the Calabrese Montenuovo grape). Wow.
The Grape’s Tasty History
Tuscan cuisine is quite simple. Olive oil is at the heart of most dishes, with legumes, cheese, vegetables, fruit and bread playing key roles. Sangiovese’s high acidity and moderate alcohol make it a very food-friendly wine. A classic pairing is tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces with a Sangiovese-based Chianti.
The Grape’s Reputation
In the 1960s and ‘70s, Sangiovese sadly had a very poor reputation worldwide. In America, we knew Chianti as the cheap flask wine with a fun woven mesh grass covering. In Italy, Sangiovese had a very Bohemian feel to it, both esthetically and budget-wise. In the mid-1970s, a number of growers took serious steps towards improving the quality of the wines. Thankfully, today, Sangiovese is top notch.
According to Wine Folly, “Super Tuscan is a term used to describe red wines from Tuscany that may include non-indigenous grapes, particularly Merlot, Cabernet, Sauvignon, and Syrah. The creation of super Tuscan wines resulted from the frustration winemakers had towards a slow bureaucracy in changing Italy’s wine law during the 1970s. Winemakers began mixing ‘unsanctioned’ wine varieties (like Merlot) into their blends to make high-quality wines. The legal system eventually yielded in 1992 with the creation of IGT [Indicazione Geografica Tipica], a new designation that gave winemakers the ability to be more creative.”
Carmignano, named for the city of its origin in the Prato province, is probably the oldest of all the Tuscan wines. While so-called Super Tuscans started nearly eighty years ago with the introduction of Bordeaux wine grapes in the Tuscan region, Carmignano can be considered its precursor. It is believed that the queen of France brought some Cabernet grapes to Carmignano in the 16th century to blend with the Sangiovese.
Ageability of Sangiovese
Certain Sangiovese strains produce wines that can be consumed after one year while others can age for decades. Normal ageability is four to seven years, with Brunello di Montalcino often being able to age for 10 to 18 years.
I would love to hear about your experiences with Sangiovese.
* Jim Sperk is an award-winning amateur winemaker and member of several local and national wine clubs. He has conducted competitions for commercial and amateur wines and devoted the past ten years to wine education through live and online presentations and written media.
As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!
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